We are back in Asturias to collect the second load of our belongings and I have to say the weather is being less than kind.
It is the coldest, wintriest spell we have ever experienced here and I am feeling very grateful for a shed full of dry, seasoned logs and a well-insulated house – two glaring omissions at our new home in Mayenne which we need to rectify as soon as we possibly can. The journey between places is the same as that from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, in other words the entire length of Great Britain; it usually takes us between twelve and fourteen hours depending on whether or not we are pulling a trailer, weather conditions, roadworks, how many times we stop en route and the dreaded extras like flat tyres, traffic jams and road closures. Most of the trip is on motorways which helps to eat up the miles but it is incredibly dull, like a long haul flight without the films. By the weekend, we will have done it three times in thirteen days; to say we are already feeling travel weary would be an understatement, for sure.
In a perfect world, all this would be happening very differently. Our Big Plan was to sell our home in Spain first, then move lock, stock and barrel all in one go to France, preferably at a better time of year when the days are longer and the weather less unpredictable. Life, of course, is never that simple and the twin evils of Brexit and Covid-19 well and truly scuppered our original plans. It’s going to be a complicated and messy few months for us but, rather than moaning or stressing about it, I am thanking my lucky stars that we made it to France before the 31st December deadline. I feel desperately sorry for the many people who wanted to do the same but simply ran out of time; to have lost such a precious opportunity and freedom is a crushing blow which I imagine no amount of blue passports will ever heal. We did it. We are the fortunate ones. For that, I will be eternally grateful.
So, to happier things and the unexpected opportunity to hug the fire and write a blog post; it’s too horrible to do anything outside and too soon to start packing all our kitchen equipment which will form the bulk of the next car load so I have a little time to start reflecting on the next chapter of our life’s journey. Why not grab a brew and come with me? Let me give you a quick guided tour . . . 😊
Our new home is a traditional stone cottage with an attached barn at one end and a smaller cave at the other. We have a kitchen, sitting room, two bedrooms and a bathroom which is ample living room for the two of us and, as always, we have plans for making plenty of outdoor living spaces, too. The house faces south-east, so the gravelled area in front of it will no longer be used for parking but as a sunny terrace with table and chairs for morning mugs of coffee, al fresco dining or simply soaking up a few rays. That rather glamourous blue tarp is covering solar panels which will provide us with hot water for most of the year; the possibility for a greener and more sustainable lifestyle was one of the factors that attracted us to this property ~ of which, more next time. Behind the cave is a lovely sheltered area which used to house a bread oven and this, I think, has great potential to make a pretty and more intimate space for sitting.
The barn is a hugely useful space and, although we seem to have inherited a fair amount of junk in it, I can report that there is one very happy bunny who at long, long last has a proper fixed workbench for the first time in his life!
I’m equally delighted to have probably the best rainwater capture system we’ve ever had, collecting run-off from a further stone outbuilding and perfect for those long hot spells that are so typical of a Mayennais summer.
Compared to some of our previous purchases, the house is very habitable and civilised; a comfortable kitchen, bathroom and central heating are a bit of a shock to the system! There is, however, plenty to be done to the house interior and those activities will, I’m sure, feature in future posts. For us, though, it is ultimately the outside space that is the most important factor and here we have a wonderful long-term project in waiting.
It is fair to say, our new garden lacks the stunning views, wow factor and quirky character of our Asturian patch, but it certainly has its attractions. For starters, it is flat and as we intend to live here for a long time ~ maybe forever ~ that has positive practical implications. There is a degree of maturity in the shape of trees, shrubs, hedges and partial landscaping but overall it is a blank canvas waiting for ideas. Mmm, we might have a few of those.
Our first few days were spent signing for the house, unpacking the car and trailer (in a blizzard!) and getting a feel for the property and a real idea of the problems and potential. It always fascinates me how little time we actually spend studying a house before we buy it, especially considering how much money is involved; it’s common practice to test drive a car before parting with money for it, but how often do we get the chance to test ‘occupy’ a house? Our most pressing issue right from the start was warmth: we were dismayed to find that the logs we had been told would be left were not the dry, chopped, stacked kind we will happily leave in the shed for our eventual buyers in Asturias but random lumps of wood scattered about the property where they were rotting, rather than seasoning. Even the pile under a tarpaulin was soaking wet. Having been under the impression we wouldn’t need the chainsaw on this first trip, we had decided not to pack it so first job was to dash to the nearest farmers’ shop (thankfully, we know exactly where to find such essential places locally) and buy a bow saw. Roger then spent a day cutting all the smaller, drier stuff he could find into logs and shifting that pile into the dry shed next to it.
A good supply of seasoned logs has been part of our lives for many years and our new home will be no exception. There is a mighty wood stove in the kitchen which is great for cooking and heating water (we didn’t take the hob kettle either, hence the saucepan of water on top!) and also runs four radiators. It’s a greedy log gobbler, though, and will take some feeding so logging will be a top priority for us through this year . . . and one of the reasons we are also buying a coppice a short distance away.
While Roger organised logs, I decided to repurpose that tarp and make a start on the vegetable patch. We have ample space for a large and productive potager with masses of veggies, fruit, herbs and flowers, a polytunnel and net tunnel, a proper two- or three- bay compost system (I’m very excited about that one) but as always, it has to start with the soil. We’ve created enough gardens from fields in our time to know the first step is to knock back the vegetation; yes, it would be lovely to do the proper no-dig thing and start with cardboard sheets but we don’t have the vast amount of compost and muck that would require and couch grass roots are hellish things so a first dig will be necessary to get things started. After days spent packing, travelling, unpacking and going off in search of important things like a new fridge, it was lovely to be outside in the fresh air doing some honest physical work; I walked miles back and forth to collect and carry all those stones (a wheelbarrow and trug are definitely on the next load) but it was a joy. I’d forgotten how wonderful the birdlife is in this landscape and revelled in the sight of a pair of pure white herons stalking on long stilted legs in the neighbouring field, the garrulous clacking of bossy fielfares raiding the globes of mistletoe, the looping and tumbling of flocks of lapwings, rippling and shadowing the sky in perfectly synchronised murmurations. There are roe deer and red squirrels a-plenty here and spring will bring the mad boxing hares. It’s a beautiful place to be.
There is an abundance of birds in our Asturian garden and it is possible to see many different varieties in any given day; however, with the exception of robins, wrens, blackbirds and blackcaps, they tend to be just passing through rather than permanent residents. Bullfinches are very much front and centre at the moment, the vivid deep pink of the males’ plumage a vibrant flash against the grey and white landscape. I suspect they are coursing the peach trees in the hope of nipping off some early buds! We don’t feed the birds in winter here as there is simply no need; even in the current cold weather, there is no shortage of natural food to be found and anyway, I have never seen wild bird food in the shops. In contrast, our new garden is teeming with birdlife on the lookout for an easy meal and making a proper bird table, as well as some nesting boxes, is definitely on the to-do list. When Roger made the surprise discovery of a large bag of mixed seed in the cave, I decided to rig up a temporary feeding station out of some of our inherited junk by drilling drainage holes in a large plastic tray and sitting it on an old stool, weighed down with a rock. It’s not the most glamourous and a bit low (although I didn’t see signs of a single neighbourhood cat while we were there) but it wasn’t long before a robin and great tit were vying for occupancy. I filled it to overflowing before we left and will happily be back at the farmers’ store stocking up on an array of feeders and bird foods next week. Having enjoyed the sweet moment of a red squirrel sitting on the kitchen windowsill, I have a feeling we might attract some little furry visitors, too.
Among the mature trees on the property are several large oaks, one of which had dumped a thick carpet of leaves on the gravel in front of the house. This was certainly something that needed tackling, not from any aesthetic reason (fallen leaves don’t bother me one jot) but because the soil here is going to need a lot of love and this is a golden resource not to be wasted: wonderful, rich, friable compost in the making. Having found a flimsy but functional rake in the junk pile, I set about creating several huge piles of leaves, then shifting them a bucket at a time (no question we need that wheelbarrow and trug pronto!) to form an enormous heap in a sheltered place. It was lovely, warming work and a good job done; now I can forget all about them and let nature do the important bit.
One of the many things I love about gardens is the way in which individual gardeners put their own stamp on a patch, making the space an expression of their own personalities and characters; it would be so very dull if every garden was created to be identical to the next one or people felt constrained by a set of horticultural rules and regulations that stifle individuality and creativity. I’ve always felt that the medium of plants offers a satisfying and fun way of playing with colour and form for someone like myself who could never do the same with paints and I love taking inspiration from other people’s clever and creative ideas. There are things here I would never choose to plant ~ ornamental conifers, camelias and heathers have never really been my cup of tea ~ but each to their own, I say. However . . . there are some limits to what we’re happy to tolerate in our garden and I was pretty horrified to find that we have inherited the mother lode of plastic solar garden lights. They were every shape, size and design imaginable and it is no exaggeration to say they were absolutely everywhere ~ truly, not a single nook or cranny had escaped. I can’t bear the things. I’m a country mouse, born and bred and I’ve never been afraid of the dark; nature blesses us with moonlight and starlight and in the absence of either, the darkness simply brings a balance that I’m happy to embrace. This is a land of barn owls and I’m excited about watching their silent ghostly flights through the garden without the whole place being lit up like a Christmas tree! So, the lights had to go; I’m not entirely convinced I’ve found them all yet, but we now have an enormous pile ready to take to the local household recycling centre and nothing to detract from the wondrous beauty of this wide sky on starry, starry nights.
It’s interesting how our first tasks here have been such a reflection of our approach to life in general, that close connection to the natural process of things and the awareness that we share this space with a wealth of other living things. From leaves to compost to soil to seeds to plants to food and logs for warmth and energy: these are the endless loops and circles and cycles of which we are a tiny yet privileged part and our intention is to support and enhance them in whatever ways we can. We’ve taken our first steps on a new and exciting journey; we have started the all important process of bonding with this piece of land and turning a house into a new home. We have no way of knowing exactly where this journey will take us, in which direction each new step will lead . . . but then, that’s all part of the fun. Isn’t it? 😉
13 thoughts on “Journeys”
Not a frosty goodbye from Asturias? 😳 Why is there a tarp on the solar panels? We are making 10kWh on a sunny day now! Even running a storage heater on solar today. All looks very promising. If you don’t know about a house in the first half hour no amount of test habitation will make you fall for a place 😂. And you’ve done it how many times? We’re only on number 3 😉. Good luck with your next marathon drive and with the house sale!
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Thank you, Sonja, you have me smiling as ever! Roger thinks the weather is part of the big re-acclimatisation plan. 🥶 This is (ahem) our 11th home together and 4th international move. Think we might try and put some roots down this time, we’re surely getting too old to be nomads! 😂 We have no idea why the panels are tarped, apparently they contain antifreeze so it makes no sense, especially as I sat out there with a coffee in warm sunshine after the frosty starts. We really don’t know anything about them and the previous owner didn’t either despite installing them 😲, so I think we need to do a bit of research. We’re also planning some roof panels for electricity, should be safe from sun tax now, at least. 😆
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Feliz año y mucha suerte en tu casa neuva. You must be exhausted! What a year 2020 was and now it’s off to a very cold start, as you are experiencing in Asturias. Apparently the temperatures are the lowest on record for the whole of Spain. It is snowing in the higher villages of Murcia! Six degrees here and the pellet burner on ! Que pasa? Lots of rain here which is great in many ways but we are so spoiled and used to being outside every day! A question… your race to get to your beautiful new cottage sounded exciting but pretty stressful. Does having residency in an other EU country, such as Spain not allow you to move to another EU country with out going through the whole process again? We have been residents for 3 years now and are in the process of changing our flimsy wee green cards to photo ones. I assumed that once an EU resident , it would be easier to move to another EU country. ( Not that we are planning to!)
I am looking forward to reading all about your new home and how you are progressing. Meanwhile stay cosy when you can !
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Merci beaucoup! It feels really funny to be thinking in French again, I am confusing the locals here terribly every time I open my mouth and a jumble of Franish (or Spench?) comes tumbling out! I’ve really enjoyed learning some Spanish, though, it’s a lovely language and has been really good for the old grey matter. The weather is nuts, isn’t it? It was -3 degrees here this morning, ice on the bedroom windows (outside!) for the first time ever. It looks like you could be in for a dollop of snow in the south, too. The EU residency thing is a nightmare. As Spanish residents, you have the right to stay here under the same conditions as before and in fact, we will retain the right to move back for five years should we want to ~ that’s a special Spanish thing. However, only UK citizens who were already resident in France before 1st Jan or who had signalled their intention (with documentary proof) to settle permanently there have the right to residency now. If we hadn’t made it in time, we would have been treated as third country nationals and would have to go through the lengthy process of applying for a visa with no guarantee of getting one, in the meantime only be allowed to stay in France for 90 days in any 180. Basically, we could have ended up with a home we weren’t allowed to live in. We now have to apply for a residency card as we did in Spain, when we lived in France before we didn’t even have to register!!!! What we have retained is the right to travel freely within the EU (only because there are no border checks, the 90 day rule still applies!) but when it comes to changing residency, that’s a very different matter. Yet another gift from Brexit and I am so angry that it’s a freedom and privilege that has been taken away from our children and grandchildren. Ah, enough ranting . . . back to the packing!
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I think it is so sad, there is no doubt that the EU is not perfect, however being in it to fix it seemed a much more sensible position for the UK. My late Dad will be birling, he was so excited when we were allowed to join in the 70s. As a business man he went on to work with Italian, French, Belgian and Dutch companies , as a slightly eccentric Dad he took us and my Aunt, Uncle and cousins with a caravan and tent round Europe. One of my Mum’s most famous family quotes was while standing in Cologne Railway Station ( Dad was also a train spotter!) ‘ Doesn’t it just make you feel like going somewhere?’ Needless to say we all fell about laughing at our wee Bannockburn Mum in the middle of Cologne still wanting to travel on. I love diversity and I love Europe. The small island mentality of Brexit is just so hard to understand. We are missing our adventures, hopefully they will resume in the not too distant future. Four years ago next month we drove down from Saint Malo,
to Murcia and home on a similar route to the one you are traversing back on forth on now. We stopped for the night in Hendaye , one of my favourite French sea side towns. A road trip back to France would be wonderful.
I know how you feel re French. My French was pretty good until I started learning Spanish. I now have a face to face pupil whose Mum is French and Dad is Spanish. When I go to their home to teach the wee one , there is a triangle of languages going on…. the children cope brilliantly, my head is spinning by the time I leave!
Good luck with all your packing. Enjoy the adventure! Yvonne xx
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Yes, Yvonne, it’s very sad and you’ve absolutely summed up exactly how I feel ~ there are plenty of issues within the EU but so much better to be a part of it and work for change together (especially for a country lucky enough to have had a veto). I hope you can get back to some adventures this year! We’d hoped to have seen a bit more of the Peninsula last year but of course that became impossible, I now have my fingers crossed for a road trip from Mayenne to Norway in the summer if it’s allowed. There’s a couple of special people up there we haven’t seen for a year now and I really need to give them a big hug (sorry, Sam!) plus it would be amazing to see where they have made their new home. Not sure I’m going to get my head round any Norwegian, mind you! I smiled to read about your little polyglots, that’s definitely the age to learn, isn’t it? Our grandchildren are all bilingual Welsh/English and I love the way they can switch without a thought. It’s one heck of a skill. Packing done, we’re all set for an early start . . . curfew ends here at 6am and starts in France at 8pm so we definitely need to skidaddle!
I’m glad you explained the residency thing in the previous comment as it had me wondering! I imagine the whole Brexit thing has inconvenienced a great many people. We’ve followed the chaos from here as best we can, but don’t really understand the finer points. I like the look of your new abode and imagine it will be an enjoyable challenge to turn it into the kind of home you want. And the garden of course, will have endless opportunities for your creative horticultural flare. I’m looking forward to following your progress.
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You’ve probably worked out that I’m not exactly Brexit’s number one fan, Jane! I’ve always felt very proud to be British but also privileged to be an EU citizen. The freedom and opportunity that gave us and our offspring to travel, live and work in 27 other countries, learn new languages, explore different cultures, build friendships and understanding and broaden our minds and horizons was a very precious thing indeed. I feel so sorry for young people who will no longer benefit from those rights and from excellent schemes like the Erasmus student exchange programme. I’m also very sad that I can no longer support a number of small UK family-run seed companies who can’t export to the EU any more, normally I would be putting in some hefty orders at this time of year. Still, we are lucky to be able to live in France and I’m very excited about getting stuck into a new garden project . . . just need the weather to warm up a bit! 😀
Wow, I was wondering about all the Brexit stuff and how it worked…..
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I’m still wondering about it all, too! The true impact is really still to come but there are people (many who voted for it) who have already lost their livelihoods or who are protesting that the reality isn’t ‘what they voted for.’ Sadly, it’s exactly what they voted for and it affects everyone, including those of us who didn’t want it to happen. 😥
Your new place is magical! All the potential and possibilities. I cant wait to see the journey unfold! 🙂
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Sounds like you’ve been very busy Lis and, obviously, have much more to do in the forthcoming months? Well done for what you have achieved so far & Good Luck for your future plans too!
Look forward to receiving your next report and photos!
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Thank you! Yes, lots to do and we’re just impatient to get it all done at once, which isn’t going to happen! It’s lovely to be busy outside, though, and the weather is gorgeous – Roger is in shorts today. 😊 Happy St David’s Day! xx