Thursday, December 6, 2012

A roof raising time

Sorry it's been a while - we have been moving from our summer lodging to our winter lodging. We are so lucky to have friends willing to let us use their holiday homes and we are very grateful. The winter lodging is in the next village - Vertueil d'Agenais - and is a large maison de maître that used to be the village doctors house - I have my office set up in what was the doctor's waiting room.

The chef in the kitchen of the winter lodging

Down at the ruin things moved on apace. The builders finished the hard standing at the side of the barn which will be the home of our tractors and wood cutting equipment and where we will have our wood store.

Pouring the concrete - this is a covered area

Meanwhile the charpentier had arrived to take the roof off. Would all the walls fall down?

Well not all of them did! Watch the slideshow to see which walls came tumbling down and how they went up again.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

We also had a little trip to the UK to fit in as my daughter got married to her beautiful partner Karen and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. You can see the photos here.

Thanks for reading - à bientôt.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A diamond + afternoon

Friday 26th October 2012 was our 16th wedding anniversary but sadly Kevin had meetings all day in Bordeaux..

We make a good team

 I went out for lunch though as Le Club des Ainés ( seniors club) had their annual meal and I was on top table as I was standing in for monsieur le maire. The menu was very inviting and didn't disappoint.

Kir et ses gateaux secs
Potage Cultivareur
Assiette Gasconne (salade,tomate,oeuf,gésiers,mouss de foie gras)
Feuilleté aux fruits de Mer
Rôti de Veau aux Pruneaux
Légimes assortis
Assiette du Berger sur son Délice de l'Escargot
Profiteroles au Cocolat

 The best bit about being on top table was that I was seated next to one of the honoured guests who is also the patriarch of the first family to welcome us to Labretonie more than 10 years ago. Eugene and his wife Alyse were celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary - in French this is Les Noces de Palissandre (Rosewood).  They had both been born in Brittany and came to the Lot-et-Garonne in 1947 when there was a lack of people to work the land here after the world wars and at the same time too many agriculteurs in Britanny. They were very young 21 and 22 with year old twins and it was very hard to leave the region they loved and all their family and friends. They were lucky that a neighbouring family had moved here 9 years earlier and they gave them their much needed support as they started out in their own farm. They went on to have another daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren and to become much cherished members of this small community. Eugene recalled how they would sit by the fire in the evenings and all sing along to his harmonica accompaniment. 'It was a hard life but a good one' Eugene told me. 

We were also celebrating the diamond wedding anniversary of Norbert and Yvette.  They were both born in the neighbouring village of St Barthélémy and went to school together. Norbert lived with his mother and never knew his father and they were very poor. His mother was eventually murdered by one of her lovers and Norbert was put into foster care in a nearby village where he was pretty much used as unpaid labour. Once a week he was able to return to St Barthélémy to go to mass and visit his aunt. There he would get his weekly glimpse of the girl he had fallen in love with - a girl he didn't feel worthy of. After his time in the army where he had learned to drive he became a long distance lorry driver and earned enough to give him confidence to approach the love of his life. They married and had 3 daughters and several grandchildren. Norbert played a big part in local politics and was mayor of St Barthélémy for many years.

Both of these couples take part every year in the show that we put on. Eugene and Alyse are known for their duets, Yvette for her contribution to the choir and Norbert for his comedy .

Alyse and Eugene singing Les Volets Bleu

We also celebrated an 80th and 90th birthday - folks live to a ripe old age here in the Lot-et-Graonne. Entertainment was in the hands of Mick  Fontaine and his accordion and our two wedding anniversary couples led off the dancing that continued through until early evening. 

A day full of friendship and love and I wasn't the only one who was moved to tears.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Renovation odds and sods

It doesn't seem as though we have made much progress here at the ruin but in fact, despite it being August, quite a bit has been going on. We want to move the electricity and telephone meters to the boundary of the property and have all the cables underground. Don't get excited I didn't manage to get ERDF or Orange out here in August but I did make contact, got the estimates, signed and returned them and all is set up for the work to take place next week. The water meter is already on the property border. So then we needed to make sure that all the gaines (ducts) for the cables were in place. So another day of work for the digger and our electrician and his wife who worked hard to get all the ducting in place on a very hot day!

Water ducting going in
Electrician at work
and the electrician's wife - it was thirsty work
 The well has been finished off with  another level being added to bring the lid above ground level so we won't lose it again! All the wood from the fence removal and other bits of demolition have all been collected into a huge pile for bonfire night - our friend brought a tractor with a huge fork lift attachment that cleaned up a huge mess in less than 20 minutes.


 I've been pottering in my garden and squirreling things away for the winter and we also had a birthday to celebrate. Today the electrician did the first fix in the laundry room so we can get on and add the plasterboard and tile the floor. So moving on despite having had a lazy summer - we'll get more done when the cooler weather comes perhaps but as it's been 36° today I am going for a swim chez mes amis!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our sunshine children

Of course our own four children (and their partners) and our 4 grandchildren are the most special people in the world to us but today I have been thinking about all the other children and their families that have come into our lives since we came to live here 10 years ago.

Why sunshine children? Well many of them we met when running our gîte business and we always closed in the winter. We loved welcoming families with children and loved hearing them having fun in the swimming pool or on the swings and the trampoline. Best of all we loved having them on Wednesday evenings on our terrace when we'd eat something yummy cooked by Kevin and then play silly games until well after normal bedtimes. So may of them came back year after year and we loved watched them growing up. 

Kevin with a young guest
Here's an Easter basket waiting to be found

Youngsters often visited us

Some French guests putting on a show for us

Although we haven't been running gîtes since May several of the families who were booked this year were returning guests and although we weren't able to meet on the terrace at Peyrenègre as usual that didn't stop us meeting up at our country cottage for evenings of food and fun. They all said that they had come back year on year because they felt so at home and so welcomed by us and that we were very much part of their holiday - and we told them that we had loved welcoming them each year and watching their children grow. So many of them have become personal friends and keep in touch with us regularly.
The terrace has changed but the friendships remain

Two of the families that came to us for several years in succession still met up when they moved on to other locations. Last year,when they heard that we had put Peyrenègre up for sale, both families visited us and were our guests for one night. How wonderful to welcome them again to eat with us and how wonderful to see those little children we knew so well as gorgeous young people. We were delighted to hear recently that one of them, Adam, has been accepted by Oxford. We're sure he'll find it a doddle - after all he survived being teased unmercifully by us every year.

Making afternoon tea for everyone

Then there are the children of our village. On Sunday there was a baptism in the village church. The mother is the daughter of our builder and when we first met her she didn't even have a boyfriend. Now she is happily married and has three children. She is just one of the many youngsters we have seen grow up in the last ten years and we love how they remain friendly and polite to us whenever there is a village event. We also have French friends who have children and every year we are invited to a meal prepared and served by the children with musical interludes provided by them too. Last year we had 3 English children and 6 French children for 2 days of fun and games with all the parents invited on the evening of the second day to taste a meal prepared by the children.

       Our grand designs
There are also two families that have houses here who come every summer and their children are very special to us. They are like an extra arm to our family and have a special place in our hearts. One family aren't here this year. As it is their house we are living in they have decided to have a different experience this year - we miss them! Our other friends are Australian and have a house in the next village. We went to their daughter's wedding when she married her delicious French man and we  now welcome their three daughters into our lives too. Although they live in Aix- en- Provence they come often and always for the summer and we love catching up with them - and this year sharing their pool!

The girls from Aix en Provence on the left and our own granddaughter on the right having fun with Kevin

 So we think we are so lucky to have our own lovely family and then our sunshine families too. We love sharing this special corner of France with them and would like to thank them for all the joy they bring us. Here's to many more sunshine days together!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Well, well, well what do we have here?

The hunt for liquid gold

One of the reasons this site was so attractive to us is that it has a fresh water spring on it. Having an endless supply of water here will make our life much easier - and cheaper! If any of you have read or seen the film of that French classic Jean de Florette and its sequel Manon des Sources you'll appreciate what a difference a water source can make. Villagers have told us many tales about their mothers washing clothes in the pool created by the source and of bringing cattle and other animals here in times of drought. One told me that when she got home from school each afternoon her grandfather would put her astride the cart horse - her legs well splayed out as it was a mighty beast -  and giving it a tap on the rump sett them off for a little ride. The horse came straight to the cool troughs of water on our property and after drinking its fill walked her slowly home again. You can still see the stones where women rubbed their washing and we are planning to clean it all out and restore it to its former state.

As well as the source our immediate neighbour told us that we have a well.  She remembers it being dug out about 45 years ago and told us that it had been capped off and then turfed over. This is where the water that comes out of the tap on our terrace originates from. Someone else thought the well was higher up on a neighbouring farmer's land so the other day Kevin, with a little help from a man with a digger, went on the search for liquid gold.

Following the lead pipe from the tap on the terrace

No sign of the well yet
Hang on this looks like something
The top is very heavy
Bingo! Ca y est!
The old lead pipe got broken in the process but as it couldn't stay that wasn't the end of the world. We bought new piping and by using a siphon method Kevin got the water running again to a new tap without the need for a pump.  Result!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Renovating the Barn - part 1

Work is moving forward on the barn. As soon as we have a laundry room in there finished we can set up our base there while they do the work on the house. Check out the slideshow for progress in stage 1.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Saturdays, Sea and Sunflowers.


Summer Saturdays for the last 10 years have been very busy for us - saying goodbye to guests, cleaning and preparing the gites and meeting and greeting new guests. This year feels very strange. Summer Saturdays are now free for us to do what we will with. So this means for the first time since we moved here we will be able to enjoy all the activities that take place around the Lot-et-Garonne in summer - and we won't be too exhausted on Sundays to do the same.

Recently three local windmills had a fête. All of them are in the process of being restored by a group of volunteers and we were able to visit one of them to see work in progress. On Saturday there was an organised walk accompanied by a professional story teller. When villages have their fêtes and there is a walk or a cycle ride it is a chance to go off the beaten track onto land that is usually private. This walk took us across fields, around a private lake and through beautiful woodland. Each time e passed through a wood we stopped and listened to stories. It was magical as the setting was perfect and the story teller related her tales on French and in Occitan and I was surprised at how many words in Occitan I could recognise.  On Sunday a group of old tractors made the journey from windmill to windmill and then were put on show at the last windmill at Gontaud sur Nogaret where local producers were selling lunch. We had whole duck breast that cost us a mighty 5€ each followed by crêpes made from hazelnut flour - yummy! Then we were entertained by a display of farming machinery including a rope making session and the singing and dancing of a local folklore group. A simple but very enjoyable day - and at the weekend!

Moulin de Grateloup

Every year I see the publicity for the Cognac blues festival but we could never go. This week we went and heard Hugh Laurie sing the blues. We stayed for two nights at the lovely guests house of Franca and Darren Porter delightfully named Au Belle Fleur. On Friday we explored Cognac including visiting a distillery in the Chateau de François1and had dinner with our hosts - we certainly recommend you stay here if you are in the Cognac/Angouleme area. We meandered back on Saturday morning and after an impromptu lunch with friends who had been minding the dog we settled down to an afternoon of Wimbledon.

Tasting the Cognac at the Baron Otard distillery

Hugh Laurie was well worth braving the rain for


The good friends that we have made here are one of the many reasons we have decided to stay in Labretonie. We have a group of French friends who we have known from our very earliest days here. There are 5 French couples and us and although we see each other often we like to get together as a group from time to time. In October we go to the Pyrenees to walk and in May or June we go to the seaside at Cap Ferret near Bordeaux. The last week in June we spent three days there together and we walked by the sea, the men went fishing and we all swam in the sea - the first time for me for many years. It is a delightful spot but best to go before the summer crowds arrive. Of course we had our annual oyster eating fest and they were scrumptious.

The wonderful beaches at Cap Ferret


The sunflowers are a little late this year but many fields are coming into their glory now. They are a beautiful site and last for about three weeks. Luckily there is always another field just coming into it's own as one fades and driving around the countryside is always a delight. Last weekend was our village fête and on Sunday morning there was a walk, a cycle ride and a horse ride and lots of lovely sunflowers to delight the participants (of course all that exercise was followed by a long meal with entertainment).

This is a beautiful region with undulating countryside.The hilltop villages offer panaoramic views over the surrounding fields and you can see the Lot and the Garonne meandering through. No wonder we have no plans to leave our little corner of paradise - and we look forward to many more Summer Saturdays here!

Field after field of sunflowers near our country cottage - even on a dull day they cheer us up!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sold, signed and we're off

Sorry I haven't posted an update for a while. We have been busy packing up and sorting out where all our things would go during the renovations. We had friends and family for one last visit at Peyrenègre and the new owners came for a week to familiarise themselves with how the place works.

But finally at 3 p.m. on May 15th the final papers were signed and we were no longer the owners of Peyrenègre. It was with very mixed emotions that we left for the last time and we were absolutely exhausted - we just didn't realise how much stuff we had even after throwing lots away!

Our lovely friends are letting us stay in their holiday home and we are so grateful to them.

We are snug as bugs in a rug in our little cottage
So what's happening at the ruin? Well the builders have started work on the barn. We are demolishing a part and aim to create 2 car ports, a workshop for Kevin ad a laundry room/second kitchen(for all that bottling and conserve making).

check out the hard hats! aka French berets

It got a bit muddy on day 2
Exciting isn't it?

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Yes we have now sold our lovely Peyrenègre!!!!!  While we are happy that we can now move on to our project au bourg we will miss this lovely place. where we have had so many happy times.

The garden in Spring

In France there is an initial signing when a deposit is paid by the buyers and after a 7 day cooling off period both sides are committed to the sale ( if either side withdraw they would pay a penalty of 10% of the house price to the other party). Then when all the legal paper work is done there final signing takes place and ownership is fully transferred. So we are hoping that our final signing will be sometime around the 14th May. At any rate it all means that we have only a few more weeks at Peyrenègre and so much to organise as well as welcoming guests to the holiday gîtes. We are delighted that the new owners will be continuing to run the gîtes.

One of our guests by the pool
So another chapter in our lives comes to its close. We have loved meeting new people and helping to make their holiday a success - many of our clients have become friends and we hope they will still keep in touch after our move. We survived the early years of free holiday seekers ( anyone who leaves the UK for sunnier climes will know what I mean) and have been happy to share Peyrenègre with true friends and of course our own family. We are looking forward to some of them staying again with us in the next few weeks to help us say goodbye.

Approach to Peyrenègre - soon we'll be looking over our shoulder at this view

We wish the new owners all the happiness and success we have had here in this lovely spot. Don't forget you can still share the delights of Peyrenègre by renting one of the lovely holiday gîtes here and if you do, pop down to the village to say hello!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Getting things moving

Before we could work on the village project we had to sell our beautiful farmhouse and gîtes. With a price fixed the house went on the market.

Meanwhile we started making plans. We commissioned an architect and before too long we had an idea of how our new home would look one day - at the bottom right you can see how it looked when we bought it so you can see may take quite some time arriving at that ' one day'.

The house now and hopefully as it will be - great location.
The necessary booklet of forms was submitted to the powers that be and after a couple of months the plans were approved - one step nearer. So now there's just the matter of selling our current property.

A bientôt.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pigs R Us

The pig dream

As I mentioned part of our plans for life at Kebourg is to keep pigs. Of course we are crazy but neither of us will ever really retire and we want to continue to have projects that interest us and keep us busy. Pigs fit the bill on both counts!

I searched the internet looking for venues for getting some experience about pigs before we actually took the plunge and was thinking that we would have to go back to the UK to find someone. I was delighted to find that Lorraine and David at Le Logis in the Deux Sèvres do pig experience days and Lorraine couldn't have been more helpful when I contacted her. So for Kevin's birthday in November the children clubbed together to buy him a pig experience day.

Le Logis pigs
 The big day arrives 

We finally set off for our pig day towards the end of January. We were lucky because Becky, a Berkshire sow , was in labour and by the time we arrived late on Friday afternoon she had given birth to 2 piglets. We went off to our lovely bedroom and large luxurious bed after we had eaten our supper in front of a lovely log fire, leaving Lorraine and David to play midwife until 2 in the morning. Nine more piglets were born and by the time we saw them they were all feeding happily while mum too her well earned rest.

Becky and piglets

The next morning dawned cold but sunny and after a delicious breakfast in the cosy kitchen we donned our outdoor gear and with Chris, the other subscriber to the 'experience' we ventured forth. Lorraine took us around all the pens for morning feed time and we were warmly welcomed by the pigs. She explained about the different breeds, how much to feed, housing requirements and indeed everything about pig husbandry and was willing to answer all our L plate questions.

Kevin and Chris take straw to the pig arks
Lorraine explains everything in detail

Here's a Berkshire and a Tamworth

A break for coffee and lots of pig books for us to browse and then a session on health and general care of the pigs. Again Lorraine and David were happy to answer all of our questions Then outside again to do some pig measuring - a formula to help us gauge the weight. The first thing Chris noticed as we got outside was a large Tamworth roaming outside the enclosures - Lily was exploring! She was led home with a bucket of food and didn't seem too upset to be back where she belonged.

Lily following Lorraine back to where she belongs

Lorraine and Chris measuring a Berkshire

We loved all the pigs but our favourite were the Gloucester old spots. They reminded me of the pigs in children's story books and they were very gentle - and on a  more sensible note would be great for the kind of charcuterie we want to do.

Kevin did some measuring while I did some falling in love!

After all that hands on experience it was time to taste some of the results and Dave had prepared a delicious meal with pork, of course, as the star turn.

 After the event

The pig experience had been great and had answered a lot of our questions and had given us a lot to think about. We have to decide what kind of pig we want and do some research perhpas into French rare breeds. Lorraine gave us lots of thing to look out for when buying weaners e.g. have they had teeth taken out by the breeder which would make it very difficult to forage outdoors.We have a lot to digest and need to weigh up all our options before jumping in so watch this space for what we decide to do next.

You can find all the photos of our pig experience here.