We had, mostly, readied ourselves and the house we were tasked with looking after for our imminent departure. Our host Eric telephoned to say he would be home a day earlier than originally expected, so we cut short our final hours of sun-worshipping to complete the last tidy-up tasks, made a cup of tea and awaited his return. We spent the evening catching up and chatting with Eric, then on to bed. The rain returned the next morning as we removed the final traces of our presence, we said our goodbyes and, for the first time in six weeks, we were back on the road.
We didn’t venture too far. We had been harbouring plans to visit the town of Brantôme for months, and the time had now arrived. We scorned a few free aires nearby for a centrally located ACSI campsite, as a gradual stepping-stone transition from a large, comfortable house to life back in a 6m box. Set on the banks of the river Dronne, Campsite Brantôme Peyrelevade was a very tidy, peaceful haven, complete with a lovely swimming pool and set an easy five minutes away from the heart of the historic centre. The heavy rain had followed us here, but soon lessened to a trickle and we decided, after an obligatory cup of tea, that it was time to go explore. By the time we left the grounds of the campsite the sky was clearing, the rain had stopped and there was a threat that the sun might break through.
A gravel track led us easily to a large canoe centre where we could cross a small tributary of the river to enter the central streets. Brantôme central is a circular island, surrounded by a natural moat formed by a split in the flow of the river Dronne. Five bridges, like extended spokes on a wheel, connect the island to the surrounding mainland. Its foremost attraction, although not itself positioned on the island, is the 8th century Benedictine Abbey, founded by Charlemagne. The original cloister and church were joined by an 11th century Romanesque bell tower and further monastic accommodations. But life was lived out here long before the abbey was built; there were residents in the extensive cliff caves behind, and many relics from these original troglodytes are now displayed within the church.
Patches of blue sky appeared overhead as we wandered through the historic streets. We had fully expected our walk to come complete with dreary grey views and a proper drenching, but with the ever-brightening day came a similar rise in our mood and expectation, and everything felt like a welcome bonus. We walked slowly through parks and gardens, relaxed and happy. The city streets were busy with tourists, the restaurants spilling out into small squares. We heard lots of English voices, more than we’d experienced in France before, but it is certainly the season for it; the summer madness was ready to explode into action. We watched people kayaking around the river, made complicated by weirs blocking routes, and passed a wonderful rusty curved cello sculpture set up on a bridge.
We returned to the campsite by the same path, happy to have enjoyed a break in the weather for our town visit. Huge swathes of grey clouds began gathering again on the horizon and we expected the rain to return soon. Before that happened, we decided to have a quick dip in the pool. We swam a bunch of lengths in the too-hot water, showered and dressed, making it back into Benny with only seconds to spare before the deluge returned. The rest of the night was spent with the sound of rain for company, along with never-ending tea and multiple back-to-back episodes of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. The morning was, thankfully, dry. We had a quick exploratory walk around the campsite and its riverbanks before heading off north; we had organised a quick visit to (almost) our new house.
We parked at the nearby village of Gorre, in a huge empty carpark adjacent to the church. After lunch, we got out our much under-used bikes and cycled a hilly 19km around beautiful local lanes, all soon to be forming the starting point for longer cycle trips from our new house. We met up with Julia again and measured up a few rooms and took a few other dimensions to help us ascertain which items of furniture we should bring with us, or what new pieces we may need to consider. After a tour of the flowering garden we said our goodbyes and cycled back to Benny to relax. We decanted back to nearby Châlus to overnight, feeling like regulars there. We had a brief visit over to Flavignac the following day to check out a possible swim lake, but an outbreak of blue-green algae has closed it for now – shame.
After a quick supermarket shop and a lazy brunch, we popped into Decathlon for a few items, before stopping to overnight at a free aire in Solignac. Here the sun reappeared and dominated our restful afternoon, lazing by a football pitch, watching the groundsman cut the grass with exacting precision and dedication. A few guys turned up to train equally lazily on the neat football pitches. The next morning, Thursday, we dragged ourselves out for a jaunty 7km run through the village and back along the muddy riverbank, before making our way to Limoges airport; we had work to do. We parked Benny in Long Stay and that afternoon we caught a flight home to go through all our stuff currently stored in Nicky’s mum’s garage and decide what was going to come back with us to France.
We deliberately organised a small removals van of 15 cubic metres, so we have to be selective with our needs. We’ve proved we could easily live with just what little we have in Benny, but houses are different animals and demand to be filled with stuff. We needed, as always, to be disciplined and sensible. After 18+ months of travelling light in Benny, we had pared down our lives to a simplified palette of what was really necessary. And even then, we have found ourselves not using or wearing many items that we brought with us, after what, at the time, was thought an extreme and difficult cut in personal possessions. We were never hoarders before, and never had a real desire for things, at least relatively compared to others we know. But even what little we had collated over the passing years now seemed, when viewed through the hindsight of our recent existence, like an embarrassing abundance.
We had box after box of clothes, books, ornaments, crockery, kitchen utensils and stationery items, alongside rows of wardrobes stuffed with even more clothes, linen, blankets, tablecloths and towels. We had gardening tools, bike tools, DIY tools, buckets, planters, ladders, cables, strimmers and clippers. We had rows of bookshelves groaning with books, DVDs and magazines. We have no idea what to do with it all, as after three days of opening, checking and repacking every box, we are taking less than a quarter of it back to our house in France. We discarded some items, gave away a few boxes of others, but the rest, deemed too good to throw away, is simply being left behind for now.