When we originally organised this house-sit, we thought it would offer an ideal base for house-hunting, but with that now ticked off, we would have little to do but relax and, hopefully, enjoy weeks of pleasant sunshine. We now hoped to spend quality time at the nearby Grand Etang La Jemaye and called in on our way up from Saurzac. It had an excellent set-up, with dedicated motorhome parking and a beachfront restaurant, but weirdly the entire lake edge was lined with “baignore interdit” signs. We asked and were told to ignore them if we wanted to swim, it would simply be at our own risk, so all good. We soon arrived at Vanxains, met up with Eric again, and had a lovely dinner with him and his partner Lorraine. We were introduced to their friendly French neighbours Pierre & Judith, charged with being our local assistance should we have any issues during our stay. It would be a very pleasant spot for us to spend our next six weeks.
We had two cats to look after, Rosie & Sweep, but they seemed to be no trouble at all, just coming and going as they pleased. Eric’s house was up for sale, and in our first two days we had three separate house viewings – the first two led by agents and one unexpected later in which we led the viewers, a couple from Leicester, around the property selling it to them as if it was our own. We had a flying visit from Monica and Ken, from our previous house-sit in Cazeneuve, for lunch and a chatty catch-up. They had ridden up to visit us on their motorcycles, enjoying the winding country roads and dry, sunny weather. On our third day here we had to drive north into Limousin, to the village of Piégut-Pluviers to visit the notaire and sign the compromis de vente for our new house. We met the sellers, fellow Brits Julia and Paddy, beforehand in the small market square and we all arrived together, to run through all the details of the sale contract.
After a busy few days, it was time to properly relax, at least how we like to. We cycled 10km on small, empty roads and cut-up muddy tracks to reach La Jemaye, and even on this lovely sunny day there were only five cars on site, their huge parking areas mostly empty. We cycled a full loop of the lake first, around 7km, then on our second lap we found a quiet spot on the bank to stash our bikes, quickly changed and enjoyed a wonderfully welcome lake swim. The water was much warmer than we were expecting, a real bonus this early in the season, and we were so excited about having this facility as a local venue. We had a few short, exploratory runs into the local village of Vanxains, and discovered a lovely, if hilly, 8km route around the local roads. This became a staple for us; we walked and ran it many times in both directions, with occasional variations. Being static for six weeks definitely has its advantages.
It was Nicky’s birthday during our first week in the house, and as part of our celebrations she chose to return to the lake, this time driving down to continue our training for our upcoming Swim-Run event in June. We found there were lots of well-kitted fishermen setting up for the day, like there was a competition on, so it was complicated to find a spot to enter the water without disturbing others. We ran around the edge of the lake from the motorhome parking to a quiet bank at a smaller lake, swam around 200m in reed-lined tranquillity, then climbed out the opposite bank and ran on. A few kilometres later we found another suitable place to swim, completed a shorter 150m swim, then got back to running. It was for us a chance to get used to the transition, and to swimming with trainers on and then running in wet gear. It felt good, much more comfortable than expected and we loved the easy switch of emphasis from using legs to using arms.
One evening our intensive post-exercise sun-bathing was interrupted by an unexpected knock on the door. Our British neighbours Liz and Graham had called to offer us an invitation to apéro at theirs, pre-dinner drinks, and we soon tidied ourselves up and obliged. We were given a short tour of their beautifully converted barn holiday-home, complete with spectacular views from the covered first floor terrace, then we sat in their garden in the evening sun, answering questions all about our travels as we got slowly toasted. It was wonderful to meet them. Other days, between long countryside walks, runs and cycles, we pottered around in Eric’s garden, grass cutting, clearing out the garden sheds to make then more usable and manageable and generally keeping everything tidy. It was such a peaceful location, set at the end of a long lane, not overlooked, and we loved to chill with a glass, admiring the garden and the view.
The first Friday of our stay we ventured into Ribérac, as this was when the celebrated regional market was held. We parked on the outskirts in a Lidl car-park and walked the last few hundred metres to the centre, to find a huge arrangement of stalls, and a loud, buzzing atmosphere of noise and colour. We wandered liberally, ultimately buying only a few vegetables but marvelling at the wide choice of items available; tomatoes to tambourines, wardrobes to watermelons. Sunning ourselves on our terrace later we sat much too long in the sun and I received my first sunburn of the year – such a basic, schoolboy error for one used to living with such pale, useless skin. We vowed to be more careful, as we still had so many places to see and grand plans for other day trips to come, and the sun would play a large part in all of these adventures. (Part 2 to follow…)