FRAYSSE HAUT is the name of our property. In French, this is the “lieu dit” – place name. Being an old farmstead, Fraysse Haut is marked on the IGN maps, and mentioned on the walking circuit of Montcabrier, our nearest village.
The farm is one of two secluded properties at the end of a lane. Fraysse is said to derive from the Latin word for the ash tree – Fraxinus; although in French, ash is le frêne, there are many place names in the region which include the word “fraysse”, and we have many ash trees growing happily here. Haut means high, and there is a farming hamlet called le Fraysse on lower ground nearby, so our property and land is le Fraysse Haut.
We first saw the property when we came to France for a week house-hunting at the end of February 1997. We had been to the French Property Exhibition at Olympia and met agents who had put us in touch with their French counterparts in south-west France, in the Dordogne, Lot, Lot-et-Garonne and Aveyron, the departments we were to visit. We had no previous experience of the area, but when we arrived in the Lot we started to find places we liked. Cahors in February sunshine and coffee on a café terrace was delightful. Once we arrived in the charming riverside town of Puy l’Evêque, we found it hard to leave, and as it turned out, we stayed…
Our agent in Puy l’Evêque had several properties to show us, and drove us around to visit them. He had given us the details to read the previous evening, and we really shouldn’t have seen this one as it was way beyond our budget – but luckily, we did, and it was the first property we saw that misty morning in February 1997. As we drove along this stony tree-lined track, I was thinking “this is promising, I want to live somewhere like this”.
The property had been unoccupied since the early 70’s. I remember walking in fields, with wild hedgerows untouched for years, and looking back at the house; drinking in the setting, and thinking what a wonderful, peaceful, secret place this was. A footpath behind the buildings led beguilingly between mossy stone-walls and under an arch of trees, some of which were covered in a cloud of white blossom humming with bees (these trees served as a landmark and could be seen from miles away, as we visited other properties).
The house and building were virtual ruins, the roofs of the outbuildings were holed, and trees were growing through them; the main house was derelict, the timber floors had gaping spaces between collapsed beams and floor-boards – but, as the joke ran on for many years, “la peinture est bonne” – the paintwork is good!
On that week’s visit, we viewed many properties across 4 departments, and went home with a pile of photos and details, and decisions to make. There was one other similar farmstead that we spent some time at, and was in a simuilar state and setting, but was further north in the Dordogne, and somehow the address didn’t seem quite so attractive. We wanted the real France, whatever we thought that was; the Dordogne was too well-known for its attraction to the British.
After a lot of deliberation, and rejection of most of the other properties we’d viewed as being too small a project (!), poor location or not enough land, we decided to put in an offer on Fraysse Haut. It had been on the market for several years and probably the owners felt ready to sell, because after some negotiations, we found ourselves in the process of buying this abandoned farmhouse in south-west France.
Our adventure was beginning….