A new way of living

Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on March 17th 2023.

Sunrise at Le Shack

We have now reached the milestone of one whole week living without a car and it has been a fascinating experiment so far. It might sound extreme to describe it as a new way of living but in reality it has proved to be exactly that.

I said in my last blog that I was looking forward to being without a vehicle, but of course there were still moments when I wondered if we were completely mad. We live miles from anywhere, are surrounded by hills that make cycling hard work (even with an electric bike before my nearest and dearest feel the need to make a point), and we are still on the edge of winter and unsettled weather. Occasionally I found myself fighting off a slight sense of panic at the sheer strangeness of the idea. After all, we’re humans and humans have cars; the two go together like hand and glove, an inseparable entity for almost everyone in modern western society.

It has been a good week to test out the concept as we have had to incorporate a visit to the dentist (20km), to the launderette (25km), to the hairdresser (20km), several food shops ( 22km) and a very hilly training day (60km) for our upcoming trip to Biarritz. All the above figures are for the total round trip, not just one way. The weather forecasts have become so capricious that we have almost given up trying to plan our outings around them, but happily most of the week has been dry, although cold first thing in the morning and with some high winds, which are fast becoming enemy number one in my new world. We only had a couple of days where the weather really turned against us, and on the worst of those we managed to take shelter in a tiny hut that housed the water pump and control panel for irrigating the fields. As we waited until the worst had passed, shivering as the rain came down in great sheets and the wind blasted through the open back of the hut, we were incredibly thankful that we had found shelter. If we had been caught out in the open we would have been utterly drenched.

We have started to give new names to the roads around us. The road leading up and out from Le Shack is now known as Heart Attack Hill, aptly named as we both feel we might have one before we reach the summit. The hill on the way back from Lembaye, a regular route for food shopping is now the Delightful Descent, two kilometres of free-wheeling heaven. It has another name when we are climbing up it on the way there, but I’ll keep that to myself. Then there are the Broken Egg Bumps, a very rough lane with one pothole too many, where the eggs paid the price. No omelette for lunch that day.

We have learnt that one big cauliflower takes up half of one of my panniers and that a once a week shop is now a thing of the past. We eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables which are heavy and take up space and it is going to be a challenge to organise our food shopping so that we don’t have to go out three or four times a week. We do have a small trolley that fits on Michael’s back wheel, which would increase the amount of food we can carry, but he hasn’t yet been able to psyche himself up for adding all that extra weight to an already demanding cycle ride.

It is also going to have an impact on our budget as these local shops, a relative term, are more expensive than Lidl (over 50km round trip) which is where we used to do a big monthly stock up of food. We have a trip planned to Lidl next week as part of our training regime but it is just too far to do it on a regular basis. Or at least I am saying that now but my view might change. We are on a learning curve and one of the unexpected, and very positive, side effects of living like this for just one week, cycling every day, is how quickly my fitness levels are improving. I had assumed that it would take much longer to feel the benefits but I can already tell that my legs and core are stronger. Even my seat bones, the point of greatest weakness and discomfort, are toughening up. I no longer wimper quietly to myself as I am regularly jolted from my seat on the lumpy, bumpy lanes that are a feature of the landscape in much of France. We arrived back home after our long ride to Marciac the other day and shared our usual comment of ‘If I sit down I’ll never get up again and it must be your turn to make the tea’ but, to my delight, not only did I make the tea with good grace, I literally bounded out of my chair afterwards! Well, almost…..

Our lunchtime picnic stop.

So what’s the verdict after our first week? Largely positive. Lots of exercise in the open air – what’s not to like? We are going to have organise ourselves differently on the amount of shopping and how we transport it but that will come. Our good friends, Sue and Ev, have kindly offered to take us shopping with them when we need to get the really heavy stuff and we may end up accepting their offer, but not without trying to work it out for ourselves first. It becomes a matter of pride, and Michael has already got plans on how to modify the trailer so that he can carry our gas cannister without it jumping around all over the place.

In other news, and on a different subject matter entirely, I have recently received the new cover design for my next travel memoir, which should be published by late April. Below is a mock-up of the paperback and a preview of the text for the back cover to give you an idea of what it is about.

My new book – available later in April

In March 2020 Mary-Jane Houlton and her husband Michael returned to their boat Olivia Rose in France, expecting to spend a long summer season cruising through the waterways of France. Instead they found themselves confined to their boat for three months under lockdown, completely isolated, the only people living in what felt like a ghost port.

This book, the sequel to Just Passing Through, follows them as they eventually emerge from the lost years of the pandemic and regain their precious freedom. Time has moved on since they first began a new life on the water and now they are full-time nomads, revelling in the joy of being constantly on the move. With her usual wry sense of humour Mary-Jane shares their experiences, whether it be cruising through Paris, boat-sitting in Belgium, house-sitting in Spain, or avoiding farm dogs with a taste for cyclists in rural France. Evocative descriptions of the landscapes they travel through and the strangers that cross their path bring their journey to life. If you have a passion for travel this book provides a vivid insight into what it’s really like to leave a settled existence behind and embark upon a travelling life.’

One of the joys of self-publishing is that I am in control of the whole process, and that includes briefing and then working with my design company, who are based in Canada – the wonders of the internet – until we have a design that I like. I hope you like it too and would welcome any feedback. I will keep you posted on the final publishing date.

We hope we shall be setting off next week on a 400km bike ride to Biarritz and back, but we are watching the weather forecasts and it will be a last minute decision as to the actual date we leave. With any luck, the next blog will be written on the road!

Wishing you all the best and see you soon.


15 thoughts on “A new way of living

  1. I like the new book cover and intro blurb. Exciting to have a new book on the horizon.
    My hat is off to you two for your gumption in pedaling to get around, you are climate heroes!


  2. Good luck with your car-less life. It sounds like a positive experience so far, despite the downpour. You must be getting very fit, too. We used to do a lot of cycling around here, and it’s very hilly, so we were at our fittest. I’d need an electric bike now. Good luck with the book, too. I like the cover, and it fits well with the style of your other books.


  3. You will no doubt soon get used to the new rhythm of having no car. Perhaps all should attempt living without the need of cars – with some notable exceptions!


  4. I love the dust cover👍. You very brave to do away with your vehicle and embark on pedal power!😳I salute you🙏.
    May your 400km bike journey give you great strength and endurance.
    Love your blogs.
    Looking forward to the book!
    Take care
    Happy travels🤞🙏👍


  5. Wow, 400kms. Makes my legs ache just thinking about it!! You are both very brave taking this new way of getting about and I hope all goes well. I really like your new book cover. Very appropriate. Is that Michael at the wheel…. Enjoy Biarritz. Take care both.


  6. Salut,
    We go back to Belaruc in April. Will
    Keep boat there until June. Midi is. No go so maybe pop round Portugal to Brittany, but Portuguese trades in summer can be strong. I am getting attached to l’occidane, sure beats Scotland. Going for a french residence permit, trying to find EU health insurance at a reasonable price. How do you get round that? Good luck with the bikes, thinking the same myself, but in a flat place. I just drove through the Auvergne, all up and down.

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Hi Peter. Hope you can get your residence card. We get our health insurance from Groupama ( office in every town) for about 600 euros each. A crucial thing to note is this is a mutuelle, a top-up insurance as the bulk of health cost is paid by the state through our ‘carte vitale’ which comes with our carte de sejour. We put all of this into place before the Brexit deadline so I have no idea how it works now. With more difficulty I presume! MJ


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