Before you ask, this isn’t our house.
At the end of Part 1, we were arriving at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val to spend a couple of days visiting properties with an English estate agent. He ran a gîte at his house a few kilometres from the town, in which we stayed for two nights at a nominal off-season rate – much cheaper than a hotel. During the day, he ran us around in his car to view the houses and we lunched at his house on pâtés, charcuterie and salads.
On the first night, we sat outside his gîte as dusk gathered and listened to the sliding song of the nightingales in the thicket by the River Aveyron. When night fell completely, we were entranced by the clear sky, spread with stars and unpolluted by artificial light. A comet that was only a faint smudge in the London night sky showed up clearly as it arched across the heavens.
On day 1, we spent a couple of hours sifting through particulars and then set off to view what looked like good prospects. One we were particularly interested in – a small château in a village by a river – looked idyllic. The reality, inevitably, was different. It turned out to be a terraced house with a tower. On one side was a restaurant; on the other was a dilapidated house, also for sale.
The ‘château’ had a nice courtyard with a fountain, a lovely garden and well-restored bedrooms in the tower. But the living room had all the charm of a doctor’s waiting room and two people would have constituted a crowd in the kitchen. Buying the next-door house was de rigueur if you wanted any privacy, but it needed restoring from top to bottom. This would have been beyond our budget. We regretfully crossed that one off our list.
Snakes included in the price
On to the next one – a mill house in the Aveyron. Again, it sounded ideal from the description. However, it was in the back of beyond, miles from the nearest village and certainly too far from an airport at that time. Since we were there, we looked at it anyway. Two so-called ‘trout lakes’ turned out to be foetid ponds covered in green scum. An outbuilding with ‘gîte potential’ was a tumbledown shack by the front gate. The house was disappointingly small inside.
Worst of all, however, was the stream that actually ran through the back of one of the downstairs bedrooms. This room had French windows covered with net curtains opening onto a small courtyard. A handwritten notice pinned on the curtains read, ‘Please keep the curtains closed to stop the snakes coming in.’ Not exactly encouraging.
Opening the front door, I came eyeball to eyeball with a huge snake basking on the opposite bank. It was at least a metre long and as thick as my wrist. For a split second, we observed each other and then in a flash it was gone. Fortunately, it was a grass snake, one of those against which the curtains had to be drawn to prevent them drinking from the indoor stream. Still, that settled it. No way was I going to cohabit with a snake.
By the end of day 1 and several more unsuitable houses later, we were starting to wonder if we would ever find what we were looking for. It was with somewhat less optimism that we clambered into the estate agent’s car on the morning of day 2. Find out what happened to us in part 3.
Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved