July 23, 2017

St. EMILION, THE DOORS AND WINDOWS and we spoke too soon.

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Well, as I hinted in my last post, the UK system of house buying is fraught with difficulties and you can never be certain that you’ll be moving into your new house until you have the keys in your hand - and a lot can go wrong before that happens.

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With the paperwork process in place and the chain as short as we could have hoped we returned to France to wait for that process to take its course.

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We had a smooth journey to Dover with Daisy in the car.  Towards the bottom end of the M1 we heard a traffic announcement on the radio that due to a crash the part of the M25 that we usually use was at a standstill and there was a two hour delay to get through the “bouchon”.

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We had booked a late crossing and a room in a budget hotel in Calais.  As we didn’t relish getting to our room at 3am instead of the midnight we expected we took a quick decision to go round the M25 the wrong way.

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It worked!  The traffic was flowing sensibly and the route took only fifteen minutes longer than going the right way round – much better than being stuck in a traffic jam for two hours – and in fact we arrived at the tunnel in time to get on a train a whole hour before the one we had booked.  So far, so good.

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Unfortunately Daisy was not impressed with the room.  Previously we have stayed in more luxurious accommodation and she has been fine, settling down to sleep on top of one or other of us – although in changing places she would always make sure she jumped on one before landing on the other so that both of us would be awake.

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At our chosen hotel this time she spent the whole night meowing and scratching at the door or window, trying to get out.  It was one of those rooms that are about a foot bigger than the bed all round with a shower cubicle and toilet.

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After an almost completely sleepless night we set off for the Loire in the morning.  Daisy slept in the car to make up for her nocturnal activity and we took turns to drive or nod off as the temperature gradually rose.  It was 25˚C as we left Calais and 39˚C as we drove through Tours.  By the time we arrived home, exhausted, it had cooled to a mere 37˚.

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Two hours after we arrived chez nous the agent phoned to say that our sale had fallen through.  Our buyers had lost their buyers when a survey revealed some building problems and their buyers backed out of the deal. 

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After a second sleepless night, due to the heat and our tossing and turning as we mulled over our options, it was decided that one of us would return to the UK asap to get the ball rolling again.

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So, while Nick is in France keeping the cat company, I am back in the UK to make the house presentable for viewings and show potential buyers around.  I showed the house to six couples yesterday, one of which came back for a second look this morning and seems very keen, and I have two more viewings booked for tomorrow.  Come what may, I am handing the keys and the responsibility for viewings over to the agents on Wednesday and returning to France on Thursday while we still have some summer left.

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Doors and windows, they have always fascinated me.  It suddenly occurs to me that the pictures I have chosen from the dozens that I took seem mainly to be of rather dilapidated ones.  There must be something significant in that.

Let me in – or let me out – no it must be in as the views are all of the outside.  All fingers are crossed again that this time we will find a buyer that stays the course with no nasty surprises along the way.  But as I said before a lot of water has to go under the door before it’s all over.

July 7, 2017



Whilst my blog posts have been sporadic things have been happening fast in the UK.  I am interrupting my St Emilion series to bring an update.  We are on the move again !!


When we downsized to this house in 2014 we were thrilled with it.  We thought it would be perfect for spending the odd week or two back in the UK, that we could use it almost as a gite for holidays and short stays.  It’s a 1930’s house with a brand new interior, having been renovated shortly before we bought it.  It was a beautiful “move straight in”.


For one reason or another we have never really settled and as we have ended up spending much more time here than we planned we have decided to move on.


Apart from its cuteness and newness, the thing that sold this house to us was the view across the fields at the back.

Only six months after we moved in, we found out that the farmer that owns the fields had applied for planning permission to sell the land for building.  There was a planning application for five hundred houses along the length of the road, meaning that our lovely view could easily disappear.



Then there’s the plight of poor little Daisy.  Because she spends most of her time in our barn in France and is not used to traffic (other than the occasional passing tractor) I am convinced that if we let her out of the house she would either get run over on the road, or get frightened and run away.  Either way we might never see her again. 

So she stays indoors when we bring her back to the UK, or we let her out on a long lead.  She spends her time snoozing in a shady spot or watching the birds in next door’s garden longingly as they tease her mercilessly, hopping within a few yards of her, having learned that she can’t catch them.


So, we set to and spruced the place up ready for the estate agent to call.  Once the pictures were taken my resolve weakened and I had some doubts – with the house looking so good, how could we bear to leave?  But we had made our decision so we put it up for sale.



It was sold after just four days on the market.  (It took just two days longer than the last time we sold a house.)  The new owners come from not far away and already knew about the planning application for building in the fields.

They also have a thumping great big camper van which they intend to park in the drive.


This is the house we’re hoping to buy instead.  It’s nowhere near as sexy, an old folks’ bungalow.  As my dad says when any bungalow comes up for sale – “there’s another one fallen off its perch”. And indeed it’s very much that kind of house.

It’s not far from where we used to live.  We were very comfortable there, so going back there feels like putting on an old pair of comfy slippers.  All the rooms are bigger than we have now and we will gain an extra room downstairs, a garage and privacy, as it’s detached with a good amount of space on either side.  It’s in a small, L-shaped cul-de-sac where the road is very quiet.


There are woods at the back so our view is of the trees rather than open fields, but at least it’s unlikely that there will ever be a planning application to build on there.  And of course it’s a much safer place to let Daisy have her freedom.


It is however, a house to do up.  It’s perfectly habitable but it’s decorated in the style of an old person who last did anything to it at least twenty years ago and has done no decorating or maintenance since.


Except for the kitchen, which, believe me, is not as good as it looks!  The estate agent did a great job of making it look great.

So there we are.  I never thought I would be thrilled to be buying an old folks’ bungalow but it’s amazing how one’s ideas can change!

Those experienced in buying and selling a house in the UK will know that there is a lot of water to go under the bridge before we get the keys to our new house.  There is a short chain of only four houses with the empty house at the top and a first time buyer at the bottom so it’s about as promising as it can be, but you never know, it could still all go wrong.  We live on tenterhooks for now!

Bon weekend !!

June 27, 2017


So here we go with another selection from the huge number of photos I took during our stay in St Emilion.  It is a lovely town, although maybe a bit too touristy for us but frankly I would rather be there, surrounded by the well heeled and beautiful than in places where people shuffle about looking down at heel and miserable. 

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I would highly recommend a visit to St Emilion for everyone.  (Unless you have no head for heights and difficulty walking.)  These two views are from the top of the town looking down on the main square.  It’s one of those wonderful places where you can hear the faint hum of voices as you approach along the narrow streets.  The sound of people enjoying themselves, watching the world go by, maybe having a nice meal and a very nice glass or two of wine.

The sound reminded me of the square in Chinon, or Place Plumereau in Tours, two other good places for a bit of people watching.

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This building overlooks that square.  I can’t remember what it was or how old it was and we never got to look inside it, which we would have liked.  St Emilion is full of buildings that we would have loved to get to see inside.

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This is another apparently empty and unused building.  We thought it was probably an old warehouse because there were grooves in the stones around the upper windows where decades of hoisting goods up and in the window had worn away the stone.

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At the bottom end of town stands this curious little tower.  Maybe it was part of a gateway or entrance at one time.  Left as it is, looking like a lookout tower, it’s not difficult to imagine that its purpose was for keeping watch over the vineyards, or possibly animals, but it could have been for some other use entirely.

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This beautiful building appeared empty and unused but there were notices outside indicating that renovation and redevelopment work was about to start.  I was pleased about that and although I don’t know what it was going to become, I would like to go back one day and see how it has worked out.  It’s another building that I would have loved to get inside.

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There were apparently no such plans for these two buildings, not far from each other, one a house and the other a shop and apartment.  Both were in prime positions close to the centre of town and I couldn’t help but wonder how they had come to be empty and neglected.  It would be so good to get hold of such places and breathe new life into them. 

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These were both very much occupied, the sounds and smells of lunch emerging from the open windows.  A lot of houses seemed not to be permanent residences, but holiday gites or guest houses.  I wonder what St Emilion is like in say November or February, when the summer visitors have left.  I hope it’s the kind of town that still has a trickle of visitors all year round.  Some places are completely lifeless for half the year if a high proportion of the dwellings are just holiday accommodation.

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One last picture of a “typical” street at dusk.  Not there are any two streets even vaguely the same.  It would be hard to get lost in St Emilion as it’s not that big a town and all the streets are so different that remembering landmarks to find your way around is very easy.  We didn’t feel threatened or uncomfortable anywhere.  The traffic is awkward in places because the streets were built for horses and carts, not cars, vans and lorries.  You have to watch your step as vehicles pick their way through streets where tourists walk in the middle of the road but getting around is easy.

June 24, 2017


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St Emilion is of course an old mediaeval town and as such is full of fascinating old buildings, some of which have obviously been through many incarnations between when they were built and the present day.

St Emilion the buildings

The interesting thing is how many of them are empty and in poor condition, almost falling down, in fact.  It seems odd that there are buildings in prime positon just left empty and unused, when all around have been converted into sophisticated shops, hotels and restaurants.  I imagine that the complex laws around property ownership and inheritance in France have a lot to do with it.

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Tumbledown dwellings rub shoulders with smart wine shops in its ancient, steep and cobbled streets.

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It seems strange to me that the large disused building on the right of the street has not already been transformed into a chic dwelling like the one further along, or a hotel.  Maybe it’s in the pipeline, who knows.

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The old lavoir is in the centre of the town.  Lavoirs performed a social as well as functional part of life in the days when the town’s women would meet while doing the laundry.  We take the plethora of modern means of communication for granted nowadays but not all that long ago the only way of finding out local news was to talk to each other in person.  We even take writing for granted but until the last century it’s unlikely that many of the inhabitants of the town would actually have been able to read and write.

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One of the biggest disused buildings is the old convent which sits at the top of a hill overlooking the town.  The grand gate and entrance is now overgrown with cultivated vines.

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It occupies a huge area in a beautiful position and it would surely be ripe for conversion into a prestigious hotel, or maybe an official building.

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It’s hard to imagine that an empty property like this would stay empty for so long in our part of the UK, where land is scarce and beautiful stone buildings command an enormous price for renovation or conversion.  Maybe the cost of the work makes it unviable, if the building has become so dilapidated that only the walls can be saved.  Or maybe there are religious reasons for leaving it empty.  Who knows – I certainly don’t but I’m sure there are people that do.

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It was attracting plenty of attention from the tourists and was not too difficult to get into, if you were of a mind to climb in.  No health and safety precautions were in evidence anywhere to deter people from exploring inside.

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The street signs were different to what we had seen elsewhere in France.  They were stylishly written and a red wine colour, maybe to reflect the town’s wine heritage, or possibly religious or regal connections.  Someone will know this too, I’m sure.

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A lot of the buildings were adorned with stone carvings, worn and eroded over the centuries to the extent that it was hard to make out what they once depicted, or said about the building and its occupants. 

I took far too many pictures of the streets and buildings for just one post so there will be a second bite at the cherry shortly.  Then there will be a post about the doors and windows (a favourite of mine), one about the food and wine, one about the environs and then that will be it.  My St Emilion series could run and run but there must be an end to it before long!

Bon weekend !!