I love my French country home in the foothills of the Pyrenees in this beautiful, unspoilt region of the south of France. It is almost the polar opposite of what we set out to find – it’s not small, it’s not manageable, it was partly derelict (still is) all the things we said we would avoid during the planning stages, many of which took place in various licensed premises in Workington, my home town. Mmmm, maybe that was it.
Nick had put in an offer for another house on a recent visit that he had made alone, and so confident was everyone that it would be what I wanted, the vendor had set off from Holland to sign the necessary paperwork. So despite the consternations of the agent having made assumptions about what I would and wouldn’t like despite never having met me (not sure what Nick’s excuse was) we continued our search.
Which led us to our house in Sonnac Sur l’Hers on the border of the Aude and Ariege in the south of France. Really 2 houses that the previous occupants had begun to knock together, i.e. bash 2 holes in the wall between the ground and first floors. The main house had 6 bedrooms, all in various states of repair, and with potential for at least 4 more in the attics (bed and breakfast?) a brown bathroom suite in a bathroom “big enough to hold a tea dance” according to the agent, and a huge sunny terrace with views across the churchyard, fields and hills.
Oh, but what a lovely feel there was. The huge blue shuttered house standing on the ancient village square with its church and beautifully restored stone walls of the Marie – our taxes obviously stretch to proper, authentic, lime render. The church bells chime right outside the bedroom window that Matthew and George shared on one of their many snowboarding trips to the Pyrenees. So no sleeping past 8am although thankfully they don’t ring through the night. We have stayed in some of the most remote, picturesque villages in the south of France and returned home shattered, each night’s sleep ruined by the incessant tolling of church bells.
The purchase was fairly smooth and the house was ours within 3 months, although where the log burning stove was that would keep us warm during the cold winter nights of the Aude, was a black hole. There was a cat in the secret garden, which didn’t concern me at all, and a bat in the corner of the mezzanine room which concerned me a great deal. (We left the door open taking a chance that it would fly out rather than all its mates fly in).
Our first few days in the house were spent in a daze, wondering what on earth had possessed us. The house we discovered had been 3 houses in the more pragmatic days of the 1700s. There was evidence of 3 front doors and 2 staircases remain, lovely winding oak stairs from the main sitting room all the way into the attic (derelict) and a spiral staircase tucked away in the back of the kitchen. The third probably crumbled away sometime in the 19th century. So, completely overwhelmed, we spent the week drinking wine then set off to catch our flight home.