On April 19, 2019 - We have owned our beauty since December 2017 and it makes sense to stop and reflect on what we have accomplished so far.
1. We have managed to find ourselves a handyman, groundsman, a plumber and two electricians (English and French). 2. In terms of having someplace to stay inside away from the elements we early in agreed to focus on the Stable block.
There are 3 gîtes (flats) in this building. When we are able to be here, we occupy the largest— 5 bedrooms/2 bathrooms. The other two, a 2 bed and a studio, are uninhabitable due to leaks, mould and no heat source.
With respect to the 5 bed, it was filthy and freezing. The only source of heating came from a insanely big oil furnace underneath the Chateau and a large fireplace that really didn’t touch the cold. We have no way of knowing the state of the furnace or the state of the oil for that matter. We also aren’t sure about the condition of the rads— this all boils down to the fact that we are too scared to turn it on.
And then there was heat. We installed a wood burner in the fireplace and that, along with some electric rads in the bedrooms, does us just fine. We were even able to spend Christmas here this past year.
The kitchen wasn’t usable. We didn’t have any hot water or water for that matter until the plumber worked his magic. We had no potable water because of the lead warnings that were everywhere! We needed to buy massive jugs of water to cook, brush our teeth and drink. Fun fact- The kitchen counter was also an unusable height as it was designed for wheelchair users.
We’ve kitted out the kitchen. It’s now fully functioning. We have a fab cooker that works on butane, new fridge, new sink with under counter water filtration system and dishwasher. A combination of new and old Ikea cabinets and some lovely donations from friends. This kitchen is almost as functional as the one at home in London. I can’t think of anything that’s really missing now.
Let’s not forget the showers and the toilets— they were horrible and leaky. The floor beneath was rotten and Ben had to replace pretty much all of it. We now have two brand new working toilets. Ben has replaced one shower and is 80% done with the second shower.
The living room was furnished quickly and efficiently thanks to Facebook marketplace and EBay— and a fantastic team that was happy to move our stuff from London to Beauvais.
3 bedrooms are kitted out with triples, 1 bedroom has 2 twins and the loft bedroom has a king.
The 5bd gîte is totally serviceable. We had every bedroom full during the summer with friends and family.
On April 20, 2019 - The Stables— things to come...
1. Finish installation of the shower for second shower room.
2. We have ordered new barn doors to make it as secure as possible. They will hopefully be exact replicas of the originals. They have taken months to make. We ordered them in September!
3. We will have to rip out a small second kitchen which is in our living room and has no real purpose. This will hopefully give us a chance to move the washer and dryer over and hide it behind some doors and get some more storage for towels and sheets.
4. Hopefully Ben’s mum will continue her labour of love and finish stripping the windows back to the wood because it looks so lovely just oiled.
5. Lastly, we need heating that is independent from the Chateau. I was convinced that the answer was ground source heating. It sounded perfect— it would operate efficiently, saving us tons of money and it would be really green and good for the environment. I was dreaming. Apparently, it would take a team of engineers to design and install a system of that magnitude. It would be a project on an industrial scale. But we had a some people come round and there may be another way— but it would require us to think of the buildings— and the Chateau—- in terms of different zones. The Chateau alone— would require at least 3 zones— 3 boilers/furnaces.
So this week we will have a eco heating and energy company come over and help us start planning how we implement “Operation Big Heat”. We are thinking of wood pellet boilers and stand alone wood burners. There is plenty of room under the gites to put a big wood pellet furnace to source heat for at least two of the gites.
The woods. I am so impressed with everything that Ben has accomplished inside but it’s the wood that brings the magic (at least for now— I’m sure the Chateau will try to upstage the woods eventually). I can spend hours outside. I think the heart and soul of our future purpose for this place will be the ability to walk and find serenity and silence in the woods. It’s what I can’t wait to do as soon as I step out of the car... walking shoes and off to the woods I go. It’s the only place I’ve every been where I can silence my mind and just be.
When we first saw this place, the woods were impenetrable. It’s like they were trying to keep people out at all costs. We couldn’t walk anywhere in the woods without a guide and an acceptance that we would be torn to bits by the thickets of thorns and horror. The main path in was a muddy mess, we couldn’t make out the boundaries. We had no idea what it was... or what it could be but the idea of having 7 hectares was still pretty appealing.
Enter Paul, our grounds man. He asked me for a vision. We walked around and talked and he actually listened to what I said I wanted. I told him that we wanted this to be a place for reflection— like a retreat, where people can come and quiet the noise in their heads and breathe clean air and eat clean food and do nothing or everything or just walk. They can be active or just sit. They can come to find themselves or lose themselves. But no matter why the were here, I wanted them to be able to walk; that one peaceful action. They should be able to find a trail through our wood and stay on our land. The trails should connect. Along the way there should be places to sit and interesting things to see or find.
What we were to find out was that this already existed. The woodland was designed for all of the reasons set out above. With Paul’s help, we have discovered 4 distinct entry points—one of them was through a massive Rhododendron bush. There are existing paths with stone steps, two ponds, a tree that has become part of a gate, man made waterfalls, a prayer hut, a gorgeous and peaceful glade, the bones of a grand fountain and balustrade and distinct boundaries. We found out that we have loads of chestnuts and hazelnuts and a walnut tree. We found out that we could be self sustaining as we have our own coppice. There are benches hidden under moss, huge urns that have been knocked to the ground.
The borders are obvious now. The beautiful red cattle of Limousin greet us at the top and bottom of our land. There is a huge fishing lake available to anyone with a fishing license just down the road from the Chateau- along with bike trails and clear public hiking trails along a long disused railroad track.
In finding the woods, we’re realising that everything I wanted and asked for is already there.
There are problems— the main one is Japanese knotweed. We think it was planted as an ornamental plant— alongside the bamboo. There’s tons of it by the pond, we’ve been able to eradicate a lot of it by the house. There’s only a few places where it’s come back. But we know this will be a life long torment because we see it alongside a lot of the roads and it’s not treated like an invasive species here. They don’t recognise it as a problem, so right now it’s just us (and Paul) against the knotweed.
The paths are not completely connected at the bottom.... that needs doing. But as they are right now, I was able to walk at a moderate pace for an hour around the boundaries. I clocked just under 2 kilometres. It’s not an easy slog as there are some trees to climb over and some pits to avoid.
The bamboo has been eradicated from the front of the Chateau and the fountain is now exposed. It’s vast. No idea what we do with that for now. The natural swimming pool is low down on the list of priorities (we put up an above ground pool for the kids— so there is no rush).
We’ve felled a massive tree that is still being cut up for firewood. We hope we’ve rescued a walnut tree from being choked by thorns.
1. Keep on waging a war against the knotweed. 2. Join the path on the lower part of the woodland so that we can have 1 completely joined up series of trails and walking paths. 3. We are plotting out the orchard and the potager (veg garden). Suggestions for fruit trees are most welcome. There are a few native apple trees that we will absolutely have to consider- one of them is called Pomme du Limousin— It’s like a Limousin Golden Delicious. 4. Keep uncovering the steps. 5. Figure out why the waterfall near the prayer hut is not working. 6. Find out how the water gets to the fountain.
On April 21, 2019 - One shower gets an upgrade...
... And the new shower finally gets its taps
Till next week!