Welcome to the 20th blog of The Olivia Rose Diaries on the 19th September 2020. I realise these diaries are in need of a new name now that we are splitting our lives into two halves each year. However I think that might be too complicated so the name stays, but I shall amend the details on the blog intro page for next week so that Le Shack is included.
We left our boat Olivia Rose in Basse-Ham on September 14th and began our journey to what will soon be our new winter home. We would be travelling approx 1200 km/ 750 miles over three or four days, from the north-eastern corner of France to the far south-western corner, our destination an off-grid cabin in a rural spot in the hills west of a small town called Maubourget. We’d already done this trip once back in July, and it felt a long-haul then, but this time we would be towing our caravan and we weren’t particularly looking forward to the journey.
Our caravan is usually our winter home back in the UK but we had hopped over for a family visit in August, between the various quarantine periods, and had bought the caravan back with us. There is a considerable amount of work to do on the Le Shack and, whilst we certainly could live in it while we did all that work, we would be much more comfortable and under less pressure with the caravan as temporary accommodation. Longer term it would also act as a spare room for guests and as a writing room for me.
I like the caravan as a living space, but I really don’t enjoy towing it long distances. Long, gradual inclines that you don’t even notice in a car become a major event with a caravan. And then there’s the excruciatingly embarrassing moment when you realise that you shouldn’t have tried to overtake that lorry because you don’t have the necessary engine power and now you’re going to have to back off, pull in behind and ignore the sour looks from the car drivers as they shoot irritably past.
It didn’t help that we were travelling in an unseasonably late heatwave, with temperatures up to the mid-thirties. The van felt like a greenhouse and I felt like a pathetic little insect stuck on a shelf with nothing to protect me from the glare and the heat. In a bid to make the endless hours on the motorway pass more quickly we discussed what jobs we would do first. Our list is long, but I’ll give you the shortened version.
The mattress from the campervan will double up as our bed in the shack but it’s not a standard size so we will need to build a bespoke bed frame for it. The solar panels from the boat have come with us and they too will need a frame to support them in their winter home. We have our camping chairs to sit on and the family of the previous owner have kindly left us an old dining table and two wardrobes, all in need of a bit of a make-over but perfectly serviceable. We have to put in a simple kitchen and shower. Cooking will be primarily on gas, using our two-ring camping cooker but we have bought an electric table-top oven to run off the generator. Cooking without an oven becomes very tedious.
The loo is a bucket in the smallest shed you’ve ever seen – I have an image of my knees touching the door as I sit regally on the throne, trying not to look at the network of dusty spider’s webs above my head. We shall continue in this vein but if I’m going to use it happily it will need some modifications. We have to finalise our systems for toilet composting and for our power, which will be a mixture of battery, solar and generator. For the moment we are well stocked up on candles.
I find I alternate between a sense of panic and a sense of elation when I think of what awaits us. I have no doubt that there will be days when I ask myself what on earth have we done, but I’m hoping they will be far outweighed by the satisfaction of carving out a very different life for ourselves.
On rainy or cold winter days I shall take a break and delve into the history surrounding our little shack. It is built primarily of wood but the back wall is built of stone. It used to be a forge ancien and that back wall is all that remains of it. The wooden structure was put in place by the lady we bought it off. Sadly we never met her as she died December 2019, but she sounds like quite a character. Living off-grid was her choice, even though her two sisters thought it a mad thing to do.
She had her own systems for doing things, and one thing that has stuck in my memory since our visit back in July was her shower arrangement. Imagine a large cauldron-come-metal flower pot, two foot high and wide enough to stand in, with a plug in the base. A plastic hose and shower head sat neatly coiled on the floor next to it and when she wanted a shower she simply climbed into her cauldron, picked up the hose and stood under it. We think she must have had a small pump in a bucket of water as part of her kit. Seems sensible enough. We had thought to replace this with a conventional, plastic shower tray. Part of me is tempted to keep the cauldron……
So I’ll leave you on the cusp of our new life. As I write this it is Saturday. Monday will be a busy day for we have meetings with the solicitor to sign the contract and take over the keys, with the bank to open our French bank account (necessary for paying property taxes) and with the insurance company (necessary to sign the contract). The French are renowned for their love of bureaucracy but we are impressed with their efficiency to date. It has taken just two and a half months from putting in an offer to the final contract.
We shall formally move in on Tuesday so next week’s blog will have lots of pictures of Le Shack – brace yourselves for the loo-shed.
I’ve tried to attach a short video of Le Shack we took in July when we viewed it for the first time, but it hasn’t worked so here’s a picture instead.
Take care as always and see you next week.