Friday, 18 January 2019


It's been a couple of months since I posted on the barn (or La Grange as we're trying to call it). Last time the plasterer had just left and we were waiting for the pellet stove to be delivered.

We were keen to get at least the ceiling painted upstairs as our plasterer had kindly left us his scaffold tower to make life easier but even with this it was a slow job. I'm not keen on heights and with a ceiling at over four metres I tried not to look down too much. What was quite interesting was the beam. All had been numbered in Roman numerals except for number four which was Arabic - curious.

Painted & pointed

Beam number 4

It's a long way up!
The previous owners had built a chimney running from the cave to the first floor but unfortunately it proved too small for the installation of a wood burner. To put a complete new chimney in was very expensive and so we settled on a pellet stove with a balanced flue. This meant that we did not need a chimney plus we decided that the granules system would be a cleaner option for any renters. As with the main house we used Invicta Stoves in Brive la Gaillarde who are very good and we are really pleased with the results. It's difficult to get the scale of the room from these photographs but it's quite a big space.

Pellet stove from Invicta

Trust Mortimer to find the warmest spot
The big difference change has been the installation of the windows and a new door. We had to have the same design as the house but the new ones are double glazed and the 'petit bois' or glazing bars, clip in and out to make cleaning much easier. La Grange is much quieter and already warmer. Andrew made a small double glazed window for the end wall, although it's high you can still glimpse the trees.

Andrew's bespoke carpentry


Now that the electrics are finished Andrew has turned his attention to the plumbing. We are fortunate that we are on main drainage and that the barn is attached to the house. This has meant that we can connect everything together and life is even easier as the two bathrooms are on the ground floor (we have designed an upside down house). The downside was a metre plus granite wall in the way! We have very tolerant neighbours who I buttered up with mince pies, they are very understanding and genuinely pleased that the house and barn  grange are being maintained again. Most of the bathroom furniture has been ordered and I've just received a telephone call to say that the tiles are in, which will merit a couple of trips as the total weight is over a tonne.

All pipes lead to the plumbing cupboard
The plaster should be back next week, snow allowing, to finish the window reveals and then our next big job is the upstairs floor. The plastic covered pile in one of the photographs is 70 square metres of chestnut parquet flooring that we found in the grange. Of varying widths and filthy dirty it will look stunning once it's down but it won't be a quick job. However it needs to be done before we can fit the kitchen.

As always most of the work has been done by Andrew, I'm chief decorator and the pointing of the wall was a joint (no pun intended here for the renovator nerds!) effort. At last though my skills are coming to the fore and I can concentrate on finishes and styling. Here's a little taster for you.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019


We have now completed a full calendar year in Corrèze and are learning the rhythms of living in our beautiful part of France.

Winter in Corrèze

The view of Corrèze town from our garden

The nights are quiet, only the sound of the river in the valley and the occasional owl. About 6.30 a.m. the village starts to wake. We are at the beginning of the high street, not far from the tabac where workers stop to grab their daily copy of La Montagne. Unless it's Monday the boulangerie will be doing a steady trade in baguettes and croissants. Or maybe you would prefer a 'choco'? we are in the region where pain au chocolat is called a chocolatine. It's rare to get far without a 'bonjour, ça va? or a chat with the postman.

Perfect breakfast
By 9.30 it's all settled down, some traffic goes through but it's relatively peaceful until 11.45 when the 'rush' to get home for lunch starts. There is another flurry at the tabac and woe betide you if you haven't got everything you need by the time the midday church bells chime. By 12.30 you can hear a pin drop, everyone is eating. It will remain like this until about 2.30 when work begins again, then quiet until about 5 p.m. Not long after this is 'l'apéro' time of day, which can happen anytime between 6 and 9 p.m.

Our first l'apéro with a French family struck fear in my heart. Short for l'apéritif it's a drink or two with finger food, usually for 30 minutes to an hour (although it can go on all evening). Our first was with part-time neighbours only a couple of months after we had moved in. Arlette 'coo cooed' me and invited us over. My French (still limited) was appalling then and we had no idea of the social niceties of this very French event. We need not have worried, they were charming and very patient with my stumbling language skills. Since then we have been to, and hosted, many an apéro evening and enjoyed them all.

There is a variety to the days of the week. On Monday both the boulangerie and traiteur are closed but bread can be purchased in the Petit'Casino, but you only have until noon. On Tuesday, late afternoon, the fishmonger, cheesemonger and vegetable seller arrive in the town square for a couple of hours. Thursday sees the arrival of the pizza van in the same square, no rush in the winter but place your order early in the summer. Andrew's favourite is the smoked salmon while I'm partial to the mushroom.

New Year oysters
It's not only the weather that separates the seasons but food as well. The New Year kicks off with oysters, foie gras and truffles. Choucroute is a popular winter dish and the supermarkets have ready made packs of all the ingredients needed to cook this special dish. Mique makes an appearance, a speciality of our region, dough that's poached in broth which is served sliced with stews. France is very seasonal with food, even the multinational supermarkets will rarely sell fruit or vegetables out of their natural season. Winter markets have deep green cabbages and piles of pale endives, root vegetables are turned into thick soups. There are a multitude of melted cheese dishes - the classic cheese fondue, tartiflette (made from potatoes, onions, lardons and unctuous Reblochon cheese) and of course raclette.

Cheese fondue
With spring the food fêtes arrive, there is hardly a soft fruit that doesn't have it's weekend in the spotlight. Strawberries, raspberries, cherries and apricots, we are able to grow all these well in Corrèze. The highlight of any fête is nearly always a giant tart, with slices sold at the end of the day. Asparagus has a short season, fat white spears are more popular that the slim green ones that I'm used to. Soups are still on the menu but are less hearty, made with a light stock and tiny spring vegetables. As soon as the first cherries arrive then so do clafoutis - another classic Limousin dish where juicy fruit sits in a sweet, baked batter.

Mortimer enjoying a spring walk

The river Corrèze in spring
Summer is figs, myrtilles and more strawberries - for the first time I can select them for their use. Different varieties for poaching, tarts, purées or just a simple bowl with cream. Peaches are drippingly good, I think they come straight from the tree without being chilled. Tiny hamlets to large towns all celebrate some food item. My favourite has to be the 'four à pain' in Meyrignac-L'Église (five minutes up the road) celebrating oven baked bread. In days gone past even the smallest hamlet would have had a communal bread oven, small or not so small buildings where villagers could bake. Many have been restored and are used once or twice a year along with an accompanying fête. The large loaves have a hard crust but are soft and chewy inside, perfect with a piece of Cantal cheese, although the oven baked pizza option is a modern favourite.

Ancient bread oven

Summer pastimes

Corrèze town
Evening markets make an appearance in July and August and are wonderful. Our village hosts them in the medieval square by the church. There are some food stalls, long rows of tables and chairs and a barbecue set up. Sponsored by one of the village associations (who run the bar and bbq), you buy some meat or fish, take it to the barbecuers to cook and join friends to share with. I take a picnic basket with plates, glasses and salad to make a complete meal. There is usually live music and it is always convivial.

Autumn has always been my favourite season, the light is golden, the temperature warm but not uncomfortable and I can say goodbye to salads and embrace the hearty flavours of root vegetables. And of course mushrooms. Corrèze is famous for its cèpes, they even feature in our logo and our village has quite a renowned mushroom festival in October. The fruit tart is replaced with giant cépe omelettes. Although duck is popular all year round it comes to the fore on menus in the autumn, seconded only by pork dishes. Of course I have to mention the beef and veal from our famous and historic Limousine cows, these gorgeous animals can be seen all around us.

Autumn lane

Limousine cattle

Our commune of Corrèze has about 1100 full time residents and from the May national holidays the numbers start to build. Family links are strong and many Corrèzians who had moved away have second homes here. One of our neighbours has worked in Paris for several decades but on retirement purchased a holiday home in the village. She can trace her roots back to the fifteenth century and her cousin still lives in a house that has been in the family almost that long. As well as families returning, holiday makers exploring the area, we also share our lanes with pilgrims. We are on the Santiago de Compestela route, a section called 'La Voie de Rocamadour' linking Vezelay with Rocamadour. The new pilgrimage markers in blue and yellow contrast with the worn stone scallop shells on many of the buildings around the church.

Holiday makers are not the only summer visitors, we have spent hours sitting in the the garden watching the house martins perform aerial acrobatics over the church. As dusk falls they are replaced by the pipistrelle bats. Both are welcome as they feed on small insects. Our other insect feeders are the small lizards that bask on the granites walls and can be heard rustling in the flower beds as we walk past.

For a time in the U.K. I owned an antique shop so am in heaven when the vide-grenier season starts in the spring. The literal translation is 'empty the attic' and they are similar to a yard sale or boot fair (although you do not get professional market traders). Usually held on a Sunday, the best ones have stalls that snake through the village lanes and town squares. We already have marked some favourites for next year. You may also be lucky enough to see a sign for a 'vide maison' where the owner is selling the contents of their house. I bought some beautiful crystal glasses and table linen (a weakness of mine) this year and am looking forward to more in 2019.

Of course we do work as well! We are lucky that although our house is in the village we have an attached barn that we have been busy renovating to make into holiday cottage so we can share Corrèze. You can follow our progress with the blog or on my Facebook page.

Corrèze town

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Lost skill

I've lost the art of sitting. Not the mechanical action, I can still stand with my back to the sofa, bend my knees and there I am. Sitting. But what happens then? What am I meant to do?

Andrew and I said we would down tools from this weekend until January 2nd. We are both tired, not physically but mentally. We are really enjoying our restoration project for so many reasons but the planning and decision making can wear you out. Last week I was obviously not focussing properly and sustained three (minor) injuries, all caused by lack of concentration on the task in hand. I was being the second pair of hands to help Andrew with some plumbing and forgot to move mine out of the way. Result a bruised and swollen finger. Going down stairs I remembered what I had gone up for, did a sharp U-turn and tripped. I did not win the battle between hardwood stairs and shin. Finally I put a log on the wood burner without thinking what I was doing and seared my arm, Andrew heard the noise from across the room. Now none of these are serious but I need to stop for a few days.

So the sitting bit, obviously I haven't spent all year on my feet, I have sat down but usually it's to do something house related. Research, accounts, planning, ordering. Even as I type I have the urge to open a new tab and look for the perfect kitchen tiles I haven't yet found. Or order the shower tray while Lapeyre still have their 20% discount.  We are already talking about a job that we could do on 'Boxing Day'. I really don't know how to switch off renovation mode.

Back in the U.K I used to have 'magic moments'. 15 minutes or so with an interiors magazine and a cup of coffee or glass of wine but I haven't done that for months. Partly there is the guilt but also, although I subscribe to Art et Décoration magazine, it's not quite so relaxing when I have to read it with the aid of a dictionary. My kind friend Maggie has brought me a copy of Country Homes & Interiors so I may have a trial run of 'sitting' later this afternoon. I have ordered a couple of books to read over Christmas so maybe that will help.

Please don't feel sorry for me, life is good. Really good, but if you have any suggestions to help me regain the art of sitting they will be most welcome.

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It's been a couple of months since I posted on the barn (or La Grange as we're trying to call it). Last time the plasterer had just ...