Confinement

It was essential I was able to get down to Frelon Cottage this Autumn.

Not because I needed a break, but as when we left in August I left the freezer and water still on. Also the lawn which had no irrigation due to the spring lockdown had died fully in parts and the wildflower area which had established to a certain extent, needed maintenance.

With all this in mind, I had been in contact with my friends in France and had been watching the news regarding Covid and any associated travel restrictions. I sensed things were closing in so travelled down despite a forecast of five wet days from seven. I did not realise just how close things were to closing in completely.

Arriving at dusk in torrential rain I was keen to jump out and see my new roof on the ‘The Cave’, but as I did so, something not quite right caught my eye. A pile of rocks, rubble and timber was stacked against by chalk piers and strewn down my steps into the garden.

Catastrophe

The neighbours above us are renovating a barn as a holiday home. On a whim, Ousmane took the roof of their piggery, a fatal error as these buildings are of chalk boulders are stuck together with nothing more than clay. When this gets wet, by a roof failure or removal, they collapse (as I found out with The Cave). This building with no roof had collapsed, I think, in this downpour, along one side into my garden.

The next day after moving a couple tonnes of rocks, I started on my other task to protect the house from the wet this winter, rubbing down and repainting the shutters of the windward side of the house.

Rainy day shutter workshop

Back in 2016 https://freloncottage.wordpress.com/2016/07/ I decided that the subtle green originally chosen for external woodwork was too pale and repainted with a bright Provincal blue. This turned out to be a mistake as it is, on reflection, too brash for this region of France, so as they needed painting again, Cooking Apple Green it is.

In between coats of paint and torrential showers, I began the process of scarifying and reseeding the lawn, strimming and weeding the wildflowers and helping Sam with stripping off the Ping Pong barn roof (unlike the neighbours, we are rebuilding immediately, rather than leaving it for two years and letting it collapse. Saying that, on stripping the roof I realised that if it had been left for a few months more it would have collapsed!)

Very rotten

By the end of the week all tasks were completed and I realised just how close I was to being totally closed out, as France introduced a new period of Confinement and I have now returned to the prospect of a lockdown in UK.

So no more visits this year and next year who knows?

Rebuilt ready for tiles

The Cave

Since my last post, life at Frelon Cottage had fallen into a nice routine.

Half term visits for maintenance and improvement, usually on my own, Easter with the family and dogs and summer for relaxation and as base for exploring farther afield.

Then two things broke that comfort. In late winter of 2019, I had a call on my phone from a French number, never a good thing as it usually brings bad news. The last two times being potential intruders as one set of shutters had been opened (it turned out to be the wind and me forgetting to latch them before leaving) and the second, a catastrophic leak with the new plumbing in the piggery bathroom (see earlier post).

This time it was not good news either.

We have three out buildings. The Big Barn, big and dry with a corrugated cement board roof, the Ping Pong Barn, a smaller barn named after its potential use and the Cave. The Cave is a smaller building attached to the Ping Pong Barn but cut into the bank with a timber a first floor above. It has been used a store for rubbish and wine bottles since we bought the house and has ben ignored, mainly because a portion of the roof fell in after a few months of ownership.

IMG_8527The call this time was my neighbour relaying the news that due to the extremely wet November and large hole in the roof, water had started to degrade the wall above his logstore and it was beginning to collapse.

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In February I went down and removed what I could of the wall but the entire roof was in danger of collapse.

IMG_8518Then second event to disrupt the comfort……..a global pandemic!

With European travel restricted and the French ‘Déconfinement’ preventing my friend and builder Sam from travelling from his house nearby to work on the roof, it stayed in this precarious state until our summer holiday in August.

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Prior to our visit Sam had disassembled the crumbling wall and section of roof above and rebuilt the wall. On this visit, working with him we removed the rest of the roof and started to reconstruct.

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The biggest challenge being lifting a 5.2m oak ridge beam into place 6m up. Bit by bit, inch by inch and by lifting one end at a time, all in 36 degrees, we managed to get it in place.

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The new ridge beam

When we left Sam was installing the new rafters ready to take the new volige boards and finally the reused old tiles. When and if I’m able to visit in October the roof will be complete.

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Sheep

Two major events dominate my early summer visit to Frelon Cottage!

The first is the completion, finally, of the Piggery Bathroom (more on that later) and the second is the rumoured and much discussed arrival of sheep to the field adjacent to the end of our plot!

For years, well since we have been in Le Port, the field at the end has been laid fallow, in rural French terms that means left weed infested! The down side being that we are in the windward direction and the thistle seeds et al infested our garden! But in the autumn, this field was sowed with grass and rumours started of the impending arrival of a flock of sheep. This was later affirmed but an email telling of the installation of an electric fence.

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On my arrival, I was greeted with the sound and sight of said flock in the paddock! We can now add the baas of sheep to the cock a doodle doos, moos and chirping of cidadas. A welcome addition: and far more pleasant than the shouting of cyclists and they pass through our village in Cambridgeshire.

The second event, completion of the piggery bathroom, has been the culmination of six years of planning. As mentioned before, this derelict part of the house was earmarked on my drawings to one day be a bathroom and during the early stages of the renovations, services, electrics and water were all routed there and there they stayed while this room, with patched up floor and no ceiling became a builder’s store.

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The piggery bathroom before

Over the last two years, the floor and ceiling has been replaced and during the Easter holiday the plumber came and connected the bath, basin and toilet and since then, a French joiner, Monsieur Gachet, has installed a new window and shutters.

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Piggery bathroom after!

On this visit, all that remained was to paint and finish the details. I say all that remained, as in French decorating almost everything is painted! This took all of my five days, not a problem as the weather was not great.

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The last morning the weather was glorious, the garden looked fantastic and I left in the knowledge that now every room in the house is now complete!

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Garden before

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Garden now!

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Six years ago’ ‘Look at him all excited planting trees, when his house is derelict’, they laughed!

A Third Country

After posting a new blog entry last week about my November trip, I am now back in the UK and posting about my latest visit.

Driving down after over nighting in Calais and sampling probably the best chips I have ever tasted, from ‘Friterie Claudia’ in the town square, I realised that this may be my last visit to Riberac as a citizen of the European Union. A situation that puts our Easter holiday here and long term future in the balance.

Still we continue on with the renovation. This time the piggery bathroom floor, garden tidy and movement of plants not my designer’s eye and resowing of the bare patches on the lawn, amongst other tasks!

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After much deliberating about style and harmony with a rural French cottage and having ruled out encaustic and porcelain pattern tiles, I have decided upon good old ‘Terre Cuite’. But as is normal, I am not laying in a straight forward way but in a 45 degree bond with a framework in larger tiles. This is not for masochistic tendencies but because none of the walls in this small room are square or parallel and this bond will detract from this. To further complicate I am also laying an insulation board and electric under floor heating.

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The weather for this week was in the high teens and sunny everyday, in contrast to this visit last year when it snowed and settled, so working inside and not being tempted by the gardening is difficult.

Laying the insulation and heating mat was straight forward , as was the frame of larger tiles, but then came the 45 degree infill. This was Ok to start with but the cuts, oh the cuts! These took the best part of a day.

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From experience of the downstairs room we have realised that to point/grout up without staining these soft absorbent tiles it is best to seal and impregnate the tiles beforehand. As this takes an hour to dry and needs three coats, it gave ample time for garden work in the sunshine.

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Next day, like a mad Patissier armed with a large piping bag of jasmine grout (this colour as research has shown that traditionally this would have been lime and the dust from cutting the tiles giving a pinky white colour) I set about this monumental task! One whole day on hands and knees the floor was complete and ready for more sealing tomorrow…..but wait, I leave tomorrow at 14.00!

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New window will be fitted by the next time we visit

Up at 06.00 to seal the floor, sow the grass seed, tidy and clean the house, I still managed to leave on time and trundle back up to Calais. Arriving at 21.30, too tired to sample the delights of Friterie Claudia, I retire straight to bed happy in the knowledge I have achieved all that I set to complete this week.

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Rising early again for breakfast next morning and on the 08.06 Eurotunnel train back to the UK, I planned to be home by 10.00.

I may have been dozing but as the train pulled into Folkstone, did the announcer on the train tannoy really say “We will shortly be arriving………don’t forget to put your watches back forty years…..”?

Irritation

It has been a year since I last posted; I guess that makes me not a prolific blogger! *

The reason being, is not a lot has happened at Frelon Cottage save for relaxing in the sun, cheese eating and wine drinking.

The summer just gone was the hottest and sunniest since we bought the cottage. All great for holidays, we managed two summer visits here this year, but not great for my newly established lawn. Hence the main project for this autumn’s visit, to install pop up irrigation.

The garden area, over 600sqm was surveyed on a balmy evening on our last holiday using my laser and then drawn up on the CAD system in the office and an irrigation system planned to cover all areas in two separate circuits.

All parts purchased including one hundred metres of 19mm pipe, I headed down to the cottage. I must be getting older as I now often choose to overnight in Calais to break up the journey, as I did on this occasion.

The weather for my visit was set fair and due to be above average temperatures. All good, except the main job on this project is to hand dig 100m of small trenches to take the irrigation pipe. This job was made all the more tiring by the barrow loads of limestone rocks and roofing tiles just below the surface. As it was around 24 degrees by lunch time each day, I trenched from 8.00am until 1.00pm, stopping of course for tea at 10.00 and to admire the early morning deer that wandered into the lane.

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This left the afternoons to continue to work on the piggery bathroom, which last Autumn had a new floor and ceiling and this visit is being prepared for decorating with a view to completion for Easter.

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After three mornings all trenches were dug and pipes installed. Job done……well no! The trenches need filling and the voids left by the rocks meant that more topsoil from a pile at one end of the plot was needed to fill the excavations level.

By my last day the garden area was all level again and ready to be scarified and reseeded. By 18.30 this was all done and now, once again we wait for nature to it’s work, this time aided slightly by nine pop up sprinklers!

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* although written at the time 28/10/2018, I lost my password and the recovery email was obsolete. I had given up on posting further but today I found the password stored on my phone! So we are back on! Just in time as I am heading down this Saturday!

Snow

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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My French fitted kitchen

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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………..?

 

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New Floor

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New Ceiling

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Autumn at Frelon Cottage

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New lawn now established

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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!!!

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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!

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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!).

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Pierre Apparente

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

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

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Modified and rendered steps

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

String

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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Surprisingly nice Calais centre