Three weeks before leaving for my late winter visit, I checked the weather for the five days I was going to be here. To my delight the weather was forecast to sunny and dry and not too bad daytime temperatures for the entire week I was due to be here.

Perfect weather for importing two tonnes of topsoil and creating a new herbaceous border, or so I thought.

The first day was clear blue skies and warm enough to sit outside for teabeak, so I enjoyed the day cutting back the now established beds and moving a few plants not working to my satisfaction.


The next day was frosty and fine and my topsoil arrived around 11.00. It was very wet and very heavy and the weather started to look a bit over cast. So I started straight away wheeling barrow loads of topsoil. Not too bad as it was downhill!

Halfway through it started to snow, not a problem as it was small icy pieces so I continued. But it then got heavier and heavier and then started to settle. The temperature also started to plummet. By the time I had completed the importation it was snowing golf ball size, I was soaked and my hands where frozen!


I retired to my wood burner to warm up!

Next day, I planned to plant up. It was very cold and icy, which was a good thing as the soil had a hard crust and was not too muddy. Just as I completed the planting, it started to rain, cold icy rain and it did not stop all day.


It doesn’t look much now!

Luckily had had a project inside to work on. The Piggery bathroom, as it will be, had a new floor and new ceiling last visit, this time I planned to strip out a cupboard and shelf arrangement and repair a rotted window lintel.

As I stripped off the timber shelves, I unearthed a really old limestone sink and what appears to be a primitive wood burning hob! We will try to preserve as much of this as is possible in the new bathroom.


An old sink

I once worked with an old landscaper who when faced with adversity always muttered “It fights you every inch of the way”, after enduring the cold and snow this week, I am starting to understand why!


My French fitted kitchen


New lintel and trims


Pour Le Cochon

When we were shown around the derelict Frelon Cottage by the then owner Mme Deumontei, as perspective buyers, their entire family had arrived a few hours earlier to sweep, strim and cut back to make the house look saleable.

On the grand tour, we were shown around the rear of the house to a small cellar type room beneath an upstairs room. This room had a low ceiling, a dirt floor and a small door.

When politely invited to look inside, my wife said jokingly ‘pour les enfants!’ to which Mme Deumontei replied sternly ‘Non, non, pour le cochon’!

The room above has since always been referred to as The Piggery Bathroom’.


The piggery

This room, in the oldest part of the house must have originally been some sort of kitchen as it has cupboards and what appears to be a limestone wood burning stove. However, it had suffered the most prior to the roof being replaced from water damage and rot. We had therefore, just patched up the rotten floor and ceiling and used it for a storage room for paint and tools and stuff.


The piggery bathroom

Now inside is complete and the majority of the garden done, we have decided to turn our attention to realising this room as a bathroom. We have a fantastic shower downstairs but a bath and a second toilet would make life easier.

This trip it is my aim to replace the floor, which will include replacing and reinforcing some of the beams with new oak beams (bought in the UK as the post Brexit exchange rate makes it more cost effective to buy in England and transport down, the irony of this is that it is French oak I am buying here!) and replace the ceiling with new tongue and groove boards. Chipboard floor sections for this job were brought down three years ago (as was a bath) when I hired a large van to bring a sofa and beds etc.


New oak beams

On this trip I am accompanied by my son, Percy, so it will not all be work and the weather is forecast to be warm. I have realised that I do not post on here so often but its is not that I have grown tired of the blog or the novelty has worn off, it is that we now spend more time relaxing at Frelon Cottage than we do working and that is not newsworthy!


In the attic!

The other reason for this autumn trip is to close up for the winter. Move furniture away from walls, put bedding in sealed boxes and set numerous mouse traps, as we will not be back until mid February, the longest time we spend away from the cottage.

It is sad closing up and leaving for the winter but now the house is warmed by two wood burners maybe we will one day spend Christmas here or stay here permanently………..?



New Floor


New Ceiling


Autumn at Frelon Cottage


New lawn now established


New sign to Le Port!

Peter Spivey

Peter Spivey’s was an old fashioned sports shop in Watford High Street in the seventies and eighties and probably before. It was the type of shop that probably started small with one unit and then extended back and sideway whilst still only keeping one shop front.

It was a shop where browsing was not possible. Their extensive stock was secreted in drawers and boxes and only the numerous staff members new the location of each item. It was from Peter Spivey that I had bought for me my first new pair of football boots and I remember, also a pair of old fashioned shin pads.

So why when in south western France do I recall a sports shop from my childhood? Well…….

Next to the fireplace in the kitchen is a cupboard. This cupboard houses the electrics and the broom and stuff. It used to get very damp, even with water on the floor but since the installation of zinc gutters the whole house is so much drier, this includes this cupboard. It used to smell damp and fusty but now its dry it smells of…………….

…………Peter Spivey’s Sport Shop!!!


Look at that Sward!

Another flying visit to Frelon Cottage, just three days, to check on the new grass add some fertilizer and weedkiller.

May/early June is the best time out here. Everything is green and in flower, as the summer moves on it becomes a bit scorched, so I enjoy this may visit.

Our garden here is starting to mature. Some areas have been planted now for three years. Choose the right plants and they will romp away!


Whilst here I have also done a little lime rendering, built a new tread on the side steps and have attempted some ‘pierre apparente’ (very time consuming). Oh, and also painted the last set of shutters blue. They were all green but last year we decided blue would be better but for some reason the front upstairs pair got forgotten (well not forgotten, I did not have a ladder long enough!).


Pierre Apparente

Well, Back to the UK tomorrow. Maybe one more visit before the holiday in August. We will see!


View from the salon window. Dense weeds two years ago!


Modified and rendered steps


Note: whilst researching this blog post, I discovered that Peter Spivey sports is still thriving in Hemel Hempstead! They even have a website


One flip flop, several small shoes, a mattock head, an electrical rocker switch, a hand knitted sock, two blouses, one pair of tights, a recently dead mole, a pitch fork head and string, lots of string!

All these have been unearthed whilst preparing the garden for seeding. The string being the most disruptive and annoying as it catches on the tines of the rake and then has to be pulled out of the ground, most often than not lifting out several large stones. Stones being the only item more plentiful than string!

This is a flying visit of just two days with the sole intention of preparing and seeding 460sqm of land previously dug, in the hope that it will be a large and flat lawn in the summer.

Last time we ran out of time to rake and seed so this visit has been planned since my return just two weeks ago. This weekend was identified on the long range weather forecasts as a window of three days in between unseasonably wet and windy weather in south western France.

Worryingly, the closer I got to leaving the sooner this window was to close and rain return. By departure day, Saturday was fine and Sunday was drizzle with later heavy showers. The forecast was right Saturday was 23 degrees and clear blue sky all day. I know this as I was outside for eleven hours! and have the sunburn to prove it!


Lower level on the rain

On the suggestion of Robert, I prepared all the lower level first, removing around twenty wheel barrows of stones (in the UK when you say stones, one imagines flints 50mm and down, here a stone could be and often is, a grapefruit size lump of limestone), seeded and rolled, finishing just as the light was failing.


Sure enough, I awoke to heavy drizzle. With more time, this was not the weather to for raking and seeding, but I had no choice. With my boots building up like seventies platforms and the rake weighting three times its weight with mud it was hard work, but by lunchtime it was all done!


Upper Level

True to the forecast it started to pour as I was clearing up, perfect timing.

Home early tomorrow with aching muscles but satisfied that it is all done. It’s up to nature now!

Thief 2

Crikey! I was unwell.

Not just reading the last post with it’s melancholy tone, but the way I have felt on the last day and a half have confirmed just how ill I felt. Now feeling the joys of Spring, literally as its been 20 degrees here for the last couple of days, I am much more chipper about the whole thing!

Xavier, the digger driver, has scraped and levelled the entire garden but I have only raked and prepared half of the area. This is not, due to any any circumstances other than, as usual, priorities change when you are actually here rather than planning works from 600 miles away. This time, I decided that while we had a digger on site it would be wise to clear the area beside the big barn that will eventually become our pool courtyard.


This area had been used by the farmer for dumping bricks, blocks, polythene and bundles of bailing string over the years he kept his cattle in the barn. The idea to scrape all this waste to one side, dig a big hole and bury it, soon became an impossibility as we hit solid rock 30cm down. This left us with a massive pile of rock, blocks weeds and rubbish and nowhere to put it. After much head scratching I walked up to the farmer’s house to explain the problem. He jumped in his van and came down to speak with Xavier and quickly came up with the solution to fill a hole on his land. Problem solved.


Beside the barn

Whilst all these ground works were going on I was planting bundles of bareroot hazel, roses and guilder roses around the newly cleared boundaries. This is where I committed my second incidence of perceived French thievery.


The string line

Emerging to a beautiful frosty morning at 8.00am to start work I noticed that a string line had appeared overnight, on the newly cleared and planted boundary.

I was soon accosted by Robert, who hands on hips, pointed out that I had planted about ten plants the wrong side of this line. He asked for them to be moved, showing me a stud set in the ground by the surveyor at the time of the sale of the house marking the boundary. The irony of this being it was only our actions of clearing the site that had exposed said stud! Anyway best keep everyone on side.


New multistem Catalpa

Saturday morning, departure day, I was out on hand and knees replanting these plants before cleaning the house and packing. This was made all the easier as due to a busy weekend on the Eurotunnel and massive supplements on my prepaid ticket for sensibly timed departures, I had booked into a budget hotel in Calais, thus relieving time constraints on leaving Frelon Cottage.


Ready for seeding

I am writing this after a good night at the rather funky Ibis hotel in central Calais and am now on the train home……..all in all a good week!


Surprisingly nice Calais centre

Has the Romance Died?

This is the question I have been asking myself a lot over the last couple of days regarding our French house.

Plagued by lingering ‘Man Flu’ the journey seemed arduous, yesterday pruning the fruit trees in a raging gale finished me off by lunchtime and during the afternoon I just could not get warm despite having both woodburners blazing and today the discovery that half the garden has only about 10cm of soil over rubble are all not good.


This is coupled with the reality of a hard Brexit making the dream of spending the warm six months of each year in retirement, possibly only that… a dream. The whole point of all this work possibly taken away.

This visit is one that I have not been relishing anyway. Despite being in horticulture, I am extremely trepidatious about ploughing up the entire garden, levelling it and sowing a lawn that I have to leave for six weeks at a time hoping it will be ready for the summer. Anyway this is underway. My French digger driver, Xavier, arrived this morning and promptly started work, unfortunately on the upper level. This is where the soil was found to be very thin. This caused much head shaking and faces of concern, not improving my mood in anyway.


After lunch, (in a rather unFrench way, Xavier only took fifteen minutes, leaving me shamed for taking nearly and hour and sitting at the kitchen table!), I got stuck into cutting back and tidying the beds planted last year and the year before and Xavier started to look a bit more comfortable as on the lower level the soil is very deep.


By five oclock, he had levelled the entire garden and things started to look up. Feeling better after a hot shower (better than our one at home), I went out to photograph the work and was greeted by Robert, the farmer who handed me a box of ten freshly laid hens eggs.

I chatted with him for a while (yes chatted, even I am impressed with how well my French is coming on), as the setting sun shone on St Victor across the valley.


At this moment I realised exactly why we had bought this house… be part of rural France, and we are. If this is not romance, then I don’t know what is!


All is not so bad!

To Make an Omelette

I am here in France for my last visit of this year. On this trip we are having the last major works to the house, a new Fosse Septique.


View from our front door

We have a functioning Fosse but it is not up to modern standards as it does not take all the water from the house and knowing the Deaumonteis (the family who sold the house), it is was probably made from bin bags and string! We also do not know where it is! We know roughly the direction but this would be a problem when it needs pumping out.

This work is completion of planning and works started on one of my first visits . I dug a trench across the kitchen floor to take the kitchen water to the potential new fosse This now seems years away as I sit in front of the wood burner listening to the radio (internet!) typing this blog post.


As this is not a job I can or want to help with, I have planned something more creative. A blockwork retaining wall built last year will now be clad with cut limestone to give the impression it is an old traditional wall.


Monday morning the digger and surprisingly one guy arrived to start work. This was unexpected as I had a received and email from the company owner on Sunday saying they would be here ‘apres midi’. Anyway, the guy worked and worked in pouring rain all day. When he left I went out to look at the work ( like I am sure our clients do!) and saw that he had missed the afore mentioned new feed from the kitchen.


Not a problem you would think, but yes big problem! The 3000 litre tank had been set in a pit carved from solid chalk and connected up to the bathroom feed. The problem being that the kitchen feed was 200mm lower than the pipework and the entrance to the tank. This meant it needed to be lifted out and the pit dug deeper….oh dear!

After an evening worrying, I pointed out the problem to the guy as soon as he arrived at 8.00am. He looked, drew on his roll up, exclaimed ‘ c’est un gros probleme!’ and went off talking to himself. This was not just in annoyance at the extra work, as on several occasions I thought he was talking on the phone or another colleague has arrived, only to look round the corner and see him in full conversation with himself!


I needn’t have worried as he worked like a Trojan to lift out the tank, dig further down and reconnect the pipes. By the end of the second day, he had not only reset the tank, but had dug a 25 sqm soak away and filled it with 20 tonnes of sand.


By the end of day three, it had been signed off by SPANC (see an earlier post for an explanation), he had regraded the garden and I had an operational new fosse. Three days working from 8.00am until 6.00pm and not even an overly long lunch break.


Back to the UK tomorrow, so I have to pack up the house for the winter as I am not here again until late February.

My longest blog post ever and not even one mention of Brexit!