8 July 2018



The Château de L’islette

With what seems like an endless stream of visitors after our brief holiday in the Dordogne and a flying visit back to the UK last month I now find it’s more than a whole month since my last post!

I WILL post more about our holiday at some point but on the whole it was not a huge success.  The gîte was horrible, utterly charmless, uncomfortable and right next to a very noisy road.  The weather was not great and when it’s raining is when you need a nice gîte to relax in – either that or you drive around in the rain.  We didn’t last the whole week and gave up on the Thursday – returning to our own lovely home in France and to better weather too.  Hey ho.


One of the good things about having visitors is that in order to entertain them we visit places we haven’t been for a long time or ones that are completely new to us.  So it is that we went to the Château de L’Islette.


It’s not far from Château de Azay-le-Rideau along the road in the direction of Langeais and although we must have driven past it dozens of times it’s only recently that we noticed it was there.


There is a reason for this – that it has only been opened up to the public in recent years and I think it was probably previously hidden behind tall hedges and trees.  The family that have restored it now live in it for seven months of the year, moving out to the farm on the estate over the summer months so that visitors can see it.


It is truly delightful, obviously a family home as judged by the furnishings and the kitchen.  It seems both funny and charming to see Ikea furniture and other bits and pieces amongst antique furniture and fittings.  So normal yet truly grand at the same time.


The bathroom is heavy on wow factor and utterly fabulous.  In fact the whole house (or the bit you are allowed to view) is just gorgeous.  Everything you would like your own château to be if you were lucky enough to own one.


You can only think that the owners must be very nice people indeed.  Everything for the visitor is provided thoughtfully and carefully, even down to the little pieces of prickly holly placed tactfully on the chairs you should not sit on and very comfy cushions on the ones that you should.  So much nicer than the stern notices in other houses declaring that one should not place one’s bottom here or else!


As a day out it is very worth the €9 entrance fee AND it offers the free visit as well as the dreaded guided tour. 


We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and will go back again for a second look before long.  There are always things you don’t take in on the first visit.  We went on a blisteringly hot day and it was lovely to spend time inside where it was cool – next time we might feel more like exploring the outdoors too.


Back at home we are pleased that the fields that surround our house on three sides (all four sides if you include the fields across the road) have been harvested.  We dread the actual day that it happens as the noise and dust are intense.  We shut all the doors and windows as well as the cat flap and the house vibrates as the machine comes right up to the back wall.  In reality Daisy usually heads for a hiding space under a bed or in the wardrobe as soon as she hears the tractor coming and shows no sign of wanting to venture outside until well after it has gone.


Our famer – that’s how we think of the farmer who owns the land which surrounds the house – alternates between corn and rape (colza) crops and this year has been rape.  It’s an unattractive plant.  Bright and cheerful briefly when in flower but untidy and smelly afterwards.  It grows to about shoulder height and smells like boiled cabbage when damp – and damp is something we have had a lot of this year. 

It takes the farmer less than a full day to get the whole lot in, finishing off by emptying the black seeds into another tractor which then takes them to the grain store.  He leaves behind a thick layer of dust which lies between the rows of dry stubble but the view and the smell are dramatically improved.  As are the reduction in the number of flies and the increase in Daisy’s supply of mice – they must be easier to catch when she has no thick undergrowth to fight her way through!


And so life in rural France goes on.  The harvest is in, the grass is growing slowly due to the heat and needs only occasional mowing and the day to day business of shopping, cooking, eating and entertaining visitors continues.  The summer is flying by.

27 May 2018



Roughly this time last year we spent a week in the little town of St Emilion, staying in a lovely little gite in the middle of town.  I wrote about the holiday at length and the gite was beautifully appointed and very stylish.  What it lacked in the practical it made up for in bucketfuls in style and presentation.

We now find ourselves back in the same area, this time just outside Bergerac, for another week and in another gite.


  Chalk and cheese is the expression that immediately springs to mind!


When choosing somewhere to stay, we were led by the needs of our puppy Hugo.  Daisy is in the cattery (wearing her best “we are not amused” expression) but we had to bring Hugo with us, so we looked for safe enclosed garden and somewhere nearby to be able to take him for a walk off the lead without having to get into the car and drive a long way.  This gite has a small enclosed garden and a nice walk in woodland and around a small lake close by.



The style of the gite was described as traditional French so it’s full of big old fashioned furniture.  The kitchenette and bathroom are basic, which is fine, although some of the motley collection of crockery, pots and pans have seen better days.

The disappointing thing is that the gite is right by the road which at times can be very busy, including Sunday morning when presumably people are heading for the nearby boulangerie which opens very early!   

However, Hugo loves it!  The nearby walk around the lake – the reason why we booked the gite in the first place – suits him just fine.  Hey ho.



Changing the subject completely, we recently managed to solve a longstanding problem with our house in France.

The house is in an area where we have very hard water.  We have had to use filtered water in the kettle and coffee machine to prevent the visible bloom of white limescale that eventually causes them to fur up.  Also water softening tablets in the washing machine and salt in the dishwasher to avoid the unseen build up of limescale that would inevitably cause them to stop working too.

Years ago, when we lived in our old house in the UK, we had a koi pond.  Blanket weed is a problem with koi ponds.  The koi love it but what any koi keeper wants is to be able to see the koi – just knowing that they are there under a thick layer of blanket weed is not enough!  This problem was solved completely when we fitted something called a Water King, a magnetic device that structurally alters the calcium in the pond water so that the weed cannot attach to it and therefore can’t grow.  Now that we have been reminded of it, in the promotional material for the device it was mentioned that it can also be used for removal of calcium in domestic water supplies.  Also that larger scale versions are used in municipal buildings and institutions, such as hospitals, to keep the water pipes free from build up of limescale.

A recent conversation with a friend who told us he has something similar in his water supply jogged our memory and so we looked into it and sure enough – the Water King is still available for use in domestic water systems.  No need for a water softener and constant use of salt or chemicals – you just fit it to an existing piece of inlet pipe and the job’s done.  Not only does it prevent the formation of limescale, over time it will also remove limescale deposits from items already affected.

It has been a huge success.  A month after we fitted it we no longer get build up of limescale in the kettle so we can assume that all our other appliances are free of it too.  Our wine glasses are sparkling and clear instead of bloomed with white spots.  Not least of all, our three toilets, which have taken me years to get clean, scrubbing and treating with anti-limescale products, look positively pristine.

Long live The King!!

30 April 2018



Having spent the first few weeks chez nous mending things and recovering from an exhausting six months in the UK, and a dreadful journey back to France (with my second cold of the year so far in full flood), we are beginning at last to slip back into our French way of life.


Our tulips soon came into full bloom and what a joy they were.  They are finished now of course, but every year I marvel at their shapes and sizes, filling the garden with a riot of colour just at the time when we need it the most to cheer us up and reassure us that it is, at last, Spring.



Nick had planted them during his flying visit back to “close up” the house last November.  The bulbs had been lifted after the flowers had finished last spring and he stuffed them into flower beds and pots.


Hugo has taken to his new surroundings like a duck to water.  We have resumed the daily walks that we used to do with Lulu and he is loving every minute of it, exploring the sights, sounds and smells including so many things he has not encountered before.  In the picture above he was standing completely motionless (not a common occurrence), fascinated by the frog chorus at the lake at La Celle-Guenand.


Daisy is delighted to be back in her real home.  She instantly reacquainted herself with her old surroundings and with the rodent population, quickly losing the weight she gained over the winter and becoming her old sylph like self.


For the first couple of weeks we declined some invitations to events, feeling that we were not great company and needed to catch up on our sleep and reorientate ourselves.  Gradually we began to get back into the swing of things.  One of our first outings was to a concert by local choirs in the church at Preuilly, a spectacular event in fabulous surroundings.


At the “foire à l’oignons” at St Branchs we enjoyed a slice of delicious onion tart and a glass of rosé as well as buying some lovely early season strawberries for our dessert later.


We resisted most of the bargains on sale, including a selection of old typewriters and a pile of plates that matched our UK dinner service – the one that was my mum’s Sunday best china back in the 80’s.  I wonder how they got there.


Since we returned we have got on with all the chores that are inevitable when a house has been empty for a long spell.  As well as repairing things, sorting out the garden and getting it ready for summer use, we had a lot of indoor cleaning and preparation to do for the arrival of our first visitors - my brother, my dad and his lady friend, Sybil.  We had decided to let Dad and Sybil have our bedroom for their stay so that they would be able to use its “ensuite” shower room, much safer than the shower over the bath in the bathroom, not to mention the two steps down to it.  The idea of either of them falling in the middle of the night as they tried to remember the steps on their way to the bathroom was not worth risking.  The only problem was – what to do about the open shower and toilet facilities in the bedroom that pass for the said “ensuite”.

This facility deserves a blog post of its own later but suffice it to say I didn’t think Dad and Sybil would be too comfortable with the view of the loo from the bedroom so as a temporary measure I screened it off using some curtains.  Nick says it looks “very French” but personally I think it looks daft and a bit too shabby chic (or home made) for my liking, but it will do the job for now.



Our visitors have arrived and we’re enjoying showing them around the sights and the places that we love.  They’re having a great time.


It is good to be back.  A whole six months away has been way too long but it certainly makes me realise how lucky we are to have a home in this beautiful part of France.   They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder but we were in the UK for so long that I was beginning to forget what it was like here.  Now that I’m back I wonder how I could ever have torn myself away.


In reality I think I’m going to enjoy living in two countries.  The best of both worlds and how wonderful to be returning to France at such a lovely time of year, when everything is bursting into life and with the prospect of long summer days not far ahead.

9 April 2018



Well here we are back in France after what turned out to be the worst journey ever to get here.  As always (and how often have I said this) all the trouble and trauma was on the UK side.

We left home at 10.00am on Saturday 24th March, giving ourselves plenty of time to get our 3.50pm crossing via the tunnel and should have arrived at our hotel in France in good time for dinner in the evening followed by a good night’s sleep.  By travelling on a Saturday we had hoped to avoid most of the traffic problems that we would encounter during the week.

With dog and cat on board – Hugo having never travelled such a long way in the car before and Daisy being a seasoned if not a happy traveller – we hit our first problem only five miles from home where the M1 was closed following an accident.

Things went from bad to worse and we ended up having to change our route to avoid closed motorways and delays several times.  We arrived at the tunnel after a total journey time of seven hours, double what it should have been.  Then we had to wait for two hours at the terminal before we could get a space on a train.  The French word for a traffic jam is the same as for a cork – a bouchon.

We arrived at our hotel near Calais at 9pm, too late to order dinner in the restaurant.  We were exhausted, Hugo and Daisy on the other hand were extremely lively having spent all day asleep or resting.

Luckily for us the hotel did an excellent room service and at 10pm we were eating a delicious “gourmet platter” in our room, followed by a lovely dessert and accompanied by a nice bottle of wine.  How glad we were to get the cork or bouchon out of that bottle and relax with a plate of good food.  It’s amazing how a good meal can lift the spirits.


On Sunday 25th we had a typically easy, pleasant run down through France, arriving chez nous in beautiful warm sunshine at about 4pm.  We were so pleased to be home again but unfortunately our delight was short lived.

When Nick turned on the main water supply there was the sound of rushing water in a place where we would not expect to hear water running at all.  That could only mean one thing – burst pipes.


The rushing sound was coming from behind the plasterboard wall behind the stairs.  Frantically he drilled holes in the plasterboard to locate the running water and was met with a horizontal torrent of water gushing along the inside of the back wall of the house from pipes that feed the upstairs radiators.  He turned the water off again and we stuffed dishcloths in the holes he’d made in the wall to stop the howling gale that was coming in.  The house was really cold inside, despite the spring sunshine outside.



With the heating not working we decided to get the wood burning fires going as soon as possible – but they would not light!  Thick wood smoke puthered out of both fires, filling the rooms rapidly.  We prepared to spend a very chilly night with the few electric heaters of our own that we had plus the ones that Alex and Nicole rushed round with, bless them.

Three days later the plumbers arrived to fix the leak.  This proved to be tricky because the damaged pipes were in an awkward place and also because they were English copper pipes which are a different diameter to French pipes.  Luckily Nick was aware that the house had been plumbed with English pipe and fittings so had brought a miscellaneous box of English fittings some time ago for just such emergencies.  The mystery was why the burst had occurred at all because we had tried to avoid such problems by leaving the heating on a low setting so that the house would not reach a low enough temperature for any of the pipe to freeze up.

The explanation became apparent when the plumbers started work.  Judging by the appearance and condition it seemed that some of the old English pipe had been seeping for a very long time, possibly years. Not enough for a leak to be noticed but enough to gradually cause a loss of pressure in the boiler and cause it to stop working.

In the past the boiler had lost a bit of pressure and Nick had topped it up but in our absence the pressure had continued to drop without us knowing.  Unluckily for us this happened at just the wrong time when the infamous “beast from the east” struck and the bitterly cold winds on the north wall of the house caused a drop in temperature in the house sufficient to freeze up this section of pipe.

The problem with the fires was easier to solve.  According to the plumbers the cause was a bouchon d’air in both sides of the chimney, a plug or bouchon of damp air sitting in the chimney that was shifted by warming the fires up gradually to disperse it.  Nick let a couple of firelighters burn away in each fire before relighting them and to our relief the flames flickered then stayed in and burned normally.  With the heating working and the fires going it was lovely to feel warm again!


During our first few days chez nous the neighbour was noticeably absent.  On previous occasions when we have returned after being away for a while he had walked up and down the lane from his little house with his dog umpteen times a day, staring at us in his sideways fashion through the fence and the gate.  From the end of his lane it looked like his door and shutters were not only closed but also barricaded with planks of wood. 

Four days into our stay we learned that he had been taken into a home last autumn and died some time this year. 

What a shame.  He seemed to us to have a thoroughly miserable life, living by himself with just his little dog for company and the short daily visits from his carer.  His shouting and yelling at the top of his voice was hard to ignore.  As soon as I went out to hang washing he would stand in front of his house and bellow in such a way that you would think someone was trying to murder him.  It was a horrible, unnatural and chilling sound that I will not miss.  He would march up and down in front of our house staring at us and shouting when we were out and about and I worried constantly for the safety of Daisy who he had kidnapped when she was a kitten, also for his little dog who he was seen to beat mercilessly, kicking her over and over again.  People in the village had described him as harmless but we knew different. 

It’s a shame he didn’t have a better life and more human contact, although perhaps it’s wrong to assume that he was unhappy just because he didn’t have the things that make us happy.  We will never know.  I sincerely hope that if he was a lonely and troubled soul, that he is now at peace.

22 March 2018


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Tomorrow is our last day in the UK for a while.  We have a huge pile of stuff to cram into the car, along with the dog and cat and of course the bicycles on the cycle rack which perches on the tow bar.  We never used them.  When we had a minute to spare the weather was awful.  When the weather was better we were frantically working to a deadline to get something finished in the house.

I’m so excited.  Part of me is in panic in case I forget anything important because we will be in France for a long time.  Another part is irritated that we haven’t finished the project we started last October – to renovate our 1960’s old folks’ bungalow.  A third part reminds me that we are going to a civilised country where we can get everything we could possibly need and as long as we don’t forget the cat, the dog, our passports and theirs, there is nothing we can’t manage without.  A fourth part tells me that we’ve achieved an awful lot in the last six months, transforming a tired old person’s house into a nice modern home, and what hasn’t been done already will still be there in the autumn and give us something to do over next winter.

This winter has been a trial, that’s for sure.  The last time we had such a long, wet, cold and unpleasant winter was in 2012/13 and that was so awful that I decided I could no longer face battling my way to work in the snow and packed it in – retired before I got my pension because I couldn’t stand it any longer.  What a good decision that was!


This winter has been slightly less snowy but incredibly wet, cold and grey.  Not ideal for getting and training a new puppy, but what a joy he has been.  With the renovations and the endless work on the house I feel that my lasting memories of this winter will be of mess, muck and mud.  The mess and muck coming from the building work on the house and the constant shuffling of our belongings from one room to another.  The mud coming from the inevitable ingress of the stuff into the house when you have a puppy that needs to “go” so often and the garden and all the local footpaths are ankle deep in slippery, slimy mud.  Not to mention having a puppy that has learned pretty quickly that if he persuades us that he needs to “go” he gets a chance to chase the cat around the muddy garden whether he actually needs to go or not!

I can’t wait to get to France and put it all well and truly behind me.  Only two more sleeps!

10 March 2018


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Well, February disappeared in a blur of activity in the new house.  With deadlines to meet of one sort or another we frantically sanded and painted walls, rerouted wiring, added more electric sockets than we can surely ever need and moved our belongings for the umpteenth time in and out of rooms to make way for the fitting of carpets, flooring and so on.  My laptop languished untouched under a pile of papers in the corner of the bedroom and whoosh – suddenly we are into March.

Time to look back at the photos again and the joy of the familiar suddenly made me smile.  Events that come round every year and that we never get fed up with.  One of them is the annual garden event at Château de la Bourdaisiere near Montlouis. 

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It’s a lovely day out at a time of year when you really need to see that kind of thing, beautiful flowers and plants full of colour and promise of the good weather that will inevitably arrive.  Not to mention the food producers, craft stalls and the fluffy chicken exhibition.

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We don’t necessarily go to it every year, but we never tire of it.  The château and grounds are beautiful and in fact it is now a hotel.  The garden event is huge and we usually buy something.  Last time it was a gorgeous dark purple lily, this time one of the cute bird baths.

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And of course we enjoyed a delicious cake and coffee in the tearoom. 

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Another event we went to last April was the open day, “portes ouvertes”, of the local potter in the village.  She lives just outside Le Grand Pressigny and produces beautiful decorative and useful pottery in a studio at her home.

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We have bought quite a few pieces over the years, either for ourselves or as presents.  She now has a shop in the village where you can buy her pottery and her partner’s gorgeous leather work.

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Her old bread oven had been lit and used that morning.  There was still plenty of bread for sale when we turned up after lunch so we treated ourselves to a loaf.  Very good it was too.

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There was something immensely charming and fascinating about seeing the old oven in use.  So many people would have relied on the regular production of bread in that very oven, food to keep them alive probably, and very hard work it would have been to produce it.  What a joy it was to see (and eat) real, rather misshapen and very rustic loaves, so different from the stuff on the supermarket shelves and even the local bakery, where it’s all so uniformly shaped.

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Speaking of regular events, I suppose you would count a birthday as one of those.  For a friend’s 70th birthday and a surprise party I was asked to make a novelty cake in the shape of his favourite English food – fish and chips.  It was a bit of a challenge but I managed it, including sugar salt, apple juice vinegar and green marzipan peas!

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Along with the comfort of the familiar comes the joy of a new discovery.  For us anyway.  In a shop in Descartes we discovered a cheese we had never seen before, made just up the road from us in Neuilly-le-Brignon.  It’s called Bourdel and is not cheap but utterly delicious with an interesting rind, strong flavour and a firm texture.  Since we bought our first one last spring it has made a regular appearance at our cheese course.  You can read all about it here.