Tag Archives: gardens

Spain / France – Crossing the Pyrénees to Pau

The building traffic noise in awakening Pamolona arrived swiftly, shaking us early from our slumber.  The rain had died down to a soft drizzle and a murky grey smudge of sky filled our view.  We serviced quickly and, after a brief hiccup attempting to exit the aire, we became just another slowly rolling box in the wet morning rush through the city.

Pyrenees - (viewing the road ahead)

It didn’t take long to escape and reach roads of quiet isolation, rising higher into the mountains.  Suddenly we were in an area of deep forest on high hills, exposed rock faces set in an otherwise carpet of green, looking like the Lost World.  We were the only vehicle for miles on an empty sliver of grey twisting itself upwards through the rocky autumnal landscape.  Rich explosions of yellow, like fireworks, created a fleeting, speckled beauty as we drove past. It was a sublime drive.  We had chosen to follow the shortest route back into France, first east from Pamplona then north east via the Puerto de Larrau pass, dropping directly into France and on to Pau.  Or so we thought, at least.

Pyrenees - (beautiful autumn colours)

Patches of snow between the trees and ferns became more numerous as we rose higher.   Later, light snow, almost horizontal in the wind, fell across our path as we cautiously approached the col.  Right at the top, the country border, we discovered that the French had not cleared their side and that thick drifts had already obscured the road ahead. The steep drop-off sides of the narrow road were indistinguishable from the surface, the layer of snow uniforming everything.  No way we were chancing driving down that, even if only for a few kilometres, so we had to delicately turn and retrace our way back down the Spanish side and follow a lower road east, to Isaba.  This was the crossroads point for another mountain col we could attempt, so we stopped for lunch to consider our options.

Pyrenees - (snow lining the road)

Pyrenees - (nearing the col)

Rather than return over the mountain on another narrow pass that may also be shut or uncleared, we decided to turn south, deeper into Spain.  We tracked back to the main road, a trip a few hours longer but much easier and safer driving.  As a reward for our prudence, the road back was lined with even more impressive, colourful trees, a glimmering fire-burst of yellows, reds and oranges.  Over four hours after leaving Pamplona we rejoined the main road only 40km east of the city, a lengthy but beautiful detour behind us.  From here it was all decent motorway back up into the mountains, through a long tunnel rather than a col into France, then a drop down to the city of Pau.

Pau - (tour de france installation)

We headed first to a large car-park with free parking for up to seven days.  From here we crossed to a leafy park, heading for a signed funicular to carry us to the raised city streets, but found it closed.  On the way we discovered a bright Tour de France spiral installation, with illuminated information tableaux celebrating each year’s winner.  We learned that Pau has hosted the Tour seventy times in the last eighty-one editions of the race – acting as a key entry point to the challenging Pyrénees stages.  We stood in the rain and read a few select years, noting the black tableaux for uncontested (war) years and that all of Lance Armstrong ‘wins’ were still included in the display; all very interesting.

Pau - (place royale)

Pau - (hotel de ville)

We climbed up the hill to reach a paved boulevard that looked more like an elegant sea-front.  It offered incredible views out to the valley below and the mountains behind.  We wandered to the Place Royale, with its avenue of squared trees, that led to the Hôtel de Ville.  The town was quiet, everything closed, and it was only now that we remembered it was a bank holiday.  The quiet emptiness added a grandeur as the architecture of the buildings, rather than the commerce they normally housed, became our main focus.  Pau had grand Parisian-like streets, wide and elegant, with lively touches of Art Deco curves.

Pau - (city streets)

Pau - (chateau de Pau entrance)

We walked through and around the Castle gardens, taking in the view over the western portion of the city.  There were very few other visitors braving the rain and we enjoyed the calming peace of our directionless stroll.  We doubled back through more grand streets to see the tall spires of Relais Saint Jacques and the adjacent courthouse set in a large square hosting several statues.  From here we reached a large shopping plaza, glitzy and new, contrasting with the surrounding architecture, but definitely working as a modern public meeting space.  Even in the dull rains Pau continued to impress us.

Pau - (church and courts)

Pau - (palais beaumont)

We returned to the raised boulevard walkway that spanned the length of the centre and again took in the wonderful views south, then we walked east to the far edge of the centre.  A welcome blue sky made a brief appearance as we approached the Palais Beaumont, before the familiar grey descended once more.  We walked around Parc Beaumont, passing empty play areas and lakes, before the returning rain decided for us that our walking tour should come to an end.  We carefully headed down several flights of steep, slippy, leaf-strewn steps to return to Benny for our last miles north.

A&N x

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Spain – San Sebastián, revisited

We slept soundly, weary from our run, despite the pounding rain bouncing noisily off Benny’s roof.  When morning arrived the deluge had dissipated and the sun was out – it was time to move on. We followed the busy coast road west, slow behind unpassable tractors and cyclists on the narrow roads, in the direction of Spain.  We passed through the pretty looking Saint-Jean-de-Luz, spotting a messy aire tightly packed with manoeuvring motorhomes set in a great central position, before dropping down to cross the notional country border at Behobia.

We had driven this road before, a little over two years ago, and we mused on how much we’d seen and done in the time since.  Benny was almost new then, with less than 3000 miles on his clock, in comparison to the near 29000 miles we have driven now.  We stayed off the tolled motorway, preferring the coast road into San Sebastián, knowing we only had a short drive day.  We arrived at the central aire near the university and were surprised to see it so packed, although many spaces were coned off for large buses to use.  We nabbed one of the few remaining spaces, bought a €3.30 overnight ticket and headed to see the bay.

San Sebastian - (first views of the bay)

San Sebastian - (the main beach)

Despite having been here before, we were again stunned by its easy, natural beauty, regal buildings and sparkling sea. The day was clear and bright, and in direct sun it was scorching, skin blistering hot, unseasonably warm even for Spain.  We had slept through the worst of the predicted heavy rains and were beyond the ugly reach of the nasty hurricane currently battering Portugal and southern Spain; it all couldn’t have worked out better for this visit. We walked to the old town and nosed around the busy tapas bars in the tiny streets, loving the colour and variety.  This trip for us had been built around several interesting 10+km runs, a means for us to experience familiar places in a different way. Part of our plan was to be tee-total for the duration, as we’d been hitting the pop with our new neighbours a little too hard. Nowhere was this self-imposed exile from our tasty lubricating friend harder to endure than in these sociable back-streets tucked behind Spain’s most beautiful bay.

San Sebastian - (view of bay)

San Sebastian - (walking on beach)

The only downside of this visit was realising just how obviously rusty and basically useless our Spanish had gotten in our time away – we need to visit more.  We skipped out of the bars before temptation won us over and instead ate takeaway snacks on the beachfront, soaking up the view and the sun. After eating our fill and enjoying a lazy bout of people-watching, we walked back around the combined length of Kontx and Ondarreta beaches, slowly dragging our toes in the cool waters and dreaming of owning the domed paradise of Santa Clara, with its beautiful solitary house set deep in tall trees, a focus point just off-shore out in the curved bay.  We watched several hardy swimmers cross the wide bay and began making plans to mimic them, mañana.

San Sebastian - (on beachfront)

We awoke the next morning to find a grey blanket had descended, and the air a near-frosty 15 degrees; normal weather service had resumed.  We postponed our swim plans until the afternoon and instead grabbed our bikes for a morning’s exploration.  We rolled along the beachfront again, this time continuing to the bay’s third beach, Zurriola.  We paused near a Conference Centre and watched groups of surfers take lessons.  We saw other groups, carrying boards in pairs, walking in lines towards the water, and we were sure they were school classes heading not for maths or history, but for double surf.  Nearby, other school kids noisily played basketball, choosing dunks over tubes.  We were stopped by fencing at the end of the beach, the route blocked to protect against falling rocks.

San Sebastian - (Zurriola beach)

San Sebastian - (walking through park)

We doubled back and hugged the coast behind the Old Town and Mont Urgull, enjoying the raw power of the breakers smashing persistently into the tall protective walls. We reached a dead end high above our onward path and had to take a glass elevator down to the lower level, just squeezing our bikes in alongside a couple of bemused locals. We headed back to Kontx beach, then south through more residential areas, and climbed a steep hill to reach a park we had noted on a city map. At the gate we discovered that riding bikes was not allowed in Parc Aiete, so we instead pushed our steeds up the leafy, shady hairpin track.  Nearing the top we arrived at an interesting small grotto, before carrying our bikes up a final series of steps to reach a grassy, formally-laid out plateau.

The Palais d’Aiete, a large white building sat here all closed up, looking lonely.  We had hoped for views during our climb, but the bay and beaches were hidden by tall townhouses, so a sea of rooftops was our only prize.  At least we had one reward – a long, flowing descent from the hilltop back to where Benny was parked, passing screaming school kids as we whizzed by.  We had a lazy lunch to refuel from our 20km jaunt around town then cycled back to the beach, this time with rucksacks stuffed with wetsuits, goggles and towels. Our patience had delivered; the air had warmed sufficiently, to 22 degrees, and had convinced us to swim.

San Sebastian - (pre-swim selfie)

At Ondarreta beach there were lockers and hot showers available for €1.50, so we locked up the bikes outside, changed and lockered our gear, then headed to the water.  We passed guys skilfully playing footie-volleyball and a few other swimmers now resting wearily on the sand.  The sea was around 18 degs, clear and blue, generally flat but with the occasional bout of high waves that swelled menacingly from nowhere.  We swam east, parallel to the shore, aiming roughly for the centre of Kontx beach.  With each breath our view was filled by Santa Clara island and Mont Urgull, both framed by a moody, greying sky. Changing our plans we didn’t go ashore as the fierce breakers had grown in intensity and we thought we might struggle to get back out.  Instead we turned around and headed back, staying away from the frothing surf in relatively calmer waters. Nearing our start point we cut diagonally back in, covering only 1km but contented to have finally had our long-desired swim in beautiful San Sebastián bay.

A&N x

France – Pageas and our new French home

Leaving Séreilhac we had only a few miles to travel to reach our destination.  We met the sellers, Pat and Julia, again on Monday morning to take final meter readings and inspect that all has been left as contractually required.  We had a brief master-class in how to look after the pool, hoping we have understood, alongside gaining knowledge about other more familiar aspects of how the house works.  Then we drove to the Notaire and revisited the purchase agreement, signed up and were handed the keys.

It is real.  It is ours.

Our House - (Nicky in pool)

Our House - (breakfast on terrace)

Since then, we’ve been settling into our new French home for about a month.  We are loving it, but there are so many things we want to do, to sort out, to tidy up, to change, to fix, that we need to stop ourselves occasionally and take time to smell the roses.  Each day, from waking at 8am to dinner at 8pm, we work.  We scrub the floors, the kitchen units, the fridge, the walls.  We cut hedges and bamboo and trees.  We build a compost heap to corral all the cuttings in one place.  We clear moss and ivy off old stonework.  We clean out the sheds and ready them for new concrete floors.  We remove all pots, balls, old tiles, bits of metal and discarded tools that litter the site to one busy corner, leaving an area of our garden looking like an abandoned brocante store.  We end our days grubby, tired and contented.

Our House - (Trimming the roses)

Our House - (clearing wisteria)

We replace or renew window handles.  We trim over-zealous plants to regain a semblance of control.  We scrape peeling paint and varnish off sun-bleached doors.  We remove nails and screws and hooks from walls, refiling then sanding down in preparation for upcoming re-painting.  We call all utilities and set up our accounts.  We organise to have TV and internet installed, eventually.  Our hands and arms are speckled with petty cuts and bruises from the fights we’ve had with the garden.  We unpack boxes and decide where our things should be, them looking meagre now in such large spaces.  We pot up lettuce and herbs, to hopefully be ready in a month’s time.  In the glaring heat of each day we sweat and toil, but reward ourselves with dips in our wonderfully refreshing pool at key strategic intervals.

Our House - (cottage lounge)

Our House - (barnside lounge)

We make lists and tick off jobs as we complete them, satisfyingly.  Every third day or so we drive to the outskirts of Limoges with long lists of required items, buying shears and secateurs, gardening gloves, a wheelbarrow, tins of paint, rollers and brushes, wood-stain, furniture pieces, French plugs and adaptors, kitchen cooking items, lights bulbs, large bins, extension cables, pool treatment chemicals, curtain poles, plant seeds, and all the rest.  All the things that we have not had to think about for the previous two years as we doodled around, unencumbered, in Benny.  But mostly we love it, and keep staring, amazed, that this is our space, our garden, our pool, our land.  Our home.  Each night we go to bed exhausted but happy, tired from our efforts but happy in our choices and progress.

Our House - (Benny on driveway)

Our House - (removing walls)

One afternoon we cycled to the nearby town of Pageas to visit the Mairie.  We registered that we had moved in and had many questions answered by the helpful secretary.  We registered our bin delivery (each bin is bar-coded and is weighed and charged per kg of waste) and signed up for a déchetterie card, allowing us to begin removing the discarded items we’ve uncovered.  We cycled one Thursday to Champsac to meet the local Brits at a pub night; a necessary introduction, but not something we wish to make a habit of.  We have run a few of the local paths and chemins, slowly finding our way around the local lands, excited by the variation and ease of off-road trails.  We have immediate access to some lovely running routes straight from the house, although it’s been too hot to go far.

Our House - (from the bottom of garden)

Our House - (cutting the paddock)

We’ve met many of the neighbours, getting rather drunk with them on far too many occasions, considering the short time we’ve been here.  Everyone has been fantastic, helpful and very welcoming.  The house has been measured and drawn up, in anticipation of sorting out semi-major renovations to both bathrooms and the addition of a pool surround.  The future addition of a balcony to our master suite has been sized up, designed and the only remaining item to source is the preferred guarding.  One of our small stone outbuildings has been ear-marked as a potential writing den and hideaway, once it has been tidied up and re-roofed.  One guest bedroom has been fully completed, taking three or four coats to sharpen up, after weeks of filling and sanding and rubbing.  All is going very, very well.

Our House - (weeding the garden)

Our House - (view from balcony)

When we look at what we’ve achieved already, against the time we’ve been here, we are quite amazed.  Our hands are cut and sore, we have a multitude of bites and scrapes, but already a basketful of great memories.  But we are still impatient for more, as we can clearly see the full potential of our home and wish it to be completed.  Orchards, wild meadows, a full vegetable patch, walls rebuilt, a secret garden area for the evening sun – we have plenty to keep us busy.  We are also looking at upcoming trips in Benny, keen for a short break and a new adventure in the Pyrenees or Spain.  Or the Italian Dolomites.  Or Corsica. We shall see how the fancy takes us, as whilst we love spending time in our new house, we do also miss the easy freedom of the open road.

But we have nothing but time.

A&N x

France House-sit – Vanxains, near Riberac (Part 3)

Visits to Lacapelle-Biron and Cazeneuve

The long sun-drenched days in Vanxains simply glided by, our hours filled with nothing substantial but brimmed with relaxation and rest.  We rewarded every two hours of strenuous physical effort, either running, walking, swimming or cycling, with double that of lazy sitting or lying in the garden, reading and watching the burning sun slowly drift across the sky.  It’s a great balance for us, the daily exercise and the deliberate rest, and this easy luxury of filling our time exactly as we wish has a wonderfully cathartic effect.  The hours and days of the week have constricted in their use to hold little meaning to us, as we now live solely on the timescales of the rising and setting of the sun, and of the changing seasons.

Villereal - (Covered market)

Villereal - (Church)

Nicky has an old university friend with a holiday home in Lacapelle-Biron, near to Monpazier, and we organised a visit for when they were in-country.  After a brief stop in Bergerac on the way, we enjoyed a flying visit to the bastide town of Villeréal, where we walked the historic streets, taking in the elaborate timber marketplace and tall stone church.  Not long after, we arrived at Mandy and Simon’s villa, where we were soon splashing in their pool, sipping beers and swapping stories, all generously accompanied by birdsong and afternoon rays.  We later retired to their patio for dinner and wine, eating and chatting long into the night, punctuated with earnest discussions on what music to play next.  The following morning we ate a tasty late breakfast outside under the shade of a wisteria-covered pergola.  We were, surprisingly and gladly, experiencing only the dull hint of the fully-expected hangover.

Lacapelle - (Mandy & Nicky)

Lacapelle - (Mandy & Simon)

We said our goodbyes as we had another lunch date with Ken & Monica in Cazeneuve, which was spent relaxing by their pool, complete with much more chatting and eating.  It was fascinating for us to see Cazeneuve blossoming into summer, such a different appearance from before.  Every vista was now green, lush and fruitful, more opaque with dense foliage than the skinny, dormant mud-browns of the winter months we had recently spent there; it was transformed.  Monica & Ken were expecting the arrival of an Australian couple later that afternoon, their guests under Home Exchange, a scheme that we hope to utilise in future years with our new French home, opening up more travel options further afield.  We thanked them for lunch and left them to prepare for their far-flung visitors.

Cazeneuve - Poolside dining

Cazeneuve - Poolside lunch

One damp Monday morning, we decided to drive to the nearby market town of Chalais.  We had been informed it was one of the most worthwhile local markets to visit, but on a dull, grey day under the constant threat of rain it seemed rather small and basic.  Perhaps this was because the scattering of stalls were widely spaced out along many streets, rather than clustered together in a central location, and the day’s meagre crowds didn’t stretch wide enough to offer a hearty noise or an interesting buzz.  Or perhaps we had so recently been spoiled by the large markets in Issigeac and Ribérac that we were anticipating more, our personal expectations raised and dashed through no fault of Chalais.  We walked up a steep hill to look at the local château before disappearing back through the wet streets.

Chalais Market (town streets)

Vanxains - flood defenses

Another day we visited the village of Saint-Aulaye, where we squeezed through a tight timber gate to access the ample parking before undertaking a self-guided walking tour of the village’s Roman highlights.  We kept up our schedule of long countryside runs and quiet evening walks, punctuated with lots of down-time, disguised in our minds as ‘recovery’.  We enjoyed several more swims and runs around Jemaye lake, further training sessions for our upcoming SwimRun event.   On several occasions we experienced serious thunderstorms and minor flooding at the house, interspersed with momentary losses of electricity.  Once these storms broke, we were usually treated to wide-reaching and spectacularly deep sunsets across the expansive valley, all visible from the bottom of the garden.

Vanxains - Lazy cats

Vanxains - (Garden sunsets)

On our last Friday we cycled a beautiful cross-country route vaguely northwards, on chalky paths and tiny roads, their grassy centre-line a testament to the lack of use.  We struck out a winding route into the west of Ribérac, dropping down into the edge of town via a fantastic descent through wheat fields on a stony path.  We weaved through the neat suburbs before we again joined the crowds at the weekly market.  The conversational buzz and bright colours of the busy centre were striking in contrast to just moments before, where only the muted colours and tweeting noises of the countryside existed.  We parked up and walked a loop, enjoying the contrast with the green silence. After exhausting the market stalls, we had a quick stop at the Hôtel de Ville before cycling out of town.

Riberac - busy market

Riberac - hotel de ville

We returned home by a new route, finding a quiet stretch of road alongside a small trickle of a river, it passing through woodland filled with the bending trunks of tall, graceful trees.  The route was a continuous ribbon of green rolling hills, each crest offering far-reaching views of the surrounding lands, made up of expansive hectares of manicured fields with only a light scattering of stone houses and outbuildings visible.  The fields were planted with barley, sweetcorn and sunflowers, still small and green, but ensuring the vista would evolve yet again, to be resplendent with brilliant yellows in the months to come.  Legs tingling from our efforts, we settled back into our lazy garden life, soaking up the sun in the close company of cats, again feeling like the ones who got the crème.

Vanxains - Last night sunset

Vanxains - Last night reflections

We spent a large part of the day readying for leaving – we packed up all non-essentials, tidied up the house and, under a scorching sun, completed a last cut of the fast-growing garden.  With everything in good shape, we decided to make a little micro-adventure for ourselves after dinner.  We took our camping chairs and a bottle of single malt with us and walked up a local grassy chemin to a nearby hillside, where we took up temporary residence on a gravel plateau to enjoy the setting of the sun over the lush valley.  We settled in, each poured ourselves a glass and sipped in silence as the sun slowly disappeared behind the horizon, just like the fun-filled days and weeks we’ve spent here have now vanished into the past.  Here was the end of another, very different but equally wonderful, house-sit, and we felt so fortunate to have been offered the opportunity to spend such quality time in these peaceful surroundings.

A&N x

 

France House-sit – Vanxains, near Riberac (Part 2)

Our days have continued to pass much as they have done for much of this house-sit to date; filled with short bursts of frantic activity framed with large doses of lazy sun-worshipping.  Or, when rains arrived, and they really arrived, catching up on missed TV shows, movies or books, whilst marvelling at the tropical-like deluges ripping up outside our windows.  It’s been a varied and interesting stay to date, a fine mix of activity, exploration, reading and rest.

Aubeterre - riverside

Aubeterre -rooftop view

One fine day we decided to cycle to a nearby beaux village of Aubeterre-sur-Dronne – 14km of hilly cross-country with a few off-road stretches on dusty, chalk paths that reminded us of the South Downs Way in England.  Avoiding all main roads, we soon reached a campsite on the outskirts of the town and stopped in to admire their public swim beach on the river; it looked like a nice aire to visit should we be back here in future days.  From there we followed a steep cut-back uphill, passing the entrance to cliff-face caves, to reach the beautiful, shady main square.  We locked up our bikes and walked around the pretty centre, through steep, narrow streets, visiting the dominant stone church before buying a baguette back at the main square for lunch. We sat a while and people-watched in the glorious sun.

Aubeterre - central square

Aubeterre - people watching

Another day we cycled the 16km to Bertric-Burée, with the intent of attending an advertised Snail Festival.  We crossed the calmly flowing river Dronne at Épeluche, sticking to rural back routes and quiet gravel trails on the way.  It was a beautiful cycle, but it turned out we chose the wrong day; the three day local festival had a different focus each day, and the snail stalls would only appear on the Monday, not the Saturday.  Even then, the festival began after lunch, 2pm, so there was nothing open when we arrived – zut alors! Still, it had been worth a look and the car-free roads offered some fantastic cross-country cycling.  We considered a return in two days, but that weekend turned out to be scorching hot, so instead we spent it vegging in the garden, slowly pottering with the blooming plants.

Vanxains - arriving home

Vanxains - garden chilling

Another day we went for an 11km countryside run in the early morning, but it was still not quite early enough.  The day was not yet 9am but already a blistering 25 degrees, and had not a breath of wind.  We ran along many beautiful tracks and passed through a few sleepy stone villages, but we were both a hot, sweaty mess when we got finally got back home. We had a quick, cold shower then headed straight over into our neighbours’ pool, where the cool water sizzled from the heat of our skin.  It was such a refreshing feeling to cool off properly after some good work in the repressive heat, and made us glad that our recently purchased house comes with a pool.  The following day, in deep contrast, we spent a very rainy afternoon mooching inside, and got our UK tax returns and other paperwork sorted.

Vanxains - Table tennis

Vanxains - Iris and sunset

Vanxains - Terrace breakfasts

Returning from one walk, we popped in to see neighbours Judith and Pierre, and invite them to apéro later in the week.  We agreed that the coming Saturday was best.  They arrived shortly after the agreed 6pm and we spent a happy hour and a half chatting with them, half in French, half in English.  We drank lots of wine and nibbled at the bruschetta and other savoury snacks we prepared.  We had no experience of what apéro should be like or what their expectations may be, this being our first with actual French neighbours, but we seemed not to have offended too greatly.  We mentioned we had spotted a table tennis table in their garden, and Pierre said that it had sat unused for five years, so we could borrow it.  We jumped at the offer, and he delivered it to us the next morning – excellent!

Vanxains - countryside wlk

Vanxains - long walk

We continued with more swim-run training sessions at the Lake Jemaye, returning several times to enjoy long swims or short bursts combined with various transitions and runs.  We rarely saw others there, other than a few staff members tasked with woodland maintenance or beach clean-up.  Even after bouts of heavy rain, the lake water remained comfortably warm and we revelled in the solitude, in contrast to what we imagine the short, hectic summer months must be like in such well-provisioned place.  On one occasion we arrived on a French Bank holiday and had a taste of what it must be like in summer, the place brimming with motorhomes and cars, with large tables laden with food and wine everywhere, everyone enjoying the sunshine.  We were still the only swimmers though.

Vanxains - cycle selfie

Vanxains - off-road cycles

We took long day walks in scorching heat, exploring the nearby hills and woodlands.  We played games of table tennis nearly every day, although in all the time there I took only one game off my annoyingly talented wife.  We continued to dabble in necessary gardening, although the lawn had recently developed a spiky infestation that had suddenly made areas of the garden extremely treacherous to bare feet.  We initially suspected it was a kind of invasive knotweed, but later discovered it was self-seeding bamboo. We enjoyed wonderful, red-bursting sunsets almost every night from the west-facing garden, settling into little rituals that gave a semblance of structure to our easy existence.  We had a forged a slow, humble life, free from encumbrances, filled with exercise, outdoor-living and simple pleasures.

A&N x

France House-sit – Vanxains, near Riberac (Part 1)

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.

Vanxains - (rear garden)

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.

Vanxains - (Visit from Monica and Ken)

Vanxains - (relaxing out back)

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.

Vanxains - (Lake Jermaye cycle)

Vanxains - (ready to swim)

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.

Vanxains - (apero with neighbours)

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.

Vanxains - (country walks)

Vanxains - (relaxing on terrace)

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…)

A&N x