Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Millau, Med & Mediaeval

The weather being what it has down here in South West France (awful), we have decided to take every opportunity to get out. My favourite month of the year is almost over and most of it has been wet and cold.   Weekends are always full of Vide Greniers and Brocantes at this time of year and Sunday was down for good weather, so there was no stopping us.  We even took the precaution of going to bed early on Saturday night so that we could get off early the next morning.

We went across to the east to Millau to a vide grenier that is held in the town.  We both love Millau and the Tarn Gorges and had not been over in that direction for a while. 

We arrived at 8.00am, just as the town was coming alive. 

It was a lovely fresh bright morning and the first thing we did was fill up on caffeine.

You can see the beginnings of the leaves forming on the beautiful plane trees.

After that we wandered the streets,  that were surprisingly quiet.  We didn’t find too much to buy but I bought another handbag – I really must stop it is becoming an obsessive habit.  After all how many handbags can I really use?

Millau is a super little town and beautifully located, at the confluence of the Tarn and Dourbie rivers, with the Tarn and Dourbie Gorges to the east.  They are both spectacular and take your breath away, well worth a visit if you are in the area.  You have St. Affrique and the Roquefort caves to the west.  That too is spectacular scenery and another area that is so worth investigating.  Head south on the A75 and you are on the med in around 1 hour.

We left Millau before 10.00am and as the day was young, we decided to go south to the Med and another Vide Grenier/Brocante at Agde. We climbed out of Millau, which gave us a stupendous view of the town and the Millau viaduct, designed by the British architect, Sir Norman Foster & the French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux.  It is the tallest bridge in the world with one mast’s summit being 343 metres.  For such a huge structure, it has a fine and delicate look to it, allowing the landscape to dominate.

The journey on the A75 is spectacular and we stopped at a viewpoint called Belvedere to take these photographs.  My camera can’t hope to capture the majesty of the view but it gives an idea of how beautiful it is.

The area is awash with beautiful wild valerian, in all its hues.

We arrived at the Brocante at Adge fairly quickly but were a little disappointed.  It made us feel like an anagram of Adge!  It was packed and prices were very expensive and so we took a quick look and left with nothing.  We decide to look for somewhere to eat and unfortunately made a duff decision but nevertheless, we ate outside which is always a pleasure.  We also noticed the huge difference in the plane trees on the Med, which were much further on in their growth than those in the Aveyron.

After lunch, we decided to leave the Med and head north again, with the intention of visiting one of France’s most beautiful villages, La Courvertoirade on the way home.  However, we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in a super little place called La Tamarissière.  It is located on the west side of the mouth of the Herault River.

It was fabulous to walk along the beach with the fresh wind in your hair.

After our walk we sat and had a drink, taking in the traffic on the river.

After a pleasant hour in La Tamarissière, we headed back up the A75 and stopped at La Courvertoirade.

It has the honour of being listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France.  We can proudly say that the Aveyron tops the charts with 10 of the most beautiful villages.  We have visited 6 of them so far and wanted to visit La Courvertoirade for a while.  It is a stunning place located on the equally stunning Larzac plateau. It dates back to beyond the Knights Templars in the 12th century and can be described as a complete miniature mediaeval city.  It is a great thing that you are not allowed to drive up in your car.  Your car must be parked in the car park and you enter La Courvertoirade on foot, through the Portal d'Amoun which was part of the fortifications erected  in the 15th century to protect the inhabitants from the disasters of the 100 years war.  It was erected by the Knights Hospitallers who took over from the Knights Templars.
We happily wandered around this magical place and chose one of the wonderful little cafes to have another drink. 

The day was hot and its shady little garden provided a relaxing refuge from the heat.

You only had to close your eyes to be transported back in time.  The only sounds were insects, birds and peoples voices, much the same, no doubt as in the Knights Templars days.  After our little interlude, we continued to walk around the village, visiting the church.

The feeling of history within the church was intense.  I believe that the altar was a recent addition as it looked to have been made from newly carved stone.  Outside of the church was the grave yard with its fabulous grave stones.

The beautiful stained glass window over looks the grave yard.

We continued on,  taking a very precarious route down to the street below.  There were no barriers and the steps were roughly hewn from stone, all at different angles. I could not help thinking that in the UK there would be all kinds of barriers and warnings!

We wandered happily taking in all the charming sites of this special place.  A little cat that did not let visitors disturb its comfortable afternoon doze,
plus these little fellas, that I am glad to say were also not disturbed by the visitors!

Nowadays, the village is mainly inhabited by artisans and you can see the influence of their touch in this amazing place.  Where else would a peony in all its over blown glory, contrast so deliciously with the background of the ancient stone.

So we finally dragged ourselves away, full of the intention of going back and with the hope of staying overnight, which I think would be captivating.  This time we headed back home over the Millau Viaduct.

So ancient and modern in one brief spell but both of them incredible in their own right.  It was a wonderful day and one that was not really planned and became all the more special for it.  It is one that will stay in our memory and one that we are grateful for.

À Bientôt

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Reading Di’s of Yonks blog, Wonderful Wednesday House of My Dreams click here inspired me to write this blog.  I am fixated with a passion to make a home.  Home is exceptionally important to me and it is where my heart is.  I consider myself fortunate to have lived in some of the houses that I have, which in my adult life totals 4, (if you discount rental properties over here in France while looking for our own home).

I started off in a semi-detached modern looking 1950’s house in Grantham, Lincolnshire with my first husband.  We lived there 7 years and tore it apart and put it back together again but it never really felt like home, plus it had the A1 very close by and all you could hear was traffic. 

We were both only in our twenties but once we bought a car, we would drive miles at the weekends looking for a county property to buy.  We eventually found our dream cottage at Hough on the Hill. The photograph below shows it back in the 1800's and was given to me when I lived in the village. It was a semi-detached cottage that belonged to the Brownlow Estates and they were selling it off after the lady who lived there for many years had passed away.

Bless her, how she managed to live in it defies belief as it was riddled with damp, and was not exactly kitted out for comfortable living.  It was however completely charming.  It was in brick and had the most adorable triangular windows on the top floor, a carved stone rose above the quintessentially English porch and to top it all twisted chimneys. It had a quarter of an acre of garden, a gorgeous brick outhouse and views over fields that were protected for their archaeological status.  I fell head over heals in love with that house and am still steady in my affection for it, despite some hard times that I had there.  Here are photographs of the porch with the stone rose and the wild garden prior to work commencing - oh so long ago....

My first marriage did not last long after moving there, just over a year and I found myself living there with so much work still to do, to make it a comfortable home and with huge debts, as I had bought out my husbands share. I could not contemplate leaving it!  Despite the lack of comfort, that house meant so much to me and was my safe harbour after long and often stressful days at work. 

The landscape around Hough is beautiful, it is one of Lincolnshire’s cliff edge villages and I adore the village itself.  It had a church with a Saxon tower, wonderful and diverse old properties, when I was there it also had a small post office and it had and still has the most amazing pub the Brownlow Arms.  If you find yourself in that part of Lincolnshire, do drop in for a visit. Brownlow Arms on facebook

It was one of those villages, where most people knew each other and often met one another in the pub.  We got snowed in one year (being on a hill) and what a fabulous time we all had at the pub.  People came in wellies, left them at the door and had the greatest time ever.

I met one of my all time dearest friends in Hough and we often reminisce about the great times we had there. 

I lived there on my own for 3 years and always felt completely at home.  Eventually, I met and married my husband and we continued to live there for another 3 years and together we completed its restoration.  After a wonderful holiday in France, we decided that we wanted a little more space and with much consideration and a certain amount of emotion, I put the cottage on the market.  It sold immediately and we then had the often-fraught time of trying to find a new home.  We thought we had but thankfully (I can say now) it all fell through at survey stage.  I can remember one Saturday we once again went into an Estate Agents in Grantham and we saw, what we thought was the most amazing place ever, at a price we could afford.  We got into the car and headed to the village of Swayfield to view the house and love is not a strong enough word to describe how we felt about this time worn but completely beautiful Elizabethan stone farmhouse called Castle Farm.  We immediately made an offer, which, was accepted, and we started packing to move into our new home.

I sobbed a river when we left Hough but our new home so amazed us and there was so much to do that very soon we settled in.  It was an honour and a privilege to live in that house.  It had 17th century panelling in the sitting room, stone fireplaces, a baluster turned oak staircase and completely mind blowing and fabulous Elizabethan plaster work frieze.   The frieze depicted Adam & Eve and Abraham in the process of sacrificing his son but it shows the goat and an angel holding his sword and it has the words Abraham His Fayth.  It was completely stunning and an absolute delight to live with. The gardens were about ¾ of an acre and full of interesting and varied plants, shrubs trees etc.  There was also a paddock of 1 acre.  On top of that there was a vast amount of work to do!  The property was Grade 11* listed, so every step of the way we needed to consult with English Heritage and the councils historical surveyor.  He ended up being of great help to us as he recognised that we only wanted to do what was right for the property and with the correct materials. We were very lucky with him because when he was on holiday we had another person and she was a horror!

We spent 10 years there and it was a journey of discovery with regard to the restoration of a property such as Castle Farm.  I left my job and did a course in decorative painting and used my skills to enhance our own property.  I also set up a small business doing projects for other homeowners.  We found a very wise and experienced person to do the woodwork that was required and he did an amazing job of oak panelling the dining room to reflect the 17th century panelling in the sitting room.  However, we left it in its natural state and only applied wax to protect it. That however, this was after we had removed a 1970's ceiling height monstrous stone fireplace and replaced it with a hand carved stone fire surround to reflect the other two already in the property, limeplastered the walls and dug up the floor to fit flagstones

We did things like repair the roof, replace all the sanitary fittings, lay flagstones on the ground floor, re point the stonework, replace a damaged mullion, replace doors, restore tiled floors and remodelled the kitchen.  I also spent about 2 weeks stencilling a harlequin design onto the guest bedroom.  I painted in F&B's string and then used a glaze coloured lightly with a gold tone, boy was it a labour of love.  I think that it is just possible to make it out in this photograph - sorry for the quality.

In the kitchen, I panelled and painted the existing units, which were of very high quality but dated and we then had someone make further units to bring it into a cohesive and workable arrangement. The wooden table was my great grandmothers and I would not part with it for the world.

I also cleaned all the beams that were painted black, striped sanded and waxed the floor and patched and repaired the lime plaster walls, finally painting in limewash and over painting with coloured limewash to achieve the look in this bedroom below.  This was the most sensitive bedroom to do, due to the frieze.  I purchased two cheap units at £5 each and applied a paint finish to them and used them as bedside tables.  I also painted the bed and the wardrobe in this room.

We then had the garden to sort out and the hedges were layered and shrubbery was pruned and the lawn was worked on and a gravel drive way was laid and gates fitted.  We also had to fence and add a new gate to the paddock.   We sometimes questioned our sanity about taking on such a huge project and there were tears and frustration along the way but I have to say that if I had the same energy, I would do it all again without question.  The house embraced you and for all its age and history, it never felt cold or strange just warm and welcoming.

However, we had had this long cherished dream of moving to France and we had kept it in the front of our minds for years and so eventually we sold our wonderful old home and moved to France where we are still in the process of trying to complete our home over here but that is a story on its own. 

If I was to grade my homes, my favourite village would be Hough on the Hill, my favourite house would be Castle Farm but my favourite location France!

I have been self indulgent in telling you about my homes and for that I apologise but I enjoyed doing it and I hope that maybe you will enjoy reading it.

Sorry for the photographs but they are copies of real photographs, as I did not have a digital camera back then.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What A Wonderful Day................

You know how it is: you don't mean to but you take things for granted.  I must admit that I try hard not to and kick myself now and again, to remind myself of all the good things in life but life takes over and things can get really busy and I tend to be a bit blinkered and just see all that I have to do.  Well last Friday, I had to go to the hospital for some tests as my health is a bit wierd.  However, for once the tests were good but the Doctor told me that I need to walk 45 minutes a day. 

I came away feeling really pleased about the results and determined to do the walking.  After all lets face it, we live surrounded by beautiful countryside and I remember when we first found our house, we raved about the walks that we could do.  Anyway, this morning was one of those fabulous bright clear days with a touch of chill in the air, so first thing before we started to work, we decided to go for a walk and to take two of our llamas with us.  Let me introduce you to Campo on the left and Chiclayo on the right.

What a walk, you know that old cliche "it makes you feel glad to be alive" - well it did.  It was great to be with the llamas too, who are oh so curious about everything.  However, they can also be very stubborn and a walk can sometimes be a stop, particulary when the neighbours stop for a chat!

Also they like to stop for a snack along the way as they find all types of yummy things that are not in their paddock.  They also like to take in the view. Here is Campo having a good look.

The wild flowers are fabulous at this time of year and I tried to photograph a few.  Sorry if some of them are a little out of focus but I was taking the shots one handed, whilst holding a llama in the other!

Campo thought that he was helping nature by doing the odd bit of pruning!

I think that he would have been quite happy to continue with his pruning along the lane if it was not for the fact that his best mate Chiclayo was not waiting for him.

We finally caught up but not before Campo became spooked at crossing a puddle.  They really seem to dislike crossing water, even when it is just a puddle.

All four of us came home feeling nice and relaxed after such a great walk. 

And were greeted by the little calves in the neighbouring field who are just as curious as the llamas.

While we were out enjoying our walk, the farming fraternity were full steam ahead with cutting the grass before the rain that is forecast for later in the week.  There is such a fabulous scent in the air when the cutting is taking place, I wish that I could bottle May's scent for use the rest of the year.

It was a great way to start the morning and yes, it is a truly wonderful day.  I hope that you are all having a wonderful day........
À Bientôt xxxx