The adventure begins
We arrive on 14 July 1997
Being a public holiday in France, which we had forgotten, the roads were horrendous and traffic grid-locked. Tempers frayed as we sweated in a hot over-loaded car… It was nearly divorce before we started. Finally we arrive at Fraysse Haut, and all the tension slips away as we feel the calm of our beautiful surroundings.
The caravan becomes our home for 6 months.
From this caravan I produced meals for friends & neighbours, sometimes providing the workers’ lunches in French style – starter, main, cheese & dessert with wine & coffee… I learned to cook cepes and other wild mushrooms; made jam; and on one occasion we fed & sheltered two families (my brother’s and the neighbour’s) under the awning while a summer storm raged overhead.
Dan attacks the grass with his scythe (but our kind neighbours lends him a motorised strimmer).
A neighbour with a tractor and brushcutter gets serious with the brambles which had grown up into the trees around the house; we regain some open space.
The buildings start to emerge from 25 years of neglect.
The pile of metal rubbish in front of the house grows…
… and grows
An ash tree growing in front of the cellar door has to come down; it defies 3 men and their chainsaws. Finally it falls; we store the trunk and promise to use the wood later…
Despite the many hours we worked, we did allow ourselves some time off to explore the area!
We bought bicycles:
With our delightful neighbours Alain and Marie-Christine and their children, we went to the local fairs and fêtes, and enjoyed many meals and aperos.
We got to know their family and friends too, and are soon integrated in the friendly community of Montcabrier, becoming “cabrimontains”.
We learned to recognise the sought-after cépes, and join in the general fever when these come into season and the woods are alive with furtive figures hunched over baskets and bulging carrier bags.
Works begins on the Breadhouse
The holidays are over; the brambles are cleared, the rubbish is piled up and anything worth saving is saved. We declare the building site open: time to start work for real.We have decided to tackle the smallest building first, which is the little barn housing the old bread oven. In French, this is “le fournil”; it features a rounded shape and roof and is ususally an appendage to one of the main buildings, but ours is in a small outbuilding of about 30m2, which first had to be cleared of rubbish like old oil drums and rusting, broken tools. We salvaged an old weighing machine, presumably for corn.
First the roof: most of the timbers were rotten, except for the main horizontal beam of chestnut. It has so much character! One of the professional roofers we consulted wanted to remove it; he didn’t get the job!
Again, the neighbours presented themselves, with tractors and helping hands. Once cleaned up and shown the light of day, a fine oven and chimney stones appeared.
Next the earthen floor had to be levelled. The earth is carried away on the mini-tractor.
Dan sand-blasts the stonework, wearing a helmet and air line like a deep-sea diver!
The made-to-order glazed doors arrive 3 weeks late and the building is weather-proof by end of November.
Work on the interior is slow: plumbing, electrics, a mezzanine… Meanwhile we are still living in the caravan and taking showers whenever there is enough sun to warm the water in the black plastic hose pipes. The gas fire is needed more and more often, and it gets colder at night. Then at the beginning of December it snows and the gas bottle freezes – not till then does someone tell us we should be using propane not butane outdoors…
The situation becomes critical and we move into the unfinished Breadhouse in mid-December. Camping upstairs on the mezzanine on a building site becomes preferable to a cold draughty caravan!
For New Year’s Eve we went to the all-night party at the campsite nearby; I remember climbing down the ladder from the mezzanine in high heels and a party dress!
So ended 1997 and the first 6 months of our new life in France.