We invited Nicky’s mum Margaret to visit us, for the week spanning the occasion of her 71st birthday. Sorry, 51st, she reminded me. She was to be our first non-neighbouring visitor to see our new home and we were delighted to pause works and play at hosts.
This was her fifth visit to see us since we headed off on our travels back in September 2016. She first joined us in southern Spain to visit the area around Murcia and Cartagena. We saw Roman amphitheatres and medieval cathedrals as we explored the back streets of the cities, and had long, peaceful coastal walks ending with sea swims. Next up was a jaunt to the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, taking in Viking festivals, wind-swept beaches and wild mountain walks. When we made it back to France, she enjoyed joining us for a wintery Christmas break at La Reole whilst we were house-sitting, for riverside strolls and mulled wine picnics. Most recently she joined us for a week at Lake Vassivière to watch our first SwimRun event and enjoyed lots of cooling lake dips alongside us.
All very different times, places and experiences. But this time she was to be the first guest in our new French house. We had endeavoured to complete the redecoration of one spare room in time for her visit. Her arrival also gave us an excuse to down tools and enjoy a very welcome and much needed rest from our on-going renovation works. We drove to nearby Limoges airport and collected our visitor, exactly as we had done before our Lake Vassivière week. We returned home and, once settled, offered the grand tour of the property with glass in hand. We explained what it was like before, the works we had completed, began or are planning to do, likely boring in our obvious zeal. We then sat together on our patio, overlooking our glistening pool, and chatted the day away in full catch-up mode.
We had dips every day in our pool, with ice creams and bubbles or beers as we relaxed and chatted in the afternoon sun. We had short, local walks and foraged lazily for plums, blackberries and greengages that were later consumed or baked into yummy cakes. We lazed in hammocks or dipped our feet in the pool, reading and relaxing. Later, after an alfresco dinner, we sat outside watching the moon rise over our garden as the sun slowly disappeared behind our boundary trees. Once suitably dark, we presented a surprise, home-baked birthday cake, made with freshly picked blackberries and replete with candles, to mummy Margaret. The candles, once lit, became dancing sparklers that stubbornly refused to be extinguished despite multiple, breathless efforts from the laughing, excited Birthday girl.
For lunch one day, as a mini-treat and a new experience, we offered a serving of the very French dish of roasted snails. The plate served up was not the treat Nicky remembered from her previous work visits to Paris. These snails were not as tender, instead were more like garlic-flavoured chewing gum. We chewed them valiantly, but the gastronomic results were definitely not worth the jaw-straining exertion; they would not be remembered as one of our finer kitchen moments. We spent the afternoon in the pool, staying cool and being silly. We have an inflatable wallaby, called Wally, a legacy from the trip to Australia where we initially caught the campervan bug. This naughty wallaby liked to hitch a ride on Margaret’s head as she swam along. We’re not too sure what she thought of it all.
One cloudless day we planned a Brantôme trip, an historic town about 40 minutes away. This was a repeat stop for us, as we had visited prior to returning home a few months before. The central aire, solely for motorhomes, was the best option for the busy town and charged only €1 for five hours, perfect for a day visit. Even out of peak season the aire was busy, more than half its eighty spaces filled with visitors. We walked through the park and into the central canals, pausing to watch enthusiastic kayakers balance then slide over nearly-dry weirs with difficulty. We explored the tiny medieval streets and busy shops, the artist studios, farmers’ market stalls and troglodyte caves, before returning along the river to the peaceful surroundings of the aire enjoying our picnic lunch with a lovely cup of tea.
We had planned two special dinners, with two groups of neighbours, for during Margaret’s visit. The first was a fully French occasion, with Lionel and Isobel and their three year-old son, Laundrie. Margaret had previously lived in France for several years and could chat and tell her stories to our guests, making the evening fully inclusive. We cooked roast duck and all the trimmings whilst Laundrie happily scoffed, between bouts on his mini-tractor, all the honey-roast carrots and ice cream we had. The second event was more cosmopolitan, featuring English, Welsh and German neighbours. This time we served lamb with copious amounts of veg and wine, and everything was a louder, more raucous affair. Both nights were deemed a success, although the stress of hosting and cooking certainly took its toll.
One quiet morning we had a visit to Bussière-Galant to check out the swim lake at Espace Hermeline. We parked up as one of only three visitors, to find the building all shut up and the usual ‘Baignade Interdite’ signs in place. We walked a loop of the lake on easy forest trails, passing one lonely fisherman, taking in the tree-top activity courses and the long zip-line scooting out over the water. On returning to Benny we decided to ignore the signs and have ourselves a swim dip. The water was about 23 degrees, comfortable and clear, and we all enjoyed swimming a few lengths parallel to the beach. Heading home, we stopped at a large brocante store for a browse, marvelling at the worthless junk that others pay fortunes for, before buying some French novels that were priced by the kilogram.
It was a wonderful week of light adventure, walks and socialising. We swam and walked, explored and foraged, turning local wild fruits into cakes to share with the neighbours. We cooked huge slabs of duck and lamb for the first time and enjoyed serving them to the neighbours who had welcomed us to the hamlet. We visited historic towns and local swim spots and tried snails for the first, and likely last, time. We bought books by weight, chatted to curious cows in bright meadows, sat on the edge and cooled our feet in the pool as we enjoyed a drink. All were varied aspects of an easy, fulfilling life of casual leisure; time well-spent, company well met, simple pleasures well earned.