An Englishman's home is his castle
French Farmhouse!

Creating a home

We've made the house mostly habitable now... when I say habitable I mean we've just about taken care of all of the things that were unpleasantly smelly and unpleasantly dangerous or just plain ugly.

Quick jump to Electrical Works, Plumbing, Lounge, Kitchen, Dining Room, Morning Room, Sun Room, Cave, Grenier, Upstairs

Electrical works

Or rather, doesn't work very well. Ok, when I say doesn't work very well I think I actually mean... was insanely lethal!.  I've read online that standards for electrical installations in France are amongst the highest in the world and that safety is given paramount consideration. Well, here's the problems with standards.. if they're adhered to then they're fine if not then with something like electricity a few corners cut can lead to the abject misery and disgraceful installation that we inherited. I don't think I've ever seen such a nightmare in my life and I'm no electrician but with the combined brainpower and diligence of my dad and father in law John, the main problems have been taken care of now. We were up against no earths on some circuits (don't touch the microwave with wet hands!), no fuses on any circuits, a lack of circuits, no earths on some rooms, earth cables snipped off inside three-core wiring, random phase+neutral swapping (which - naturlich - our German washing machine did not like!) and worst problem of all a bad job of three-phase distribution. I've still not quite got to grips with that but now I will no longer have to suffer the whole house tripping if anyone so much as looks at the kettle!

So, we have a nominally 'safe' electrical installation now. My next job will be to completely re-wire the whole thing from the ground up.

Plumbing - Parental Advisory - explicit content ahead!

Nothing for it, French plumbing is not world-famous without reason! When we viewed the house back in September 2004 it was with mixed feelings that we approached the whole issue relating to the loo. It was patently obvious from the nostril searing odour in the 30 degree September heat that there was.. how shall I put this.. a problem with poo. There was no mains water supply to the house at the time and the u-bend in the loo/shower/bathroom sink had all dried up, so the airflow into the house was open to the full torrent of whatever lay beyond... and it was the whatever lay beyond that remained a mystery. Our enquiries with the family indicated that there was an ancienne fosse-septique 'somewhere' but it was clear that this was something they'd rather not talk about. So, we moved in and it became obvious within a day or two that there was something in place as there was water bubbling up about 30m away, down in the lower part of the garden - that'll be the intensely lush green, slightly farmyardy smelling part of the lower garden. Our suspicions became further aroused later when a damp patch became damper. Then the damper patch became a puddle and tiny distinctly white-bogrolly-bits floated up to the surface. Still with me? Good, worse to come.  Our suspicions were aroused further when we changed loo roll brands to a vivid pink one and nightmare of nightmares... pink stuff and sweet corn started bubbling up from the ground! But wait, we hadn't eaten any sweetcorn since last summer ... not guilty. It must be someone else's lunch! Still with me? Good, much worse to come but the sweetcorn was a good sign

We let things run their course for a month or two. The thing about living in a town/city is.. when you flush your loo the problem goes away, it's taken care of in municipal sewage/waste water treatment plants. Every time I flushed the loo I was thinking to myself... that's going to come back to haunt me that is... and haunt it did. We got to a point where there was now a significant flow of smelly water and a 'brown pool of slurry' in the lower garden.  When it becomes too much to turn your back on you just have to go looking for answers. Now, in all of this I did have a feeling at the back of my mind that it was quite possible that the previous owner had never had a fosse at all and that we had been sold a pup. After all, we were seeing large quantities of hairy turds sailing off down the lawn. The day dawned when I started, along with dad, probing the ground from the house where we thought the loo outflow was going, we only got a couple of metres before we hit pay dirt... a large expanse of concrete. Yay!

We'd discovered that there was a fosse after all. Still with me? Good, this is the worst bit. There was nothing for it but to expose the whole fosse, see what we had and assess the situation from there. The lid was caked shut with many many years of silt/mud but with a little Dibnah-engineering we got it open and were met by... well, it looked like decades of solidly compacted human waste matter. The three chambers were just so jam-packed and blocked up with (surprisingly non-smelly) clay like waste that the fosse was effectively non functioning.. anything that made it into the chamber was just getting washed straight over the top of the compacted waste and out into the land drain in the garden. This was *great* news as it meant that we didn't have to spend thousands of euros on installing a new fosse, which was my expectation, just sort this problem out. Now, normally at this point you'd call a man who would come along and evacuate the largely liquid slurry from a fosse and dispose of it. This stuff was *solid*, and there was a lot of it. Nothing for it but to don marigolds, get a spade (it needed cutting out a bit like taking slices from a peat bog!) and set to it. Luckily my dad was on hand and managed to stop laughing at my patent discomfort long enough to capture the glorious moment when the first barrow load of clay-poop went off down to the bottom of the garden. So, a dozen barrowloads later and that was it, job done!

Update, since writing this I've had a few emails about the 'humanure' movement (no pun intended). NO, it's not my intention to compost all our 'waste'. What we did was a one-time (I sincerely hope!) emergency measure to get us into having some marginally stable toilet arrangements. I will say though that as I offloaded all of the clay-poop I layered each barrow load down on several layers of straw and built a mini compost heap that was exclusively compacted human poop and the like. This very rapidly heated up, steamed for a few weeks broke down very very quickly. I've turned the heap once (after six weeks) and all traces of bad smell have gone, it's now well on its way to being largely black, friable looking garden compost. Fancy that! By the end of this year if it's all looking ok, I'll dig it in during October ready for soil prep for the 2006 vegetable garden.


Given that we took over the place in the middle of winter I thought it would be a lovely idea to have a nice roaring fire on Christmas Day. Only problem being that the fireplace had been bricked in with some not particularly 1850s looking bricks.


 No problem, out with a sledgehammer to sort that out!

Once the fireplace was opened up it didn't take too long to sweep the chimney breast and get a fire going.

 I'm very sorry to say that it was our one and only fire as the amount of smoke that billowed back into the room was disastrous. I really must do something about this in time for next winter.

Dining Room

This is the main room that we have been living in for the first few months. The obligatory French wallpaper was peeled off, we gave it a lick of paint and did enough to install a small temporary kitchen, some dining space, a small office and a lounge and that was it. We successfully managed to replicate our entire old Wilmslow cottage in the space of just one room.


Currently housing the loo, shower room, washing machine, dishwasher and a hastily convened workbench for all of my tools. it seems hard to conceive of actually using this space to cook in right now but cook we will for stashed away in the corner is the mighty bread oven!

Morning Room

Stripped the wallpaper, painted, opened up a small blocked in window, removed doors and reglazed all the broken windows in the back door. The morning room gets plenty of light through the day and has a couple of chimneys in it for woodburning stoves. We'll close off one chimney (and remove it) and will install a freestanding woodburner in there.. perfect for cool autumn mornings looking out over the garden with a mug of coffee.


We were both quite excited at the prospect of having a proper wine cellar to store our wines in. The cave has an earth floor which is there to keep the humidity level up and one tiny window which has been blocked in to keep the light out and the temperature down. It's remarkable how effective it is at keeping a consistently cool temperature even on the hottest of summer days. I've yet to rework the lighting and wine storage in here but we did clear out several hundred (empty!) bottles from here to the local recycle point.... along with the 2000+ empties we rescued from the garden

Sun Room

Enjoying the best view out over the rear gardens and surrounding rolling countryside we're currently using this room as a bedroom. It does warm up of an evening and in time we hope to install a large french door opening into the west wall with a covered terrace beyond.


Couple of immediate problems with the grenier. No windows, gaping hole in the gable end wall, lots of rubbish, a rat-haven and a giant granite stone step that was clearly going to need some attention as it was teetering on the point of imminent collapse... and if it had gone it would have gone clean through the floor below it as it was really rather heavy. So, we started off by cleaning and clearing, not a very nice job as there was decades of rubbish and rat-litter to wade through and sort out.

Donning breathing masks and old clothing we managed to clear it all in two days and had a spectacular fire (that burned for three days!) with all of the mountains of junk that was unusable/unsanitary.  

Our (temporary) bedroom was below the left portion of the grenier and our first few nights were punctuated with the sounds of rats scurrying on the floor above us. A quick examination of the walls revealed that there was a big hole through to the outside and that it was being used as a thoroughfare into the house by all manner of rodent based traffic! A repair was evident,  but when I took away some of the existing render we found that over many years rats had been eating away at the old mortar and had been nesting inside the walls. So, stripping away all of the old render and chasing out the stonework allowed us to get to the heart of the problem, backfill the wall where it had been undermined by rodents and re-make the join with the grenier roof.

You can see the mortar work in the picture above.. it became immediately obvious that mixing the lime mortar/render by hand was going to be no fun at all and for the volume that we'd be making over the years to come, we had to have a cement mixer.

With all that mortaring experience under my belt it was time to tackle the stone step that leads down into the grenier from the upstairs portion of the house. It too had become unstable due to the rats making a nest underneath it and gradually chewing away all of the older lime mortar. With a little Fred Dibnah engineering we managed to rig a suitable hoist to an overhead beam and got the piece of granite moved out of the way.

Windows. Now, when I say no windows I don't mean that it was a dark black hole... no, the window holes were there, they had just never had any window frames or panes in place. It had for many years been used as a grain loft and/or general dumping ground.  Remarkable thing about DIY in France is the variability in the pricing of some things. The French on the whole do not seem greatly interested in renovation of magnificent country properties like ours, I guess this goes a long way to explain why the availability and price of these places makes it so attractive to people from Northern Europe. So, to cut a long story short we were given a tip by a neighbour for a specialist DIY warehouse place, just north of the Futuroscope site in Poitiers, that was a must-visit for anything DIY. After a trip to Limoges, returning visitors to the airport, we stopped in, had a bumble around the place and picked up a window to try out. It's fantastic, made from FSC hardwood, double glazed and was amazingly cheap at just 53€, so - one window problem sorted.


Massive... and right now still storing several hundred unpacked boxes! We have done some initial work to treat all of the oak timbers, chevrons and laths with an antifungal/insecticide treatment and our next major project will be installing some partition walls and renovating the very lovely chestnut flooring.