In February 2004, on a cold and sleety February morning, I boarded a ferry at Dover and watched the famous White Cliffs fade as I headed to France on a day trip with my dad and my husband. We were going to buy wine and cheese, have lunch and head back home with our booty.
It didn’t quite work out as planned. We bought the wine and cheese. We couldn’t find anywhere open to have lunch as we left it too late. So we succumbed to a cup of coffee offered to us by a property agent who spotted not just our rather miserable faces peering in his window but also an opportunity! Despite my adamant assertion that 1. we didn’t want a house in France and 2. we couldn’t afford a house in France, he persuaded us (me) to look at his three cheapest properties. And somehow I fell in love with one of them despite the fact that frankly it was a hovel. I bought it there and then (it was very cheap, less than the price of one of Kim Kardashian’s designer handbags), though my dad said it was going to be a ‘never ending money pit.’
A home in France – not just a house
Well this year may be the year (year 19 since we bought it) we finally finish renovating. Stage one. Dad was probably right. The house is now comfortable and I think, rather nice. We basically built a house within the shell of an old barn that was insulated with tons of a mix of muck, mud and straw which we spent many fun-filled days (not) removing. I’ve filled the house with mementoes of my travels around France. And with animals. 4 dogs and 8 cats, plus occasionally a hedgehog called Charlie and a dove called Doris. Though when the weather is good they stay outside with the many chickens, ducks and geese that rule my garden.
The village I live in, in Pas de Calais, is very rural, very authentic, my dad used to say it was like going back 50 years in England. There are no shops, bars or cafés in my village. Just 150 people – mostly farm workers – and 1000 cows in a very green corner of paradise.
My 90-year-old neighbour Claudette has watched us toil on our house these past two decades. We’ve laid floors where there was once dirt. Pututting in windows where there were once holes. And fixed a roof that you could once see the stars through.
“A house is built of logs and stone, of tiles and posts and piers” she said to me recently, quoting her favourite author Victor Hugo. “A home is built of loving deeds that stand a thousand years…”
Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream, My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online.
She is also the editor of the world’s most popular English language magazine about France – and it’s FREE here: magazine.thegoodlifefrance.com
And she is a podcaster on all things French!