Stone fairies

Every cloud has a silver lining …..

We finally got the builder to return to sort some of the outstanding issues on work already undertaken, by the simple expedient of with-holding money.  Obviously, this was not good for the working relationship between us!  So, not all  issues are sorted, and it looks like R and I will have to finish the making good of some things, which is galling.  Especially considering how much we have paid him. However, I’ve decided pragmatism is better than stressing!

It also became very clear that he had no intention of returning to complete the agreed, but outstanding, projects. As the main one was installing the septic tank for the barn conversion, it remains uninhabitable.  (All drainage currently exits from an open pipe onto the ground outside – as he left it!)  By this stage we were happy to leave it at that.  Plan B.  The silver lining appeared in the shape of our pool man. Not only is he on site, and with diggers etc, but he also installs septic tanks.  And can fit us in. Result!

We also girded our loins and set to on the gates.  Posts set in concrete and gates hung.  What’s more they are level and they meet in the middle!! We were very pleased with ourselves – talk about up-skilling!  So, our perimeter is now complete.

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Old joke – if April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

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(Pilgrims!! – OK, I was told it by an American)

The wild flowers are fabulous at the moment, and a walk around the lake is really beautiful.  As the lake is full to overflowing, the walk, taking 1 hour last summer, now takes 1.5 hours, as all of the inlets have filled up.  In some places the water now covers the path, so there are no shortcuts across the lake bed.

The combination of some lovely warm days, and still lots of rain has also seen the grass in the paddock shoot up.  So much so that we now lose all of the animals in it.

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We have cut paths around all of the edges to make for easier walking, especially for the 4 cats.  They all like to accompany us on our daily patrol.

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We are hoping that a farmer is going to cut it for hay, then we can think about getting some sheep.

We have already applied for our smallholding number, and have found some sheep that we would like for starters.  They belong to the couple we bought the wooden farm gates from, who are sheep farmers.  It is a 4 hour trip away, but they also have a small flock of  Dartmoor sheep – an endangered breed.  We saw them when we collected the gates, and she was canny enough to show us a new born lamb – love at first sight! They are just gorgeous and would be lovely to have around.  Apart from looking pretty, they are also quite docile – ideal for small holders.  What really clinched it was when she described them as “the labradors of the sheep world!”  So, watch this space!

Quatre Chemins – penal correctional facility for hard labour!

And I thought fencing was hard work!  Having finished that,  we started on the terrace to the south of the house.  Originally a 1m wide broken concrete path, leading straight onto cultivated land, we decided it was the perfect place for a large terrace, being south facing and with lovely views over both lakes.  The idea is to create a typically French gravelled terrace, edged with the big stones that were left on pallets at the front of the barn.  (We coveted them so much that they were made a condition of the sale.)  What we hadn’t taken into account was that, when the farmer moved and stacked them, he had a tractor!  Moving the stones across the courtyard to the terrace area has been a bit of a challenge.  They are so heavy that we cannot lift them.  In fact, it takes the 2 of us just to roll them over.  So, like the ancient Egyptians, we have been using round posts and rolling them over the ground.  It is a horrible angle to be shoving at, and is back breaking work.  On a good day, we have moved 3.  Manhandling them into position is another challenge.  We use make-shift levers and lifting straps and edge them by pivoting them bit by bit. So, to have shifted 12  in just over a week seemed like a huge achievement.

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But it only edged one side of the terrace-to-be. More worrying is the fact that. given the slope of the land, the ones across the front will have to be set into an increasingly deep ditch so that the top line is level.  Dropping them in is do-able, but getting them back out to adjust the depth and level is interesting!

However, at the weekend, we had a visit from the stone fairies!  Two new lots of friends, whilst admiring our endeavors, took pity on us and turned up with big boys toys to help out.  What a difference a morning with the right kit made!

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All the stones moved over to the terrace area.

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13 tons of hardcore in-filled.

And the terrace begins to take shape.

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I think the stone fairies have saved us nearly a month of hard labour.

The remaining stones outside the barn were then magically lifted and stacked in the barn out of the way by the same good people.  That left us with another huge cleared area.  Rod did 3 trips with the trailer to collect gravel, which we raked over, and the front of the huge barn is now tidy.  And a real suntrap!  It will make a real difference to catching the sun in Spring and Autumn as it is so sheltered. That and the beauty of spring here has made us think that maybe we can let out our “summer house” in the barn during low season when we are living in the house.

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As a small thank-you for the mornings labours, I provided lunch for all of our helpers. Platters of sausissons and pates, cheeses, mediterranean salads and baguettes were laid out on the table in the shade under the covered terrace (yes, it was actually too hot to eat out in the full sun).  Chilled bottles of wine and beer. A leisurely lunch outdoors with friends – it really did feel like living the French dream.

Talking about living the dream – the pool!!  We are now waiting for the liner, but work so far is very exciting as I can now sit on the steps and imagine………………..

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Suckers for punishment, we are also creating a terrace to one side of the pool for sunbathing – we’ll be real pro’s at the end of it all!

So, we were asked, what colour liner did we want? I never imagined there was such a choice – we had assumed blue. But even blue was complicated. Blue gives a sea sort of colour, ranging from Mediterranean  to Caribbean (definitley not the North Sea dingy grey), depending on the shade of liner.  But then again, it seems we could have sandy or grey.  A quick night of research and we opted for a sandy liner to give an aquamarine, fresh-water sort of colour.  Hopefully sympatico with the lake and stonework.  Who’d have known there was so much choice?

Monty moments

Dippy has got her mojo back and is delighting in the warmer weather as it means daily swims.  She bounds through the lake edge with the bounce of a puppy.  Monty still searches for more swimming rabbits.

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As the lake edge is full of wild mint, the fragrance as they tramples through is quite heady and evocative –  I end up returning from each walk yearning for a mojito!

Dippy would swim for a ball all day long, but Monty hasn’t a competitive bone in his body. To get him to retrieve the ball we have to hold onto Dippy, otherwise he just lets her get it.  And his concentration span is limited – 3 retrieves is his lot, then he gets tired of the game (or just tired?) and wanders off.

And some pictures of the kittens being laid back and enjoying life!

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20160521_143325Ginger playing hide and seek – 1,2,3 ready or not here I come….

 

 

 

The cicada’s have come alive as the temperature has increased – I still can’t hear them without being transported into holiday mode. A real mood lifter.  Rod got a real shock when he unearthed these in the water stop cock pit – curled up together he thought it was a snake – not good news with that colouration. But they are apparently quite common, even though they look so exotic – our very own Fire salamanders.

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Published by

Judith Jenkins

I have just given up teaching to move to France and run a smallholding. I taught Biology and Environmental Studies at a private school in North Yorkshire. We lived just outside Thirsk, which, at last count, was house number 10. My husband, Rod, was initially in the military, so we have moved around quite a bit, spending 5 years in Germany. Ironically, we never lived in France! We have 3 sons, the youngest left home this summer and has gone out to Australia to join our middle son there. The eldest is a teacher in Buckinghamshire. We have had a number of animals – sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and pets – horses, cats and dogs. (Not all were for the freezer! )

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