Nursing our little house back to life, we began to sense that we were entering into an ongoing story, that we would make our mark and then move on; that others would come after us, just as we had come after all the people who had lived in Bournac over the years. And with that thought came the question: what is our part in all this?
At this point in my story, I’m going to ask you to imagine hovering over Bournac watching the progress of the works on our house as though you were able to speed up time. Men are walking around and climbing up and down ladders like Charlie Chaplin. There’s even a lady builder lugging around packets of floor tiles like… well, like a very competent artisan actually.
The sun comes up and goes down over the course of a year. The trees blossom and bear fruit and the oaks turn from deep green to browns and golds before falling just as the snow arrives. A year has come and gone and the house has a new roof, new floors, new doors and windows.
Monsieur Pioche has worked his magic and resurrected our old ruin. He tells us that the house possibly dates from the 14th or 15th century. In fact, when his brother-in-law researched their family tree, he unearthed a document showing that one of his ancestors lived in our house in the 15th century. What’s more, he was a mason. Monsieur P is particularly pleased about this.
And now, baked earth tiles are lying ready to be polished. A huge Godin wood-burner is waiting to have its inaugural fire lit. Shutters are anticipating their first lick of paint. The San Andreas fault in the end wall has been zipped up and the bathroom which was once only attached to the rest of the house by a metal strut is now cemented firmly in place.
Monsieur P has guided us through the design, staying silent when we’ve proposed some of our stupider ideas, such as having a fireplace in the kitchen as well as a stove. We later countermanded the work after finding out that the Godin is capable of heating a room of up to 450m3(!) and he shrugged Gallicly, saying, “I thought it was a bizarre idea.”
Now the fireplace has been recreated in the living space upstairs. The end room downstairs which, when we bought it, was three feet high with a massive pillar in the middle has been turned into a laundry.
The design of the house has made the most of every aspect of the building. Stone has been cannibalised from demolished walls and beams have been re-used in different locations. Only the most eaten have been ditched (the goat-sounding thingies obviously did get in at some point before moving on to more inviting surroundings – see Chapter 2).
While we were still chipping off plaster, we uncovered a long blocked up window and the original front door to the house. We also discovered that what is now our back bedroom used to be the kitchen. One of the windows still bears the remains of the old stone sink and drain and there are scorch marks on the wall left by the open fire. Six stone niches sit at ceiling height, four on one side, two on the other. These would once have been situated on the external walls of the house, open to the elements and creating an updraft to carry away the smoke.
In a couple of rooms, we found two roof tiles embedded edges together in the wall. Monsieur P explained that these were hidey-holes for valuables.
Once again, the house was a functioning home. Its history was continuing and we were just two in a long line of custodians.
And what else would we leave behind? We felt on the edge of something even more exciting because now we could turn to the land. How could bring to it the same respect for its traditions and work with it to benefit from what nature has designed?
Where to start?
What better way than to consult the founding father of self-sufficiency, John Seymour, author of “The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency“. So we set off for Ireland to learn how to do it on his small holding…
Join me next week to find out how we learned to use a peening anvil and a heavy duty pounder and a pig becomes my new best friend!