“Oh wellies they are wonderful. Oh wellies they are swell. Cos they keep oot the water and they keep in the smell.” So it rains and gets cold in the south of France in January. It’s more like Scotland than we thought. We have been glued to our wellies for several months now. We both bought relatively good pairs a couple of years ago, mainly for muddy dog walks. Turns out they were a top investment. Fiona’s are still going strong but Alasdair’s have had a few more months heavy use and are looking a bit ropey. The ground is now starting to dry out (unlike Alasdair’s feet) and the flowers are already springing up, ready for the summer season.
Outdoors we’re making steady progress on re-roofing but we seem to live in a mini micro climate where weather forecasts are just a bit unreliable. Hence, after our third unforecast drenching we decided that maybe it would be a good time to get some indoor work done. Having finished the flooring in the gite Hirondelle, and mistakenly feeling like experts, we decided to start with the floor in the living room of our house. A two day job at most we thought. You live and learn. Here we are three weeks later and still no new floor.
It all started so well. The old flooring came up no problem in the living room. Nice solid tile and concrete floor below. So we confidently set to tackling the adjoining dining room. It became apparent when Alasdair fell through the floor that all was not well. The joists and beams may have lasted 70 odd years but they were not going to last one single day more. Frankly, we are lucky that our recent dinner guests survived the experience without dropping several feet into the void beneath them.
We won’t bore you with long tales of how we filled the floor space with tons of gravel, sand and concrete. (x 2 as the bedroom was just as bad). We should say that we have had lots of helpful advice from kind friends and neighbours which has stopped us making any huge mistakes – hopefully! Anyway, we now need the concrete to do whatever it does to dry, before we lay our new floor.
However, with every cloud……. Rather than live in chaos we are lucky to have the gites to fall back on. We spent a couple of weeks staying in Etoile while the heaviest of the work was carried out. That sounds like we were sensible and had skilled contractors in but actually we had Le Poteau’s team of unskilled labour in. It was good to stay there though and share what our experience. Minus the relaxation in the blazing sun part. The view really is lovely. We saw deer most mornings and lots of wild boar. Fortunately, Logie (our dog) couldn’t see over the fence into the field or we would not have been seeing so many deer I suspect! We apologise to all last year’s guests, but within 10 minutes we had spotted further improvements we could make. Last year we had only just finished our renovations before our first guests arrived, so we didn’t get the opportunity we wanted to fully test drive them.
We were told to expect it to be very, very quiet here in winter and it is, up to a point. However, there are things on if you do want to venture out. There are loads of classes at the Salle Municipale – including Yoga and Fitness and every couple of weeks there’s some sort of gathering involving food. A couple of weeks ago we went along to hear the Mayor’s annual speech where he tells us what has been done with our local taxes and what the future holds. Readers may know that every town and village has historically had a Mayor in France. In the past few years there has been a move to amalgamate various communes so Castelnau is now linked to our neighbour Labarerre and the commune is known as, surprisingly enough, Castelnau D’Auzan/ Labarerre.
Anyway, the Mayor’s annual gathering may not sound terribly exciting but there was quite a turnout and it was a very pleasant evening. This year it was the turn of Labarerre to host the event. So off we trooped to their very fine Salles Des Fetes. The Mayor spoke, the local choir performed (Fiona’s first public singing performance in France) and everyone socialised. It would be nice to think that the choir was a major attraction but there was a lot of free food and wine on offer. There was even pudding! One item of particular note in the Mayor’s speech for our future guests is that the excellent outdoor pool in the village is getting a complete refurbishment. The following night, also in Labarerre, there was a performance by children and adults who attend the local Ecole de Musique in Castelnau. It was very impressive. Castelnau is not very big – around 800 inhabitants- so to sustain something on this scale is impressive.
We really like the fact that we can nip down to the village and get most things we need. The little Proxi supermarket is just fabulous. Jeremy and Aurelie who run it are really lovely and super helpful. They also open 7/7 – really unusual in rural France which is basically shut on Sundays. The bakery is small but Michel’s croissants are delicious. The restaurant is a regular haunt of locals who meet to chat. It has a great atmosphere – very rural French. Lilou does a great coffee and doesn’t mind you taking along a croissant or chocolatine from the boulangerie. Fanny and Chris run Café Des Sports. They are extremely welcoming and as they have good wifi we sometimes use it as our second office. It is a lot more civilised than our house at present. It has also become our regular Friday night haunt with various friends for a verre or deux.
The landscape seems to be emerging from winter already. Nearly all the vines around us have been pruned to promote new growth from the next vendage. It has been really interesting, as just like farming in the UK, there are many small family producers and some pretty massive Chateau. The small vineyards tend to work for months (often just one person) pruning with their lethal electric pruning shears. They have to concentrate as every year there are reports of finger tips being severed. The big outfits, on the other hand, use squads of people and get it all done in a matter of days. Watching our super helpful neighbour and vigneron , Jean-Jaques, plough on day after day through sun, rain, ice made us realise just how much effort goes into that glass of chilled white or delicious Armagnac we enjoy from time to time.
It feels like we have come full circle as we get out the ladders and start cutting back the impressive but very difficult to trim, Le Poteau hedges. This time last year, Fiona was out getting a brief taste for life here before she headed back to school. This year there is no escape! No more frocks and heels, just jeans, wellies and, at the moment, quite a lot of mud. As a farmers daughter, she feels right at home. In addition, the work on the house was a bit hard on our “lawn”. It is now gouged with deep tractor tyre tracks which have filled with water. It would appear that we have no kit to fix this so squelching around in it and kicking lumps of mud into the trenches seems to be the only solution. So Fiona is in her element.
All our animals are well. Logie has taken to life here like the proverbial duck to water. He loves the outdoor life and sulks when he has to come in – even if it’s raining. Our two lovely donkeys, Joel and Noelle are both well and eating us out of house and home. We may be overcompensating a little as they look so pathetic when it is wet that they get a bit extra hay and straw to brighten their day.
Happily, this season’s bookings are coming in and we have quite a few of the Le Poteau faithful booked in already. It will always be nice to meet new people but it’s so lovely to have regulars coming back. We’ve been able to keep our campsite fees the same as last year’s rates and we’ve even been able to reduce the prices on both gites this year. They are now advertised on Air BnB, Owners Direct and Booking.com but you’ll always get the best price if you book direct with us.
We cannot wait to welcome guests in 2018. Our outdoor communal dining area looks a little sad at the moment but photos like the one on the right remind us of the lively evenings spent with lovely people in 2017.
Hope all our readers are well and 2018 has been good to you.