Why is it that I make these wild claims in my blogs about work I expect to complete during the week? Again, last week, I finished the blog with the claim that, by now, the shed would be complete and ready to stock. Of course it isn’t.
However, I did also promise some photos of the progress so far and I can do that. What I hope you can see is that there has been progress.
The pictures here are a few days old although there hasn’t been so much progress since. There has also not been so much clearing out, other than the cut up beams and posts of the old shed frame which has allowed me to finish the central support post and wire in the sockets.
Following the electrical hiccup of last week causing me to remove and then replace some of the ceiling lambris, I have now been able to focus on cladding the internal walls for which we are using OSB / sterling board. It’s starting to look like the posh shed I have wanted.
One significant change I have noticed with the cladding, and insulation I have installed, is that it feels much warmer on the inside than our own house! It will certainly make it much more comfortable to work in during the chillier months.
Sadly, wanting to keep costs down and minimise waste, with my evolving ideas about what I want to do, I haven’t bought enough OSB and need a few more sheets – but the result will be worthwhile.
Having missed my, self-imposed, deadline of mid-February to complete I am now aiming for early March to have it 100% done. That said, there will be no blog next week but the week after – there should be one with real change and, who knows, perhaps a completed shed.
Again, this week’s principal focus has been working on the man shed but I have made a lot less progress than I would have liked. My desire to have it totally complete and stocked by mid-Feb (middle of next week) is unlikely to be met. However, I am very close to finishing on the inside so I won’t share any photos this week but hold off until next Sunday when it should all be done.
This blog will therefore be pretty short.
The reason I haven’t made the progress I wanted has been very frustrating. Last week’s blog, foolishly titled ‘Wired’ said that I had completed the wiring and had taken a bit longer on it to get it right. This allowed me to start hiding all the wires behind the lambris on the ceiling and OSB boards on the walls.
Then I wired the switch to turn on the lights (LED tubes) and – nothing! My big ‘Ta-Dah!’ moment was more of a ‘Ta-D’Oh!’
Knowing how careful I had been putting the wires up, I hadn’t tested the circuits before hiding all the wires away. Knowing too that all the connections were good I was completely stumped as to what could be the problem so I called on a friend who had recently re-wired his house and, while no sparky himself, knows a lot more about it than I did. And he too was, initially, baffled.
All the readings from his voltmeter showed that the circuits were good and there was power getting to the switches and the lights, albeit just below 220 volts, but they didn’t want to work.
After a few hours, and some trial and error with random bits of wire, a solution was found which was to wire the lights in parallel rather than series. Why this is the case I still don’t completely understand but it worked. What it did mean was that I had to remove about half of the lambris from the ceiling and some of the internal cladding so that I could change the wiring – an additional day and a half worth of work to remove, amend and replace.
Now all done so I have been able to progress with the remainder of the cladding which I will show next week.
During the week we also received some new collars for Mouse so that we could attach the magnet which acts as the key to her new cat flap. Mouse had got used to walking through the hole in the door before I installed the flap and then through the fitted flap as we had taped the door open. However, despite moving her food and bed into the shed, she was initially very slow to experiment with the flap once we had closed the ‘door’.
Thankfully, eventually, her curiosity, or possibly hunger, got the better of her and she has started to use the flap to get in and out so she has a nice warm, dry house safe from other cats – and especially her mother.
Photos next week – promise – and the shed should be finished and ready to stock!
Where has January gone?! It seems like only a few days ago we had the Christmas decorations up. Thankfully however, we have avoided the very cold snap and snow that we see the UK has been experiencing last week and today has been almost warm.
Last week’s blog was the first of the year that started with the ‘wasn’t a very productive week’ phrase. While this week won’t be the second, having set myself a deadline of mid-February to complete the project, I haven’t made as much progress as I would have liked and I can’t lay all of the blame on the start of the 6 Nations tournament – and what a great start.
All of the above said, I have made some progress on the shed. I have now completed the wiring which I wanted to do before fitting out so it can be hidden behind the boarding that I will put up. This took quite a bit longer than I wanted as I wanted to make sure I did it safely and, while we are not demanding any more power than we did before, I will have more sockets and lights.
I haven’t made any further progress on clearing the space out nor have I managed to get rid of the old roofing sheets that I mentioned least week. Sadly, the quarry we were told accepted them no longer has a licence so we are investigating alternative methods of disposal …
Having completed the wiring I have made a start on insulating and covering the ceiling. As the garage bays, we have chosen to use white plastic lambris as it’s cheap and easy to install. The insulation is less to make the building comfortable – it is only a shed – but to minimise the condensation which occurs on the cold metal roof and drips into the shed. Half done.
During the week I have also started some major spring cleaning in our own house and began clearing my desk. The state of my desk has become a bit of a running joke among friends and family. While I don’t consider myself a hoarder exactly, I do admit that I don’t like throwing anything away which may come in useful at some point in the future – such as the old shower screens which we have used as windows in the new shed. I also wouldn’t consider myself a procrastinator normally, after a long day working non-essential admin often gets put off which resulted in my desk being lost under lots of stuff!
During one of the wetter and colder days I started to sort through the ‘stuff’ which would also assist me to compile our dossiers for our residency permit application and interview at the end of March. During the clear out I made an A4 paper sized pile of things to be recycled much of which were the vast amount of shop marketing material the French receive – at the end it was almost a metre tall! The shame! Phase 2 will be filing the ‘stuff’ which will probably generate more recycling (although not a metre’s worth!)
Otherwise the week has been other routine things. We did visit our new dentist in Morlaix who is a good friend of David’s who attends most of his gym classes. He is a nice guy and, I’m sure a good dentist, but (as this seems to be a blog of confessions) I also admit to being one of the millions who hates visiting the dentist. No matter how good they are it always feels like being waterboarded by Dr. Orin Scrivello D.D.S.
All being well I should be in a position to start filling the man shed by this time next week.
This week is going to be the first of, what I hope won’t be very many, blogs of 2019 that begins with my ‘wasn’t a very productive week’ statement!
My principal effort has been the man shed which is now completed externally and so is completely watertight. This has proven useful as the last week has been one of the wettest we had had for a while. Thankfully, as well as making it watertight I have also attached a gutter at the front. The north side of the Hayloft roof also drains onto what is now a larger shed roof. As such there is quite a lot of water which previously drained and pooled at the base of the new wall. The new gutter has now allowed me to divert the water away so the ground should dry out better.
We have also added some detailing at the front partly to hide and protect the wood but mostly to match the front of the adjacent Grange, albeit there is a gutter there hiding some of the slate detailing.
I have started to clear out the shed before I can fit it out although haven’t made as much progress! It took almost a day to cut up the old wood that I had been storing on the concrete pad both in and out of the old shed. Much of the wood was the frame of the old shed which I had stacked against Hayloft’s wall and built around – it is the pile now in the centre of the shed.
The things that will prove most difficult to dispose of are the old roofing sheets which are the old corrugated asbestos type. Unfortunately our déchèterie doesn’t take these, although others do, but we have been told of somewhere who accepts them. Difficulty of disposing aside, we needed to move them as I had stacked them against Hayloft and had protected the electrical supply behind them. Now they are moved I can progress with wiring everything else in.
I didn’t work on the shed on Friday as we were hosting a Burns Night supper. We can’t claim to have any Scottish ancestry or particular link to Scotland generally but it is always a good excuse for a party in darkest January and getting the posh dinner things out including the tartan table cloth and napkins that Dave made a few years back. Dave made a wonderful meal using traditional Burns ingredients but in a very imaginative and creative way.
The pheasant feathers we had bought for Christmas decorations also came in handy for the table. It did mean a night off our dry period which we have now resumed – you can’t have Burns Night without a wee dram. TBC whether we will have a similar temporary suspension next weekend at the start of the 6 Nations Championship – always a great competition.
This week we have also received the last proofs of some drawings of the gîtes that we have commissioned. We are really pleased with the pictures – some of the scans don’t do them justice as I have scanned them when they were already mounted in frames. We have ordered some copies for the gîtes themselves as well as some smaller black and white, and some colour, cards. The perfect memento of your stay with us or to send home to friends and family.
Next week will be continuing with the man shed – I have set myself a deadline of mid-Feb to complete the whole project. When I have the wiring, ceiling and lighting in I will be able to work later into the night – although it is already noticeable that the evenings are drawing out.
As my last blog, the last 7 days have principally been focussed on progressing the new man shed and getting it as close to completion as I can and, externally at least, I’m not far off.
By last Sunday I had managed to complete the cladding on 2 sides. Now, all of the exterior cladding has been fixed including the detailing around the windows and banging in annular nails to each board to match what we have done with Grange – although they do have a practical purpose as well.
This took a little longer than I had hoped (sound familiar?) but not as long as making the doors.
Because both are generally visible together, as you can see from the picture, I have attempted to make the human door (as a way to distinguish it from the machinery, barn-type doors) match the one made by Lee to access the games room. Lee made the Games Room door from the same construction timber we made the building frame. As such it is, thankfully, pretty basic and easy to replicate so I have done the same things with the small addition of a hole where we will put the cat flap to allow Mouse access to her new home.
The barn doors have also taken a little longer than perhaps they should although I use the justification that, again, these are the first that I have made. The biggest ‘problem’ has been working out how to hinge them so that they open outwards and, when closed, the cladding looks seamless and the doors are almost undetectable. The only way I can think of making this work would require a lot more effort than I can justify for a shed and would need a different sort of pivoting hinge.
I would be far easier if I wanted the doors to open inwards but, for a couple of reasons, that isn’t practical.
As such, I have done the best I can while keeping the hinges hidden behind the cladding – although, when I do eventually get around to putting doors on the Grange garage bays the hinges will be on the outside. I am pretty happy with how they have worked out and it will be even better when the wood has weathered so it is all one colour – and also to match Grange.
There are just a few things outstanding (including attaching the gutter and installing the 2 long windows) before the exterior is complete and I can focus on clearing it out and working on important things on the inside – like electrics and lighting!
I have been very fortunate this week that the weather has, mostly, allowed me to work outside. Thankfully we haven’t experienced the frost and cold weather of much of the UK, in fact it has been very spring-like with bright, mild, periods interspersed with heavy downpours and some hail. It does make for some good pictures if you’re in the right place at the right time – it’s just unfortunate this isn’t the prettiest side of Kergudon – yet. That’s another project on the list!
On the wettest day we chose to visit the Leclerc Cultural centre in Landerneau. This is an exhibition space that we have visited before but only for their summer exhibitions. These have been for some very celebrated artists (Chagall, Picasso and Henry Moore in the last 3 years) but we have never visited their smaller winter shows.
This year their winter event is of the American artist Joan Mitchell and the Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle. The exhibition is titled ‘A couple in excess / Nothing in moderation’ and showcases their abstract art, mainly in large format, through their relationship.
Neither were known to either of us before but I found their work striking, Riopelle especially, and it is certainly worth a visit. We did ask if they could let us know who their summer exhibition would be focussed on but it remains secret. Apparently not everything has been confirmed and signed but they seemed very excited that it was going to be big. We will let you know as soon as we do.
The coming week will be continuing with the man shed, finishing the exterior completely; clearing the interior and starting to fit it out. I will be able to actually use it in the next couple of weeks and Mouse will be grateful of a new home if the weather cools down.
You may recall that when I summarised all of the projects we had completed in 2018 in the last blog of the year, I mentioned that many of my missives began by saying that we hadn’t had a very productive week. I am pleased to say that 2019 has started in the opposite vein and we have made good progress.
Last week’s blog ended by saying that I hoped to start cladding the man shed if the weather remained dry. It did (mostly) and I have!
However, before I began the cladding and as the temperatures have been unseasonably warm, I thought that it would be a good idea to render the block work to match Grange next door. Getting the rendering done now meant that I would be able to clad over the rendered blockwork rather than having to render under the wood after I attach it to the frame.
When we had all of the rendering done early in 2017 (all of the Grange and the dwarf walls behind Priory) I was very happy to leave it all to our friendly builder, Lee, while I was content with mixing the mortar and doing the smoothing off later in the day as it dried.
Lee was very quick at applying the mortar to the walls and getting a pretty smooth surface as he did it. He was particular about the consistency of the mortar I mixed and really didn’t like it if was at all gritty. I have never rendered before and always equated it to plastering, albeit outdoors, a skill I had always understood was a real skill that takes years to perfect so I was happy to leave it to others.
Now, having rendered this relatively small building, I can say with confidence that I don’t mind if I never do it again!* It was the first new job I have undertaken since living at Kergudon that I really didn’t enjoy. I completely understood why Lee was so specific about the consistency of the mortar – too wet and it just flops off the wall, too dry and it doesn’t stick easily and takes so much force to apply it to the wall. The problem being that mixing it is a skill in itself. I always started with a drier mix, on the understanding that it is easier to add more water than take it out, but there seemed to be the tiniest amount of water required between the point it goes from being far too dry to way too sloppy!
I also understand why Lee didn’t like a gritty mix as any small lump in the mix led to a large hollow in the render on the wall. Unfortunately, the lime I used I had opened in November when I was mixing mortar for the blockwork and, no matter what I do, I have found it almost impossible to keep an open bag of lime completely dry so it doesn’t form small lumps. That, and a particularly gritty sort of sand, led to lots of bits in my mortar mix that added to the challenge of rendering.
Eventually however, I managed to get a mix that worked and a technique that, while may not be textbook and wouldn’t allow me entry to the Guild of Master Renderers, was at least effective. The way I did it was pretty much rather than apply the mortar to the wall from a hawk, I just dumped it on the ground next to the wall and used my float to push it up.
Being so slow on the first day, with the days being shorter, I wasn’t able to revisit as the mortar dried and sooth it off perfectly as we had for Grange. As such it looks a little more ‘rustic’ in places than Lee’s work but, as my first, and would be happily last, attempt, I am pretty happy. By the end of my second day, when the entire shed was done, I was at least confident that I could do it again in the pond that we will eventually build to give a smooth(ish) surface that I can then paint (and will then be then hidden underwater!)
Rendering done, I could then start the cladding which, after the many square metres of Grange, I am much more familiar with. I have managed to complete 2 of the 3 sides, where there is less cutting required.
The west side (the back where I have moved the wall away from the boundary talus) is now completely watertight as, the keen-eyed will be able to see on a previous picture, I have also installed the windows we bought via Facebook Marketplace.
The windows do need a bit of TLC and a new coat of paint but they were a much better bargain that what we spent most of today collecting – more of that in a future blog but let’s say that today hasn’t been the best use of time!
The coming week should see a lot more progress on the shed and, maybe, get it to a point of completion so I can start emptying the garages and actually using it …
Following your comments last week about how my blog looked on mobile devices following the update to WordPress. I have completed it in a different way which has hopefully resolved the problem so that it can all be read.
Happy New Year to you all. We hope you have recovered from whatever festivities you enjoyed to see in 2019, if recovering was required.
David and I had a really lovely New Year’s Eve as the very first one we have had alone together. We had plans to go to an early New Year’s Eve on the 30th which sadly had to be cancelled as the host was poorly. We wish them a speedy recovery.
Our New Year’s Eves are generally lively affairs, historically with a large group of friends who we would hire a big country house with, sometimes in France. This year we had a quieter night with a lovey dinner together and board games – which risked ending / starting the year at blows – thankfully it didn’t!
We were delighted to have a large group of French friends who enjoyed their Réveillon and stayed in three of our gîtes for a few nights and seemed to enjoy themselves as much as we used to with our friends, although with a lot less dressing up!
This week has seen us return to our work and projects which has been greatly assisted by some continuing dry weather (we evidently chose the right weeks to return to the UK at the end of last year).
You will recall from previous blogs that the current project is rebuilding the man shed. The last time I showed any progress was in my blog of 25th November and in last week’s blog, when I summarised some of the major projects we have completed in 2018, I said that I had made further progress and hoped that by today the roof would be on.
The progress I made between Christmas and New Year was shaping and erecting the Douglas fir posts on the corners of the building so it mirrors the style of Grange next to it. I had also made a start to the frame that would be required to hold the roof up. As I wanted to use wood that I had already bought and not pay extra for much longer lengths to be cut (this is a project on a budget) I needed to erect a central support post to hold the frame on which the roofing sheets will sit.
The roofing material we will use are the same metal sheets we have used on the wood store behind Grange. Slate would have been lovely but, because of the shallow angle of the roof less practical and much heavier. The metal sheets look good (for a shed); do match the wood store (although that is mostly hidden behind Grange); but most importantly are much lighter so I can get away with a single support post.
While the post has to be in the centre of the man shed, and so something to be worked around, it will probably be surrounded by the work bench that I will build so shouldn’t be a hazard. I have also decided to make the support post hollow so the Grange power cable can be hidden inside it and I can attach some sockets on it to be used on my bench.
Since New Year, I am delighted to say that I have managed to get it completely roofed so, we hope, it is completely watertight from above. I am not wishing it to rain anytime soon but, when it does, I will probably stand inside to make sure that it does stay dry!
New Year is the time for traditions, old and new; resolutions and new starts. We have lots of projects that we want to get underway, hopefully complete, that we can consider as new starts. One resolution that we have made together is, like many others, to have an alcohol-free period for a few weeks. However, realising that we hadn’t actually had champagne at any point over Christmas and New Year, when normally we would have found many excuses, we maintained a tradition we started in 2017 and had a Christmas, although this time New Year’s Day, Champagne high tea. This is likely to appear on our catering options in 2019, although perhaps without the mince pies, stolen and other festive treats we had!
Our dry period started after our tea and, we hope, will last until the middle of February, which made attending this afternoon’s village Galette Des Rois event in the Pub St Hubert a test of will power! The French celebrate Epiphany with a Galette des Rois, a cake in which they hide a charm or token that allows the finder to be the King or Queen for a short period! Thankfully we managed to abstain from the alcohol if not the cake.
The other activity for toady was taking down all the decorations. I always find this a sad task as it makes the living room look so bare, at least for a couple of days until we get used to the change. Only 48 weeks before we can justifiably put them all back up again!
Next week, if the weather continues to remain dry, having picked up the wood required yesterday, is to start cladding the man shed and we may have a completely watertight building this time next week. Very exciting.
Before I start please be aware that WordPress has updated itself so how I post the blog has changed and it may not look like it usually does! I will see if I can master it but I suspect (hope) it / I will improve in coming weeks!
We hope that everyone has had a wonderful week and enjoyed their Christmas festivities. We have had a great Christmas, were very spoiled both with lovely gifts but also fabulous weather allowing us to enjoy a few days of doing no work but eating, relaxing and taking the dogs out for long walks in the forest.
David prepared a number of magnificent meals. On Christmas Eve he made Pheasant Balmoral, an adaption of Chicken Balmoral a guest explained to us which is chicken stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon. We often have some haggis in the freezer and we have recently bought pheasant and, as it sounded so good, David gave it a go. Delicious and definitely recommended.
Christmas dinner was delicious too. Turkey this year rather than our normal goose. We started at 5 and went on for a number of hours. At the end of it we didn’t have space for either Christmas pud or cake and we still didn’t need a big meal the following day despite having had another long walk.
We knew that the French generally make a bigger deal of Christmas Eve than Christmas Day itself, and that Boxing Day isn’t a public holiday here (they have plenty of others!) However, we weren’t expecting to receive a phone call from a farmer at 9 am who wanted to deliver some firewood at 9.30! Ideally, I would have had more of a leisurely start on 26th but I had already got up to put the bins out for the dustmen who came at 9.10 – very festive!
This time last year my blog summarised a number of the projects we had completed in and around Kergudon in 2017. We are generally very guilty of focussing more on the work which is left to do rather than look back at the things we have achieved, so I thought I would do another summary of 2018 work completed.
Having re-read the blogs I wrote throughout the year I was amazed (alarmed) at how many began by saying something similar to ‘not much progress made this week’, or ‘it’s been a quiet week’ and then justifying why we hadn’t done much in the preceding 7 days!
That said we did manage to achieve quite a lot in 2018 and have made significant changes to Kergudon and the activities available for our guests. I have again attached some pictures to show the then and now (hopefully, it is evident which is which.)
My summary of 2017 said that, unsurprisingly, Grange had been the major focus of the year (a ‘time thief’), and in December was still some way off completion. As such, our focus at the start of this year was to make a final push to complete the interior spaces and clad the inside of the garage bays.
We are delighted with how it turned out and the games room has been a huge success with our guests. The cinema has also got a lot of use by David and I, although sadly not as much by our guests as yet – perhaps because the summer weather was so fantastic everyone wanted to be outside all the time.
It may be a little exaggerated to say the completing the storage room has been life changing, but it has certainly made a big difference. We have finally been able store ‘stuff’ in a much more accessible way, so we have a better idea of what ‘stuff’ we actually have, and we have made a start at clearing everything out from our own home. Most importantly, on changeover days, we can get everything we need to change the gîtes from one place.
We did manage to clad inside all the garage bays and, by adding a concrete gully and 3 waterbutts, the interior of the garage almost completely dried out over the summer even if it still can’t currently be used until the man shed is complete.
Having completed the inside of Grange, we finished all of the additional things on the outside. I have built a great woodstore and given it waterproof covers. It too has made it so much easier to manage things in the gîtes during the colder months even if I am currently paranoid about putting old wood in there – there is a plan to deal with that!
Equally, the bin and recycling store has tidied up both ends of Grange and made separating the recycling easier for us.
Most importantly, using all the materials in front of Grange has allowed us to build our ‘boulodome’. We are delighted that this has been used often by our guests and we will certainly make use of it on barmy summers’ evenings.
The rear access to Kergudon is now almost smarter than the front. With Grange complete, we have been able to install our gate and rebuild the wall on the east side so it mirrors the west. When our lonicera cuttings grow next year it will really look great, especially if they grow as quickly as they have on the opposite side.
We have also continued to develop and improve the gardens with lots of new planting. The most immediately impactful was demolishing the old flower bed in front of Kergudon and Priory and rebuilding it as a slightly larger space and planting our tropical plants. In 2019 we hope to extend this new bed further up towards Dairy where we have cleared a tatty coppice of trees in preparation for digging our first pond.
In the (very) long term we will benefit from having planted 100 new yews around the perimeter of the back lawn as we try and establish a decent boundary hedge. Sadly yew, and the hollies that we had put in before, are relatively slow growing at least until they get their roots well established in the first few years, but they will make a fabulous evergreen perimeter. Most encouragingly, despite the exceptionally dry summer we had we have only lost a small number.
The final project of 2018 was to demolish the old, rotten, man shed and start to build its replacement. I have even made more progress in the last 3 days but will share those photos next week when I hope the roof will be on.
When this is complete we can empty the garage bays and finish those and, I hope, it will make the same sort of difference to our DIY tasks as the storeroom has done to everything else. Again, it will certainly assist making the drive and general appearance of that part of Kergudon so much better.
Dave’s cooking has been especially popular this year with guests and had received a lot of excellent comments. He continues to be busy at New York Gym, and enjoys the classes and training that he gives, and has acquired a number of personal training clients in Morlaix and on Skype.
Those are all of our larger projects but, of course, we have done any number of smaller, less impactful things. The general maintenance, cleaning, preparing gîtes etc. takes up a lot of time too. Amazingly, perhaps frustratingly, despite having progressed as we have our ‘To Do’ list doesn’t seem to be any shorter at the end of the year as it was at the start. As soon as we have completed a task and ticked it off we find another to add to it and there are still a number that I would consider to be substantial amounts of work but that will make a huge difference.
Having said how many of my blogs began with ‘not much progress made this week’, who knows what else we would have achieved had we been more productive!
Most importantly, we have thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many guests again this year both new and returning. We hope that they have all enjoyed staying with us here at Kergudon and those who came back have seen our changes.
Here’s looking forward to 2019 and whatever that may bring – especially with the changes that may, or probably won’t, be caused as a result of the UK leaving the EU. Regardless, we believe that France, and especially this part of it, is a fabulous place to come and visit year-round to relax and unwind. We are easily accessible, without fear of disruption from phantom drones, for a week, long weekend or a couple of nights escape to the country. We would love to welcome here.
Finally, to all of our friends, family and guests, we hope you have enjoyed following our progress in 2018 and reading my blogs (typos and all!) More importantly we hope you have a very Happy New Year and wish you all the best for 2019.
I mentioned at the end of last week’s blog that our principle activity would be to prepare Kergudon and the gîtes for our guests who have chosen to spend their Christmas here in Brittany (means they didn’t have to risk the Gatwick chaos!) This year is the first that we have guests staying with us in both Priory and Granary. Last year we had guests in Hayloft which we decorated with a green theme but didn’t think that would look good in Granary which has a bluer (if that’s a word!) décor.
This meant that we had to buy some new, blue, decorations – an investment for years to come. This proved easier in theory than practice. Dave managed to source some here before our trip to the UK but we felt that we needed a few more and, evidently, blue is not in fashion for British decorators this year! We did however see a number of other ideas to give us inspiration for both decorations and bigger things that we now want to do in the gîtes – the downside of going back!
We started on Priory Gite which, having decorated before, we did a similar styling to previously in traditional red and gold. With the living room of Priory being old with slate and beams, it makes a lovely cosy Christmas setting.
We have also again hung a garland over the old fireplace in the kitchen but have made it a more natural theme. Borrowing some of the ideas from a fabulous pub we stopped in near Winchester, we have used cinnamon sticks, walnuts, pinecones, and pheasant feathers on the garland with some artificial poinsettia flowers. We have also added dried orange slices and clementines which we dried ourselves. We had attempted to do this previously but the result was just a sticky mess. This year we thought it best to research how to do it properly and the results have been much more successful – although it did mean the oven was on all night so perhaps we will buy them in the future, at least the whole oranges.
Granary Gite was fun to decorate and this was the first year we needed to. The layout of the gîte has a dining room on the ground floor, next to the kitchen, and a separate lounge on the first floor. Sadly there is only space for 1 full size Christmas tree but, being on the ground floor, it is at least where our guests will sit down for Christmas lunch. It does however mean having to sacrifice one of the reading seats but it is a sacrifice worth making.
As an old building Granary also has 2 fireplaces and so mantles that are perfect for garlands, and one of our ‘natural’ garlands too.
We found the traditional French bar mirror above the lounge fireplace, obviously, on Freecycle in Clapham South. It was a little too large to fit in the boot of our car when we collected it so was hanging out the back when we made the slow drive through the backstreets of south west London before adorning our hallway in Balham. We think it looks fantastic now in Granary especially so when decorated.
Having done the gîtes there was also our own home to complete, although we started last week with the tree.
David was focussed on food and preparing some delicious treats for us and our guests. This included decorating three Christmas cakes, one for each gîte and one for us, which all look amazing, and finishing off the annual Christmas chutney which we include in the welcome baskets for our guests. Having a December birthday means I also get a ‘Christmas’ cake for my birthday – but we generally don’t start this until about March when the actual Christmas cake is finished and lasts until mid-summer!
We welcomed our guests to Priory and Granary on Friday and Saturday respectively and we hope they enjoy looking at the decorations as much as we enjoyed decorating.
I am posting this early as I don’t expect this afternoon, or indeed this coming week, to be the most productive as we settle down in front of the fire for Christmas week. We hope our guests, and of course all of you, have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy the festive season.
We’re back! I mentioned in my last blog on 25th November that there would be a gap of a couple of weeks. I would love to say that since that blog I had been working away madly and the man shed is now complete, the gravel pile all spread and the garage bays emptied. I would love to say it but sadly, it isn’t true!
The reason I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks is that, as last year, we took the opportunity of this quiet pre-Christmas time to nip back to the UK and have a whistlestop tour of friends and family and do some of those things in England that we can’t do here. We want to say a massive thank you to everyone who hosted us on our visit including someone whose ‘line manager’ had to pop to Buenos Aires for some G20 thing – it was great to catch up and we only regret that we couldn’t see everyone we wanted or spend as long with people as we would have liked.
It was a really good journey that started off exceptionally well. We knew that we would be sailing to the UK on Brittany Ferries’ ‘Mont St. Michel’. What we didn’t know until very near our sailing was that one of David’s gym members, who works for Brittany Ferries, would also be onboard. She was extremely kind to us and looked after us very well, including allowing us to visit the bridge. Many thanks to her.
For those who know us, you will know that I have spent many hours on ships’ bridges, although rarely commercial vessels, and Dave never has. Having been allowed to visit the bridge during daylight mid-channel, I was more excited when we were invited back for the night entrance into Portsmouth Harbour. Having sailed in at night frequently, this was the first time following dredging for the new carrier channel so, while the lights of Southsea were pretty much as I remembered, it looked so much easier navigationally – although the Round Tower / Fort Blockhouse gap was no wider.
Two of the people we stayed with work in the dockyard team with the Queen’s Harbour Master, one being one of the Admiralty Pilots, so it was good to have something to chat to them about!
The timing of our visit is also determined around the Varsity rugby that we used to attend with David’s Dad each year. While Landivisiau Rugby club put on a decent match, which we attended in our first year, nothing beats Twickenham for an occasion. Sadly the attendance at Twickenham this year was almost what Landi rugby can attract and, even more sadly, the win went to the dark blues, but it was a fun day and Landivisiau doesn’t yet have anywhere like the Admiral Nelson pub at Whitton.
Our visit went without major incident until our last few hours in the UK. Pulling away from our final stop to head to the ferry we had a very flat tyre. Fortunately our final visit was with a friend who is an engineer, and the sort of engineer who has every possible tool in his garage which proved useful! The wheel was very reluctant to come off the car and the space saving spare, which was under 2 dogs and LOTS of luggage, had not been checked in months so was very low on air itself. Thankfully, with our friend’s help, we managed to change the wheel, inflate the spare and then had to limp home on the space saving tyre.
On the positive side, we made the ferry and was placed on it so that we were the 3rd car off. Also, positively, as the Plymouth / Roscoff ferries aren’t frequent at this time of year, we had chosen to sail to St. Malo which is only 2½ hours from us with good tyres and so only 3 when speed limited. Having got home and inspected the flat it was evident that it was beyond repair and it had worn excessively on the inside. This was very infuriating as, suspecting that the tracking was out a few months ago and that the tyres weren’t wearing evenly, David had visited a garage to get them to check only to be reassured that all was as it should be. Evidently not.
We knew that we would have to replace the tyres early next year anyway but this forced us to do so a little early and, having had them changed, the garage checked the alignment and it was way out. I blame the road conditions in West Oxfordshire which were by far the worst we experienced anywhere but it may also be the many miles we have done sometimes heavily loaded!
One advantage of being away for the period we were, we missed all of the problems associated with the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ movement. I was going to mention them in one of my earlier blogs as the first weekend of protest was when we drove to Morbihan to collect our new beds. However, I forgot to do so as, despite being delayed by about 5 minutes by a march in Carhaix, we hadn’t experienced any problems.
As the ferries weren’t running from Roscoff, we had to sail to the UK from Ouistreham near Caen and our sailing was early afternoon. David’s gym members had sent him horror stories about chaos on the roads in Normandy (the Normans always seem to protest with greater enthusiasm!) to the point of suggesting we set off a day early! We didn’t but we did leave home at 6 am giving us just over 6 hours to do a 4 hour journey. While we saw evidence of the protests, including a number of fire damaged road signs and a small huddle of protestors on one roundabout, we didn’t experience any delays. As such we arrived very early which allowed us to give the dogs a good long walk along the river Orne near Pegasus Bridge.
While we were in the UK we watched the increasing violence used by protestors under the guise of the Gilets Jaunes movement principally in Paris. Speaking to our friends and neighbours they are equally appalled and acknowledge that, while they generally support the aims of the initial protests, it has been hijacked by the extremists and anarchists out just to cause trouble.
Having been told that the protesters were blocking oil refineries, we made sure that we had a full tank of fuel before getting on the ferry but, again, reality and rumour didn’t match and we haven’t experienced any issues with getting petrol here. The one advantage of the movement is that they do seem to have vented a lot of their frustration on the many speed cameras along the highways!
It is evident that it had been very wet and windy here since we left and it has rained pretty much every day since getting home. Thankfully we haven’t seen any damage caused while we were away but the weather has prevented me carrying on with the shed. As such, as well as getting the car sorted and doing the post-holiday admin (laundry!) we have focussed on getting the gîtes ready for our guests at Christmas.
As at least one of our guests read my blog, I won’t show any pictures of the decorations in the gîtes until next week so as not to spoil the surprise. However, we have also decorated Kergudon itself so here is a glimpse of our own home with the first batch of mince pies David has baked today as well as icing 4 cakes – which I will show again next week.
Last night we did visit the Christmas market at Locronan, a preserved village approximately 35 minutes from us. Our French teacher from the course we used to attend had arranged a visit with her current students and had extended an invitation to us. While Locronan’s Christmas market is small, with only about 15 huts in the village, the Gendarme presence was obvious following the attack in Strasbourg. However, we think small is better as the real reason to visit Locronan is to see the lights which are strung along the rooflines of the village which would be spoiled if there were hundreds of Vin Chaud stalls everywhere!
The coming week will be spent ensuring our gîtes are fully ‘Christmasified’ to welcome our guests. Lots of festive pictures in next week’s blog.