I may not be a true pilgrim (yet!) but the Camino has definitely guided a lot of my life over the last 18 months.
As you will see from this video which we recorded back in October 2016 during our first visit to the Dordogne, one of the things which we fell in love with about the region was the walks.
Since we adopted them a few years ago, our two large dogs, Samson and Delilah have been our motivation to go out for a decent walk every day and we all benefit hugely from the exercise, the fresh air and the countryside.
Much as we loved walking in the countryside in Northern Ireland, we really didn’t enjoy getting soaked and having to walk through saturated fields in welly boots so often! So, during our first visit here, we were delighted to discover that the stunning landscape of the Perigord is full of the most beautiful walks through ancient forest, sleepy hamlets, ridiculously pretty villages and along the riverbanks.
Even more exciting for me was that I hadn’t realised that the ancient pilgrim route to Santiago de la Compostela in northern Spain also meanders through this area. Many years ago I read actress Shirley MacLaine’s book ‘The Camino: A Pilgrimage of Courage’ and I had a strong desire to walk El Camino de Santiago (or le Chemin de St Jacques as it is called in France). You can imagine my surprise when Eoin and I went out for a walk from the place we were house-sitting in back in October 2016 and found ourselves right on the Camino! Continue reading “My Camino”
It has been just over a month since I last wrote a blog and it has flown past in a blur of buying a new car, planning our move, packing, loading, cleaning, moving, unloading, unpacking and settling in to our beautiful new home here at La Girouette. We have now been here for 2 weeks and I am SOOOOO happy as I sit here in the heart of this sweet house writing these words.
The house was built in 1845 and was beautifully renovated in more recent times and, so far, she is offering us a very different life to the one we had before. We are both starting to feel the impact of our decision to downsize and to simplify our lives. Continue reading “Nous sommes arrivés chez nous!”
I have never been very good at doing things in moderation. I am an all-or-nothing-kind-of-gal! If there are chocolates in the house, they get eaten. If the bottle of wine is opened, it gets drunk. If I fall in love, I jump in with both feet. You get the picture! I have a pretty addictive personality and, up until recently, the only way I could really manage my addictions was with abstinence. When I quit my 30-a-day nicotine habit in my late 30s, I had to just quit completely and I will NEVER touch another cigarette. A few years ago I quit the booze for a couple of years and was sugar-free for a similar length of time. I felt great….super-healthy, clear-headed, vibrant, energised, glowing.
However, since moving to France 4 months ago, I have faced a bit of a challenge and my old ways of managing these addictions doesn’t really work for me anymore. There is a beautiful patisserie in nearly each village, we are surrounded by some of the best vineyards in the world and our local wine shop (chateau) is only 5 mins away from our front door and looks like this –
Personally I just don’t see the point in living here and not allowing myself to enjoy these simple pleasures. They are so much a part of the way of life and I really want to enjoy ALL aspects of my new life here in a healthy, balanced way. Continue reading “In Search of Balance”
A large part of the reason that we decided to leave Ireland was because we are outdoors people and we found the weather there to be changing for the worse over recent years. Having spent a lot of money and time creating a beautiful patio area outside our house there, we noticed that in 2016 we were actually only able to spend about 10 days throughout the whole year sitting in it because of the poor weather conditions. The part of Co. Down where we lived also seemed to be getting wetter and wetter and the seasons were becoming less defined every year. Despite Mr Trump’s assertion that climate change doesn’t exist, the long hot Irish summers of my childhood are definitely a thing of the past.
We were both craving more daylight, more sunshine and more vitamin D, especially during the long winter months which were always a bit of a struggle for me. So before we made our decision to move, Eoin did extensive research of weather patterns in different parts of SW France. Even within the Dordogne there are quite different conditions in various areas. We finally settled on a specific area which we loved and which also has great weather and we have been living nearby since the start of October.
Locals told us stories of eating Christmas dinner out in the garden some years. They also told us that February and May are usually the wettest months but that the seasons are well defined and that we will be able to spend most of our time outdoors for about 8 months of the year. It sounded like heaven to us!
And yet, in recent weeks all the locals are talking about is “le temps exceptionnel” (the exceptional weather) and they don’t mean exceptionally good! It honestly feels as if it has hardly stopped raining here since the start of November. Our daily walks with the dogs across the vineyards and through the forests find us all returning covered in mud and often soaking. Yesterday was so wet and wild that the dogs didn’t even want to go out to the toilet! So, for the first day since we left Ireland, we didn’t get any exercise or fresh air. The Dordogne river is higher than people have seen it for nearly two decades and the land is completely saturated. This photo looks lovely until you realise that is actually an image of the picnic area and car park by the river in Limeuil which has been under water for the last few weeks. A friend here told me on Monday that 10 of their 12 acres of riverside land are now under water. We haven’t been able to sit outside once in nearly two months now and whilst it is milder than Ireland, the damp conditions mean that we are lighting a fire every day. This was not what I had visualised for my new life in France! I hope that we didn’t bring the Irish weather with us.
When I woke up this morning to the sound of more rain, more muddy dog paw prints to mop up and the prospect of another wet walk, I have to say that my spirit was struggling. My mood was low and I was aware of feeling frustration, disappointment and a tinge of despondency. But one of the great things about our two dogs is that they love their exercise and Delilah especially gets very jittery if she doesn’t get at least 4 kilometres a day (plus her daily deer chase which she loves in the Dordogne!). So, with great reluctance, I hauled myself out of bed, put on my walking gear and we headed out. Continue reading “A Shift in Perspective”
Perfect comfort food for a winter’s evening. Even better if cooked with love, using only organic ingredients, combined with a glass of full-bodied red wine from our neighbouring Chateau de la Jaubertie or your own favourite and relished mindfully in front of the fire. Heaven in a bowl!!
750g finely sliced onions
2 crushed, peeled and chopped gloves of garlic
1.5 litres of vegetable stock
200 ml white wine
1 bay leaf
a sprig of thyme
pinch of sea salt
freshly ground pepper
some thin baguette slices
100g grated Gruyere cheese
Melt butter in a saucepan over a medium heat then add the onions and reducing the heat. Stir regularly for 50 minute and make sure they don’t stick to the pan or start burning. Slow and gentle here. Add a little more butter as necessary until they become soft and golden or caramelised.
Next add the garlic and flour and stir it well to make sure the flour coats everything. Then slowly add the white wine stirring all the time to make sure it thickens gently and isn’t lumpy. Add the thyme leaves, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper before covering the pan and simmering over a low heat for 40 minutes.
Toast the baguette slices then cover in Gruyere before melting under the grill then pop them on top of a steaming bowl of soup.
After 6 months looking and 3 months extremely focused and intensive (15 hours per week) house-hunting we have finally bought our new home in the Dordogne! Voici ‘La Girouette’……
Anyone who has bought a home in France knows that the system here is very different to the UK/Ireland. For starters there are no big centralised property search engines that all the immobiliers (estate agents) register their properties on. There are dozens of different websites many of which are difficult to navigate and have poor search terms. Next, hardly anyone puts up “A Vendre” (For Sale) signs so you have no idea which houses are actually on the market. After all our searching we genuinely believe that maybe 1 in every 5 houses in the Dordogne must be on the market. The number of properties for sale here is just staggering so you can spend literally weeks trawling through websites trying to find houses which match your criteria.
Then once you do find one which looks good and ticks the boxes on paper you have to try to find out where it is. “Proche d’un village” (near to a village) can mean anything up to 10 kms from the local village and, even then, that village might have no boulangerie or any other shops because there are many, many ‘dead’ villages in the area. The estate agents’ descriptions of locations are deliberately vague because they don’t want people to go to the owners directly for a private sale. Given that the agent’s charge a massive 5-6% of the selling price in fees, you can understand that they might want to safe-guard that income by being as cagey as possible. However, for the house-hunter this makes life very difficult and the whole process incredibly slow because you have to arrange a viewing of every single property which might vaguely be of interest even though you have no idea if it is on a main road or right beside a factory! Continue reading “Home Sweet Home!”
It’s been quite a while since I wrote a blog and we have had so many different experiences and adventures over the last 12 weeks since we drove away from our old home in Northern Ireland in search of our new life in the Dordogne.
As I write this, however, I am not in France but in Edinburgh airport on the first leg of my journey back to Eoin, the dogs and our new winter rental home near Bergerac which we moved into a few days before I flew out to Ireland last Thursday afternoon. It has been a mad whirlwind week which feels more like a month. I flew to Dublin where I was running an event for 160 people through the Positive Living Network which is one of my businesses there. During my 48 hours in Dublin I also had precious 1-1 time with my Positive Living Network team, a couple of girlfriends and one of my step-daughters. I then got a lift up to Northern Ireland where I stayed Saturday night with one couple of friends and Sunday with another. I checked in on Source Wellbeing Centre which is our business in Belfast and had time with our manager there. I even squeezed in a yoga class with my old yoga teacher before flying over to Edinburgh on Monday!
Once in Scotland I drove up to Dundee to stay with my daughter, Georgia, and her partner and to help them move into their new flat. Yesterday was spent at Georgia’s graduation from her Master’s degree and then celebrating with my brother, his wife and one of their daughters over a meal and cocktails.
I don’t think I could have fitted more into the week if I had tried! Georgia said to me yesterday “it hasn’t been much of a holiday for you” and I had to point out that it was never meant to be a holiday. Strangely enough our day to day life in France still feels like a holiday and coming back to Ireland/UK is more about going to work and catching up with loved ones.
After only 12 short weeks of living in France being here in the UK/Ireland has felt quite alien to me and I have been acutely aware of the much faster, more stressed and less connected way of life which is so different to life in the Dordogne. I am really surprised that after such a short period of time, the UK/Ireland no longer feels like home to me and there is literally nothing that I miss from my old life (apart from my friends, who are still my friends and whom I chat with regularly anyway). Continue reading “What is Home Anyway?”