My apologies for not posting a blog last week – you will see why shortly.
I ended my last blog 2 weeks ago saying that while my Dad and his wife had arrived with us it shouldn’t prevent me progressing work specifically, clearing out the garage that I had eventually gotten around to starting.
As things turned out, it wasn’t having visitors that meant I had a slow week but my back. Many years ago I had major back pains for a while which, obviously, I didn’t do anything about. While they went away, it does mean that every few years without cause or warning, my back revolts. In the worst cases this immobilises me for a few days, in the best cases it means I am just a bit more restricted in my movement. Thankfully, this time it was the latter and, having been given a warning twinge, I decided to take things very easily for a few days and allow my back to recover.
This meant that the progress I had made clearing the garage stalled – again! It didn’t stop us accompanying my Dad and his wife to Landerneau for a day to visit this year’s summer exhibition at the Leclerc Foundation.
In previous year’s blogs I have mentioned that the French supermarket chain, E. Leclerc, began in the town of Landerneau a short distance from us. As the Leclerc family gained their fortune, they established a cultural foundation and built a fabulous exhibition space on the site of their original supermarket.
In previous years, with the name Leclerc behind it, the foundation has been able to hold exhibitions of major artists including, most recently, Chagall, Picasso and Henry Moore. This year they have chosen to do something a little different and their summer exhibition is called ‘Cabinets de Curiosités’.
As the name suggests it is an eclectic mix of objects from various private and public collections to create, on a grand scale, the very traditional idea of a Cabinet of Curiosities.
The style of exhibition divided our small party, and so I assume most visitors, as to whether it held the interest as a single artist show. There was certainly a mix of the odd, the fascinating and the unusual as well some more macabre mixing the scientific, medical, natural, and mechanical worlds as an old cabinet would have done.
It was certainly worth a visit.
When my Dad left us we were joined by David’s aunt and uncle for the social event of the year. As regular visitors to Kergudon they have become friends with some of our friends, including the owner of Au Lac restaurant, Mercedes. Mercedes reached a milestone birthday in June but, as the restaurant is obviously busiest in the summer months, she had delayed her big party until last weekend.
Having her teenage years in the 80s, Mercedes has chosen to have an 80s themed party and we were all suitably costumed. Sadly, there are no images of David and I but Mercedes looked amazing as Madonna (one of 3 all managing to capture another aspect of Madonna’s styles in that decade)!
It was a fabulous party, and weekend indeed, as very generously, Mercedes opened Au Lac to her guests on the Sunday for a crepe party at lunchtime and burgers in the evening.
I think it is fair to say that a good time was had by all and HUGE thanks from us to Mercedes for such a great a time and her generosity.
Sadly for David’s family, and our other guests, last week was not the usual Indian summer we have got used to in September so progress outside wasn’t great.
With a better back however I did manage to progress lots of small tasks and continue with the garage clearing to the point that I have nearly emptied one of the 4. The bay I have started with became the dumping ground for lots of wood – now mostly in the serre – but also lots of slate tile offcuts and pieces that I unearthed when digging the foundations and clearing the back boundary.
I have often acknowledged that I am a bit of a hoarder of things that may eventually have a purpose. Having kept these bits of slate for so long, I didn’t want to just take them to the déchetterie so thought that we could use them as a weed suppressant under the hedge that borders the pétanque pitch.
The base of the hedge gets very weedy and doesn’t look great so I wanted to add them here. However, before doing this I needed to break them up a little more as some were in too large pieces to look good. This meant I spent the best part of a day fundamentally breaking rocks as if sentenced to hard labour. Thankfully we don’t cost our time for these jobs and the result looks great.
While we don’t have enough bits to complete the whole hedge, it has helped clear the garage bay floor and we may then buy some more next year to finish the job.
I have managed to achieve a number of other more minor tasks (clearing away this year’s sweet pea plants and replacing them with conifers; washing most of the sun bed cushions in preparation for next year; hedge and grass cutting) and should have that bay cleared with a couple of additional days labour next week.
The week ended with another ‘cultural’ event, that annual Commana Foire à l’ancienne (Horse Fair) which was bathed in sunshine. Again, while still not in the market for chickens or ducks (one day …) it is an interesting fair to visit for a few hours to look around the livestock and brocante stalls. We were very restrained and only bought some saucisson.
The sunshine appears to be with us for a week or so which should mean I can make good progress on a number of things – the difficulty will be choosing which should be this week’s priority!
I can’t believe that it is already September and so we have begun meteorological autumn today. Thankfully during our time in France, September seems to bring warm and dry weather, at least during the days, and the longer it takes for the evenings and nights to cool off the better.
Having made it to September, I have succeeded in putting the garage clearance off for as long as I could – although this wasn’t a deliberate or conscious decision. This week however I have, finally, been clearing out the bays and moving wood into the, recently recovered, serre or my, recently completed, chimenea wood store.
Last week I promised some images of the new wood store, and you may recall from an earlier blog that we are trying to create a Moroccan / Arabic style to our terrace as we had attempted to do when we lived in London. In our minds, and as a sort of homage to Majorelle gardens in Marrakech, this means bold colours especially blues and yellows which has led to our store looking quite striking now that it is complete!
We wanted a wood shed on the terrace as a ready-use store for our chimenea, which, I may have mentioned before, I really love!! With all the wood we have around the place at present some is old and rotten so wouldn’t be any real use in the wood burning stoves to heat the houses, and some we wouldn’t want to risk keeping inside because of the wood and possible insects.
With the large blue pots we bought a couple of weeks ago now planted with some lovely bright plants to lighten things, our terrace is starting (4½ years after moving in) to look a little like how we want it! We have lots of other ideas and thoughts for additional things but they can wait for now – plenty of other things to do first.
The major thing is the garage. You may recall that we had erected our serre a few weeks back but the cover was nearly blown off in a storm. Thankfully we were able to recover it and re-secured it with additional bungees and straps and now we are able to start filling it. You can see in the picture how well the grass has started to grow on the new smaller slope alongside Stréat al Louarn – so much that I gave it a first mow this week.
The principal idea is to log the wood currently piled in the old veg patch and store it in the serre to dry and season. However, it also gives us additional space to store the large amount of wood currently in the garage bays. Much of this are off cuts from the garage and man shed builds which, rather than move into the serre whole, I am splitting into kindling prior to storing. We have many months’ worth and it is taking longer than I’d hoped but I think worth doing this way.
In the short term, as ever, there will be an element of shuffling things between spaces but, when I take a number of things to the déchèterie next week that will further help clear the bays although it may take a few weeks yet.
My Dad and his wife arrived with us yesterday for a few days stay although it shouldn’t prevent me progressing the work … You’ll see next week!
I ended last week’s blog saying that there were no excuses for not clearing out the garage bays and starting to fill our serre – although I may be able to find some. Well, here they are …!!
Last week was the last when we had some very good friends staying with us so we wanted to spend time with them. It was also, unlike the preceding week, another of amazing summer weather so I was able to spend some time outside.
The week was predominantly a number of smaller jobs including plumbing in another water butt; cutting lots of kindling; progressing the hedge cutting that had stalled while it was wet; lawn mowing as the grass has gone wild after last week’s rain; and progressing my wood store on our terrace (photos next week) – but not a lot of serre filling or garage bay clearing!
We even took a day off on Friday to spend with our friends on the beach at Carantec. Amazingly, and disappointingly from our perspective, despite the amazing weather we have been enjoying this year, it was the first day we had spent at the beach this year.
Carantec is a fun little town which has an excellent beach and great restaurants on the seafront including a favourite of ours which does great Moules Frites and burgers.
While I may not have been the most active this week, other people have. 2019 has seen the running of the Paris–Brest–Paris cycling event which happens every 4 years and passes through the centre of Sizun.
The idea of the event is for participants to cycle the 1,216 kilometre course, unsupported, within a certain time limit. The time available, dependent on which event within the event is entered, is either 80, 84 or 90 hours. At its quickest this means cycling an average of 15.2 kmph non-stop for 3½ days!
There are approximately 6000 riders participating in the event, all of whom ride through Sizun town centre en-route to Brest – and then again a day later heading back to Paris. Being unsupported I suspect the bar and boulangerie should do well from the riders – if not the spectators who travel miles to watch. Some of our guests bumped into Australians who had travelled here specifically to watch.
David has had a mixed week. Sadly it started with the bad news that New York Gym, where David taught his group exercise classes, is closing down at the start of September. David’s classes were very popular at the gym, he enjoyed giving them as much as his participants enjoyed attending and he has met some good friends through them. He was very fortunate to have found the gym to use his fitness qualifications that was flexible enough to work around the gîtes but all good things …
One of the girls who attended his classes is helping him put together a French CV which he will send off to other gyms to see if he can get anything else. Unfortunately the timing is not great as French gyms, as many other businesses, focus on getting themselves staffed and ready for now – the end of holidays back-to-work / school time.
The end of the week was better as David celebrated his birthday when our friends were here. They were kind enough to give him a birthday lunch in Carantec and he and I had a birthday dinner at Au Lac last night which has become a tradition for us.
Our guests left us yesterday morning so next week there is genuinely no excuse for not making more progress than we have done in the last few weeks – including the garage bays …
While I didn’t post a blog last week, I can’t say that the previous fortnight has been the most productive of our time here.
There are a number of reasons for this, not just because we’ve been lazy(!) Sadly, at least for our guests if not the garden, it hasn’t been the most summery of weather so we haven’t been able to work outside often. We have also had a fairly social couple of weeks including hosting, and being hosted, by some very good friends who have, and are, staying in our gîtes.
In the last couple of weeks we have experienced 2 mini-storms when some deep low pressure systems have passed to the north west of the UK.
During the first we had been invited out to a mini son et lumière in the village of Saint Thégonnec. The village is celebrated for its parish close or enclos paroissial which is one of many in this region. The enclos paroissial is the enclosed area in front of the church which often includes an ossuary but always has a calvary, an elaborate sculpture depicting the crucifixion.
When originally built, generally in the 17th century, they were highly decorated and very brightly coloured, each parish attempting to prove their devotion with a calvary larger and more colourful than the others. Over the years this decoration has faded so they are all the colour of the stone they are engraved from.
Every year a son et lumière is held in a couple of the enclos paroissial where the calvary is lit to represent how they would have looked originally with an explanation of the architecture and history of the close. We were very impressed with the illumination which is amazingly detailed and able to pick out eyes, buttons and decorations on clothing. We were less impressed with the weather which was monsoon rain!
The, briefly, autumnal conditions led to a postponement of the annual fireworks on the lac du Drennec but only by a day. The fireworks are run by the Commana commune as their Fête Nationale celebration but are always about a month after 14 July – possibly so as not to clash with everyone else’s events.
The following day we took a day off to visit another group of friends who were holidaying in Carnac in the south of Finistère. Carnac, approximately 2 hour from us, is renowned for its many prehistoric standing stones (menhirs) and henges and is well worth a visit but we chose to meet halfway in Concarneau.
We love Concarneau and describe it as a mini Saint Malo because of its old walled city, but the day we chose to visit so too did every holiday maker in Finistère, or so it seemed! That, coupled with it being market day and the start of a major summer festival, meant that the town was heaving with people – quite a culture shock from the calm of Saint Cadou but worth it to see our friends albeit briefly.
With more rain recently than we would have expected I have been able to lay some grass seed on the rear bank we created a few weeks ago which should germinate quite quickly as it remains warm. It has also meant that I have continued to clear out the garage principally so that I could put the rotary clothes line in one of the bays and continue to dry the laundry!
After the second storm had passed through we recovered the serre with its original bache but have also added a second sheet which we have bungeed to the frame and then anchored the whole frame to the ground with some ratcheting straps attached to spiral ground stakes usually used to attach dogs to. Hopefully that should keep it secure through the worst of the storms we encounter.
With the serre covered and able to be filled I now have no excuses for not clearing the remainder of the garage bays out – although I suspect I’ll find some!
Assuming I don’t, that may be the focus of next week’s activities.
At the end of last week’s blog I mentioned that we were due to get some rain but, if it stayed dry, I would be able to start cutting some of the hedges. Both happened.
The weather did change at the start of the week and, not only did we get the much-needed rain we had a mini storm pass through which kept us inside for a couple of days. Thankfully the high winds didn’t do too much damage other than shred a few leaves and small branches off the trees. It did however highlight that the cover on our new serre we put up a couple of weeks ago was not anchored down as well as it needed to be!
Being a ‘brico’ serre, it doesn’t have any reinforced anchor points to attach it to the ground, and very few to tie it to the frame, and I had tried to weight it down with slate. Evidently it wasn’t enough. Thankfully we caught it (almost literally) before the cover was blown out of the garden and we have now bought some additional things that should assist hold it down. While we haven’t yet reattached the cover hopefully when we do it will be much more secure and last the few years that we are likely to need it.
When the weather dried up from Wednesday I started the major task of cutting the hedges. Ideally I’d be able to cut the hedges at least twice a year to make sure they stay thick and bushy. However, with only a couple of exceptions, I haven’t yet been able to achieve that. What I also have been able to achieve is to take any ‘before’ photos to make a comparison.
As the many hedging plants we have planted (100 + yews; 50 + hollies, lonicera, griselinia) mature over the next few years cutting the hedges will become an even longer task to complete but, it makes a huge difference when done. It does highlight that the area at the end of the Granary garden, where currently there is massively overgrown laurel, bay and bramble, does need to be cleared. It has been on my list for a while but perhaps should be given higher priority – although there is a lot to compete against!
Sadly, this summer some of our privet hedging on the front drive has started to die off. We always understood that privet was as tough as old boots and could survive everything but sadly we have lost a number of well-established plants and we’re not sure why. Most distressingly, while the photos don’t show it clearly, one of these is the bush that makes up the north half of the arch which, over the last 3 years, we have been trying to create over the gate into the Granary garden.
If the suffering is just because they have been getting too dry and baked on the talus they may be recoverable but we are worried that there may be something more terminal in the soil. We may not know until next spring and, if the latter, we may need some major surgery and replace them with something else.
I didn’t manage to cut all of the hedging so will continue next week and progress a number of other smaller projects we have on the go – will update next week.
This week’s blog won’t be terribly long as, while we have done lots of small, bitty little jobs there hasn’t been any great strides on any major projects. This is principally because, again, it has been so hot I wanted to avoid being outside for extended periods.
One day was impacted by a morning wasted mostly shouting at a printer and cussing HP. We have always had fragile internet connectivity which has become even more frustrating recently with frequent short outages. David has undertaken a lengthy Twitter discussion with SFR, our internet provider which, eventually, resulted in a visit from an engineer to check our line and set-up. Frustratingly, he couldn’t definitively identify what was causing the problem so just changed the router in the hope that was the reason.
Thankfully, changing the box does appear to have fixed the problem but it also meant that we had to reset all of the things that work using the wifi and the HP printer proved really difficult. David has always been better at techy stuff so I thought I’d try doing what should have been a really easy thing.
HPs website proved useless as too their online virtual assistant so David resorted to Twitter again. It does now seem to be the only way you can get ‘big business’ to respond – public humiliation! They did respond but, sadly, their help didn’t. David did however, eventually make the printer work, but admitted that he doesn’t know how.
Another day was spent in Brest partly shopping and partly starting the research for our planned work in Priory next year. We wanted to have a look at some bathroom and kitchen options to begin our thinking and we needed to buy some material for one project. What we didn’t need to do was buy 2 enormous garden pots – but we did!
Being old slate buildings, the rear of Kergudon and Priory is very dark so we have spent a lot of time brightening the terraces up with planting. We have also bought a number of blue pots in a similar colour to our ‘Kergudon blue’. These were very popular in the UK a number of years ago, and we have heard Alan Titchmarsh sniffily refer to them as ‘a bit 80s’ in a recent programme. However, being a bit 80s in the UK means they are all the rage here(!) and so available but these were a shape we hadn’t seen before so are unlikely to see again. So we treated ourselves. We have put them on our own terrace and they will look great when we plant them up.
The project we bought the material for is also something for our terrace – a wood store for our chiminea wood. We completely revamped our garden in Balham were giving it a Moroccan / Arabic style which we really liked (probably a bit 1980s!) We want to do a similar thing with our own here so the wood store I am building will have an Arabic style and will be the same colour as our back door above.
The advantages of this project are that it gives us space to store the wood which we won’t use in the gîtes but also uses up some of the large amounts of spare wood I have in the garage. Starting to clear the garage is one of the tasks we have progressed this week – a bit. This is how the central bays looked at the start of this week – we will return to these in the coming weeks!
I did manage to revamp our bar stools in the games room, another job we have wanted to do for a while. The stools were in Priory when we arrived and we replaced them with others but, knowing that we planned to build a bar we thought we’d keep the bar stools. Perhaps not a massive change but they definitely look better, and are much comfier to sit on, and the bar is almost fully operational.
Thankfully for us, if not our guests, the weather is due to change next week and it should be cooler and we should be getting some much needed rain. If it stays dry long enough the plan is to start cutting some of the hedges – they desperately need a haircut.
My last blog mentioned that I had continued the work to clear the old chicken run at the back of the garden. That was 2 weeks ago, and while it perhaps hasn’t been the most productive of fortnights, I have completed everything required of that project.
Part of the reason I say it may not have been the most productive, and the reason that I didn’t write a blog last Sunday, was that some of our favourite sporting events were taking place and all came to a climax a week ago.
The first week, when I was manually shifting soil around the chicken run, it remained extremely hot so I got into a pattern of working when it was cool either side of some engaging tennis. For sofa sports enthusiasts like me, you will know that last Sunday saw the Wimbledon Men’s Single final clash perfectly with the British Grand Prix and the final of the Cricket World Cup held in England with, amazingly, an English team as finalists – for the first time in 27 years. Normally, with the latter 2 events being televised on pay channels we wouldn’t have had a problem but, this year, as all were available on free-to-air TV we wanted to watch all of all of them!
We ‘solved’ the problem by watching the tennis live, having the cricket text commentary on a computer and recording the Grand Prix to watch later in the day. What we weren’t to know was that the men’s final was to be the longest in history and the cricket the closest and most exciting match possible. Worse, all the key moments seemed to happen at exactly the same moment so you couldn’t even easily channel hop. With the way the cricket played out I am not convinced there wasn’t some involvement of a dodgy Far-Eastern betting syndicate but, amazingly, both in manner and result, England triumphed.
All of this took place on France’s Fête Nationale so sadly it meant that we didn’t get out to any celebrations that night. We did however go to Sizun’s party the night before and really enjoyed it. For a small town Sizun does put on a good Fête Nationale party and used the church spire and arch to great effect again making a brilliant fireworks display.
I mentioned that I did manage to complete the clearance of the chicken run and it has made a massive difference to that part of the garden – it even looks bigger. There were a number of days of manually replacing soil I had used the digger to remove, levelling and raking flat, but it enabled me to take out as many of the roots and rocks as possible so I can eventually mow it.
Our digger has had some reliability issues when I first used it – and these didn’t stop. One day while using it the track came off the left side so I couldn’t move it. Having consulted the oracle that is YouTube again, replacing it proved to be pretty straightforward – until I had to tighten the track and then it was obvious we had another issue with a grease seal.
Having discussed with our friend who we co-own the digger with, we thought this was an issue we needed professional help with. However, another mutual friend told us that, among the many roles he has had, he used to manage a plant hire shop and would be happy to take a look – and he fixed it! Thanks to Frank I was saved many more hours of manual soil shifting and, while frustrating and causing delays, it has meant that I could complete the levelling ably assisted by Mouse!
With the videos in my last blog and this picture from last November, you can just see how the area used to look.
Now it looks like this and the hedging plants we planted should grow a little faster. The next time we get any prolonged rain, which could be weeks, we will sow some grass seed and expand the lawn.
To match the change inside the garden, I have even, finally, gotten around to stripping off all the bramble and weed to one exterior side of the talus and revealed the lovely, original, stone wall. We don’t want to make it too ‘Disney’ but we think it looks so much better clean and will definitely do so when the hedge is matured.
Of course, having cleared the space we are now filling it up already! One of the things that we had planned to do is build a serre at the edge so we can cut up and store the numerous piles of firewood we have created around the garden. While the serre isn’t the most attractive thing, it is better than the weed that was there, and should only be a temporary addition. The medium (short?) term plan is then to clear the entire length of the back garden as we have done here when the wood is moved.
With all of the work we have been doing we have been accepted as having the Values of the Natural Park of Armorique. David has been doing a lot of work with some of the tourist offices in the area and approached the mangers of the Natural Park who validate businesses in the park who support and adhere to their ethos.
Our natural park, Parc Naturel Régional D’Armorique, is one of 54 in France but, when created in 1969, was only the second established. As well as administering the parks their managers encourage those living in the boundaries to follow ecological and sustainable practices. As a business in the park we were visited and inspected to see how we respect our environment before being discussed among their managers. Thankfully we were accepted and can now display their logo and receive publicity through their network.
Our final ‘achievement’ if that is the correct term – is that, for the first time since we opened in 2015, all of our accommodation is full but we don’t have any British guests this week. Being British, we have always found it easier to advertise to the UK market, and have been very fortunate to have welcomed lots of lovely people. But David has done a lot of work on our website and we have tried other methods to increase our publicity to other European markets.
Perhaps we are having some success as this week we have 2 Belgian families in Priory and Granary; a German couple in Hayloft and a French couple in Stable and we have other weeks this summer which are the same. Of course, we are delighted to welcome any guests from anywhere but we are very pleased to have reached this milestone.
We have mentioned before that one of the many amazing things about living in such a rural area is that the stars are amazing. This week, on the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, we had a fabulous view of the partial lunar eclipse. My photos didn’t come out so well so I have stolen the moon images from our friend Frank – it’s not just fixing diggers he can do!
The forecast for next week is looking good (but we do desperately need some rain!) so I hope to start filling the serre – and making progress in emptying the garage!
Last week, I had started re-staining the exterior of the windows in Granary while the weather was warm (hot) and dry. I hoped that I would be able to complete this job if the weather remained favourable – and it has.
In fact, we are starting to get a little concerned about this continued heat and lack of rain. I can’t remember the last time we had any beneficial rain and the forecast has no precipitation for the next 10 days. The lawn is already starting to brown and some of the shrubs will start to find it difficult. We are even concerned about being able to water the hanging baskets when all of our water butts (3400 litres in total) run dry!
The advantage is that I did manage to complete the staining of Granary windows and they look so much better for it. Hopefully they are now protected and will good for the next 5 years – or at least that is what it says on the tin!
Last week I also said that I hoped to start some of the groundwork in the old chicken run and that has been my principal task for the rest of the week.
Knowing that over the next few years we had quite a lot of earth moving to be done, a year or so ago we decided that, in partnership with a friend, we would invest in our own mini-digger. This was based on the, exorbitant, cost of renting one for any period of time here and the second-hand prices of diggers. As such, our friend, who is rather more mechanically minded that either of us, agreed to source a digger in the UK. He found one ‘competitively priced’ in Kent and, last December, drove it back to his home in one of our neighbouring villages.
On Wednesday he delivered it to us for me to start the work. Sadly, I don’t have any photographs that show clearly what the site looked like before I started but, since we have lived here, we have been using the area as a sort of dumping ground. This hasn’t been restricted to garden waste for burning but also the soil I generated when digging the foundations for Grange which I deposited alongside the boundary to Hent Gorreker.
The rear talus was also something that we wanted to reduce in height and create a more gentle slope so that we can control the bramble, weed and dreaded knot weed by simply mowing. This would also have the added advantage of allowing more (some) light to the yew trees we planted last spring and remove the weeds which compete for the small amounts of water that makes it to the ground under the trees.
I have never been a great video-gamer, and I just missed the grade for Naval pilot aptitude training which may explain why it took me some time to work out how to use the controls efficiently! There are only 2 levers, but each of them can move in 4 directions to control the arm and bucket and it was very frustrating for a while to get the digger to do what I wanted – consistently! Also, being ‘competitively priced’ it is a fairly agricultural machine and, despite my efforts to be gentle and finesse the controls, the digger is very juddery in its movements.
Also, being competitively priced has meant that it hasn’t been as reliable as I’d have hoped but we have identified that the issue is the alternator is duff and the battery doesn’t charge. This was fine other that it meant, once started, I couldn’t stop the machine and I couldn’t start as early as I’d have liked for a couple of mornings.
Before I started the work I watched a couple of Youtube videos on how to use a digger and was hugely impressed with what the professional operators could do. With our juddery agricultural machine I couldn’t be quite so accurate with the finish and so, despite its frustrations, I managed to get to a point when I finished with the hydraulics and the next stage is purely mandraulic.
We understood the rear boundary was where previous owners had simply piled up lots of old slate and covered it with earth which is why the top was proud of the talus. Having scraped the top off it seems our understanding was accurate as there are lot of pieces of slate and rock, some quite large, which makes up the bank. With years of bramble and weed growth the mass of roots made clearing the soil even tougher. I have managed to get the height down to a level we want and so the next stage is to grade it and replace some of the soil with the roots and stones removed so we can mow it easily when the grass establishes itself.
This picture shows how we hope it will all look when I have graded the length of the bank which is probably another 3 or 4 day’s worth of work which will be uncomfortable as the forecast is for the weather to remain hot and dry.
Because of the heat we have taken the opportunity of having the Lac du Drennec on our doorstep and had a couple of post-work swims to cool ourselves, and the dogs, down. Even the water isn’t too cold – although chilly for me. This morning was also the first time this summer that David was able to hold his yoga session on the beach – hopefully more to come.
Next week’s ambition is to complete the old chicken run entirely so that we can lay some grass seed and get it growing – if it ever rains again!
At the end of last week’s blog, I said that I wasn’t sure what this week would bring but that there was a lot to do. Turns out what it did bring was lots and lots of heat! Thankfully, being in the north west, we have not had quite such high heat as Paris and southern parts of France peaking at 30 degrees on Thursday. What was most uncomfortable was when it stayed at 30 degrees until 11 at night. As such, some of the jobs that I ended up doing were, as much as anything, a way to escape the heat!
The week has actually been another of those when I have started, progressed or even completed jobs rather than being focussed on one single task. Before it got too hot, I began clearing the flower bed to the south of the tropical bed we created in spring last year. If you stop the second drone video I attached to last week’s blog (Kergudon 3) at the 17 second mark, you can see the area on the left hand side of the picture.
We hadn’t touched this part of the bed really since we arrived other than to plant a yucca that we brought with us from London. In that time a number of willow trees had set themselves, as they do everywhere if left alone, and were starting to get quite big. The space outside the bed is where, hopefully this autumn and / or early next spring, I want to build a formal pond to make the space beautiful but also to attract more wildlife. As the timing may slide due to one other significant project we may look to do early next spring, which I will touch on later, I thought it best at least to start getting the bed looking less uncared for.
This proved tougher than clearing any of the other spaces we have done just because of the willow roots but it is starting to look a little better and we have rediscovered our Yucca! I only managed part of a day until it started getting just too hot.
From the other end the tropical bed is really starting to establish itself and the hot poker plants (kniphofias) have got far more flowers on this year than last. If you look at the title picture the little stump under the shank of the anchor that is the lovely red banana which we planted and looked great in September last year.
We had given this up for dead and believed that it wasn’t as hardy as we were initially told and even our last relatively mild winter had killed it. As we wanted to replace it, during the week we ordered a couple online (a replacement and a spare) only to see, 24 hours after doing so, that ours had sprung back into life! This is brilliant and infuriating in equal measure as we are now going to have buy 2 large pots for the new plants when they arrive but will at least be able to move those undercover in the winters. Assuming we look after the original in a better way we will have a forest of bananas, and if we don’t we have a couple of ‘spares’!
When the weather got too uncomfortable to work outside at all I found a project to do in my new man shed (yet another great reason to have it!) A couple of our guests in Hayloft have suggested that we have a luggage stand for suitcases which was on my list to do. As this could be done inside, I built one using some shelf sections from old canvas wardrobes we inherited with the house. Have I mentioned I never throw anything away?!
We think it looks pretty good where it is and hopefully will be very practical.
While it stayed warm, and more importantly dry, I started another project that had been niggling me for a while – re-staining the Granary windows. We don’t know when they were last done, but in the last year or so they were starting to need a bit of TLC and I had bought the stain a couple of years ago.
I’ve only had a couple of days on it so far and will need one more, but this photo taken at the early stages was meant to show the 3 phases of the job.
Looking at the upstairs windows, the left hadn’t been touched at that point although the photo sadly doesn’t show its poor condition very well; the centre I have sanded back ready to stain; and the right has had the first of 3 coats of new stain applied. Three coats! It better do what it says on the tin if I apply the 3 coats stated. The new stain isn’t as red in colour as the old and we think it will look a little better when done – one to continue next week. I did manage to re-stain the gate to Hayloft as well and it looks much better – the more I make the more I have to maintain!
As it cooled, a bit, and yesterday morning was completely windless, contrary to the forecast, I took the opportunity to have another bonfire in the old chicken run. I have been creating another pile of waste that needed to be got rid of before we can do some minor earthwork and hadn’t managed to burn it. While it had been so hot, and so dry, I didn’t want to risk a brush fire. Thankfully, the other thing the forecast got wrong was on Friday morning the cloud base was so low that we were in mizzle for a couple of hours and the ground was a little damp.
Once the fire was complete I have, finally, cleared the dismantled chicken coup to another place and, hopefully, we will be able to start some digging in the next week or so.
I was hoping to put some pictures of the annual triathlon on the Lac du Drennec which was supposed to take place today and has been a great event previously. Sadly, this too was cancelled this year due to problems with the organisation although, unlike the Sizun Grand Prix, they do plan to hold it again next year.
I mentioned earlier that we have a big plan which we hope to complete next spring. This is a major refurbishment in our family gîte, Priory.
We have made the fewest significant changes in Priory since we arrived as the kitchen and bathrooms, while needing a bit of smartening up, were in a good state and had a few years of life in them. Now, however we are hoping to make the changes to Priory that we did in Granary and Hayloft along with other significant work. One of the other significant things is the installation of a better, independent heating system.
Priory is a beautiful building and the main living area is a large dramatic space. The images don’t give the full scale of the room but it is a double height space and so a large volume. Being slate, and so not insulated in a modern way, it is difficult and inefficient to heat easily. Some heating is provided at present by 2 radiators running off the boiler in our own home which, while effective, is not ideal.
As technology has changed hugely since our predecessors installed these radiators we spent some time this week with an engineer explaining what options we have now. We want to make decisions nice and early so we can get things going as early in the New Year as we can after our Christmas / New Year guests depart. You will hear much more about this in the future.
Next week, finish the Granary windows; hopefully start some ground works in the old chicken run; possibly start to build a wood shed if we go and buy some materials. Certainly, as last week, there is lots to do …
In last week’s blog I shared some pictures of the Stable having completed the refurbishment but you would have seen that we hadn’t refurnished it. We had the first 3 days of last week to do that before our guests arrived on Wednesday evening (there’s nothing like working to a deadline!) We gave the space a deep clean, did a little additional painting in shower room, hung the new artwork and then finally replaced all the furniture and it looks amazing.
If you follow our facebook page you would have seen the pictures already but, at the risk of dragging it out for a third week, I have added them here.
The guests we had arrive were cyclists who were on a tour of Brittany and had come that day from Concarneau, 85 kms away. They loved their new accommodation – as too the fact that we were able to provide secure covered storage for their bikes and washing facilities for their clothes! Kergudon is certainly the perfect place for a break on a cycling tour.
The cyclists stayed with us for a rest day but didn’t want to travel too far in the evenings so took advantage of David’s 3 course suppers on both nights. With David’s generous portions they didn’t need to get their bikes out for lunch either!
The past week has also been one of downtime too. We made a commitment that we would try and so something ‘cultural’ once a month. This was a commitment we made to ourselves when we lived in London, although there was of course a wider choice there! This week we managed to achieve a couple of cultural activities with some annual events that take place.
Every June is the nationwide ‘Fete de la Musique’ where almost every bar, commune, town and city host some sort of musical activity. This year we travelled to a nearby small town called Irvillac because it had a large colourful sign – the power of advertising! We drive through Irvillac fairly frequently and it always comes across a sleepy little town which is likely to be populated by retired gentlefolk who have probably lived in the area all of their lives.
However, the attendees of the festival were mostly young families with lots of little children running around enjoying the music – more nappy valley than Tena town. The stage was the back of a lorry and they had 2 groups playing while we were there. The first was really good, lots of covers of well-known toe-tapping-tunes with an excellent singer; the second, headline act, played music that probably appealed to fewer people and had a slightly shoutier singer.
These evening events are excellent in bringing families out, and there are always lots of young children enjoying them as much of the adults. The same was the case of Saint Cadou’s Tantad last night.
The tantad is the annual bonfire held to mark the festival of Saint-Jean (St. John the Baptiste) which, in Saint Cadou at least, is accompanied by a Fest Noz (night festival) and traditional Breton dancing. We were hosting some very good friends who had come to visit us for the first time and having taken them for a fantastic dinner at Au Lac, we were able to show them some Breton culture as we arrived just as the fire was being lit. While we couldn’t encourage our friends to join in the Breton dancing we hope they enjoyed the event enough to come back!
We also had a sad first yesterday when we attended the funeral of one of our neighbours, Mimi, who passed away on Tuesday. Not very old at 73 years, Mimi, had been unwell for some time but had lived in the village all of her life with the exception of a 2 years in her teens when she moved all the way to Sizun.
Mimi never married but lived with her sister in the centre of the village where they ran a small farm as well as a couple of other gîtes in the village. I had spoken to Mimi a couple of times about the history of Kergudon and previous owners as she had known all of them going back many years but, sadly, never did so to write it all down.
Mimi’s funeral was held in the church in the centre of Saint Cadou which is used occasionally for music concerts but not religious services any more – with the exception of occasions such as this. It is a very pretty little church and was packed full yesterday. Our thoughts are with Yvette, her sister.
In last week’s blog I also mentioned that Mercedes’ brother and sister-in-law were about to embark on the Camino de Santiago walking from the Pointe du Raz to Galicia in Spain. They are blogging each day on their route, and creating a far more professional blog than this one as they are including video of each day. They are creating some of this video using a drone which, the day after our meal, they brought to Kergudon.
In the next couple of days Dave will edit the video and make a more professional clip but I thought you may be interested in some of the unedited footage. It is amazing the impact having an overhead view makes, and shows how the fertilizer I used on the back lawn has made a difference in the stripes where I spread it. Father Christmas bought me a drone last year as well so we should be able to take a new video each year and watch how things change.
Not sure what next week brings but am sure there is lots to do!