A new life in the sun!

It was one of those 'a new life in the sun' type programmes. You know those ones you watch wishing that it was actually you there! On this particular one, it was clearly a warm, sunny morning and the guy was stood by the side of his pool with a net, cleaning it. When I say cleaning the pool, he was casually wafting this net up and down the water to catch the occasional leaf, so not exactly taxing or stressful. And then he asked 'what would he rather be doing', 'cleaning out his pool' or 'stuck in some traffic on his way to work?'

Well, he didn't really have to answer. We all wanted to be there cleaning that pool, in fact I'd have done it with my teeth if I could have been there living that dream. Yet if it wasn't for the dogged determination (or on occasions recklessness) of my OH to fulfil a lifelong dream of his I'd still be sat every morning on the M1 cursing the infernal traffic, doing the same old slog, day in, day out until the day I retire or die.

When we actually reached the point of coming over to view properties in France, I thought, foolishly, that my role was to make sure John didn't do anything daft and to put the anchor on if he got carried away. Hence we made an offer on a house on our first visit to a country I'd only visited twice on city breaks and John had never previously visited; in a region we didn't know; with little knowledge of the culture and bureaucracy that we would eventually encounter. Yes we fell in love.

The house was in the little village of Ladapeyre, situated in the Creuse, Limousin (now part of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region). It is mostly a region of hills and valleys and low mountains and is among the least densely populated areas of France. Many people ask us why we chose to live in the Creuse, like we are mad for choosing somewhere so deserted. But isn't that actually a great reason, it's pretty, it's quiet, it's idyllic and houses in the Creuse are remarkably cheap!

Our little house in the Creuse pre renovation

We discovered later that the house is one of the oldest in the village and used to be an old butchers, so we have since named it L'Ancienne Boucherie.

Whilst the house was in need of complete renovation, and was full to the brim of the previous owners rubbish, furniture, clothes, books, you name it, they'd left it, we fell for the stone walls, very large living room beam and open fireplace.

The sale took no time at all and before we knew it, we had the keys.

We bought it initially with a view to renovating, holidaying and eventually retiring here. At this time we were both in our mid 40s, so quite some time before we would reach retirement (especially at the rate they keep putting the date for it back). However, with each year we visited on our holidays, renovating, the more we wanted to be here and so our 10 year plan shrunk to a 5 year plan and as we still needed to work we began to talk about opening part of our home to bed and breakfast.

John wanted to do it as soon as we started to float the idea, whereas whilst I loved the idea, I had to play with it a bit in my head until it felt comfortable. John ran his own gardening and handyman business in the UK so he could easily give it up and if it didn't work out, start one up again. For me it felt like a much bigger step to give up a full-time, well paid job at a time in my life when it wouldn't be as easy to come back and pick something up if it failed. The leap was so much bigger. John, ever the optimist or in reality impetuous, refused point blank to believe it might fail. ' We would sort something out!' Eventually the desire to make a change in our lives weighed more than the fear of doing it and I gave in my notice.

I completely understand anyone's fears for taking such a big leap, and whilst we have only been living here since the start of 2019, I wouldn't change it for anything and as they say 'feal the fear and do it anyway'.

It's been hard work, completing the renovations to a point where we can let a room, provide a salon and an area of garden. John and I have often in the past watched those 'Escape to the Chateau DIY' programmes and wondered why they leave it till the last minute, like an hour before they've got guests arriving to install a bathroom or tile the pool. We've scoffed it's made up for TV!! However having now been on the other side of it, we found ourselves in the same position. Less than a week before our first guests (thankfully friends) we had to fit a bathroom, lay a bedroom floor and install a spiral staircase to get to the room. Clearly it was never going to be ready and they ended up staying in our room and we stayed in the guest room. The leap from the spiral staircase across a non-existent top step....was a step too far for them, being slightly older and less agile than us.

We have the potential for two en-suite rooms but only managed to complete one for the 2019 summer season and have still be filling, painting, sanding where we have sufficiently long enough gaps between guests. Work still goes on in the background.

Now the main season has come to an end, we hope to finish all the unfinished bits and over Winter complete the second room.

The one thing I would say about renovating a property in France is it is so easy to underestimate the cost of doing it. Even though we have done all the work ourselves, we set a budget which was soon blown out of the water. Although I do have a husband who changes his mind frequently, so for example the front door must now have had four different locks on it and they are not cheap. Even now it NEEDS changing to the other lock...I have no idea what other lock this is as I long gave up the will to live, challenge or even give a.....

Some things in France are very expensive, paint being the most notable. We brought a lot with us because of this.

So whilst we haven't reached the end of our renovations we have come a long way. I recall in the beginning refusing point blank to stay in the house until it had a functioning toilet. A lady has basic needs!! So we stayed locally in a hotel until John had installed one with a sheet tacked to the beams to protect ones modesty! In addition some of the Winter stays have been bloody cold, I've gone to bed with more layers than is safe to avoid suffocation!

John and I on the roof in the middle of winter!

We have been the talk of the village for quite some time, taking what would be regarded in the UK as an unhealthy interest in everything we were doing. However we seem to be quite well regarded now, villagers seem really pleased that we have brought an old property back to life and now that we have actually opened it as a Chambre D'hote they seem delighted we are bringing new life back into the village. It actually feels really good.

Sara Osborne

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