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Thursday 27 October 2016

A New Home in an Old Village

Najac is a very old village with loads of history attached to it. Situated in the Aveyron department of France, in the Midi-Pyrennees region, it's roughly 95 miles north west of Toulouse the regional capital. I've been coming here for the last 20 years, since my youngest son, Nat, settled here by accident. He's very happily installed right in the centre of the village with his wife Magali and their 5 children ranging in age from 18 to 3.
I have fancied for a long time I would end up here and, finally, having found the right house at the right price, here I am.
We are situated just below the west end of the church, the quiet end of the village (our house is not in this photo). The Duke of Anjou forced the villagers of the 13th Century to build the church either to prove they were not Cathar heretics or because they were. The war against the Cathars had laid waste to a large part of what is now south west France.
Higher up the hill a castle was built, more work for the villagers, this time commanded to do it by the English whose land in south west France reached to here in the period of the Hundred Years War. The villagers later captured the castle only for the English to recapture it and then be turfed out finally a few years later.
Now this is the entrance to our house which is narrow but consists of 4 storeys and is quite deep. This is our garage and wood store. We got a delivery of logs just as we were moving in and have moved a lot of them to be stacked neatly along the wall, a job we still have to finish. You can also see a washing machine and a dish washer we still need to move indoors along with some other items. Above the garage is a balcony which is accessed from our living room.
 We live in the Rue de la Pause, probably a much needed pause climbing up the hill from the river and the railway. It goes all round the bottom of the church and here on the left we see the multi-storied building for the priests and their guests, now turned into flats.
 If we turn right and go up back on ourselves we walk between that building and the side of the actual church. If we had gone straight on we would have ended up joining the rue de la gare which goes from the main village down to the river and the station where there are half a dozen trains daily south to Toulouse and north to Figeac and Brive.
 These are the steps going up to the main door of the church.
 And here we see the whole of the west facade of the church.
 Looking down through the public garden in front of the church we can see the roof of of house and a window of the top floor bedroom with its ensuite bathroom......this is for AirBnB guests mainly.
 Looking out across the Aveyron Valley we can see the hillsides opposite still hidden by the morning mist which is a local feature particularly in autumn.
 Here is the view of the church from the small public square opposite our house.
 And here is a view of the north side of the church with its not very tall tower and houses creeping up the hillside going round the castle.
 Here is a sign for the many tourists that visit Najac, letting them know to go back the way they have come to find the castle and the village.
 Here is another view of the church tower.
 And a cross set in the garden in front of the church.
 Here is our road nameplate in French and in Occitan which was the language here until the mid 19th century and is still spoken out in the country and is seeing a resurgence.
 Taken from the sloping public square we can see our house, narrow but deep. The three windows in the middle are in my room and the bottom one is over the balcony.
 This is the view directly across to the hill behind our house.
 And this is the view downwards where we can see the river and the few buildings next to it.
 This is a picture of the small public square. There are more cars than normal as it it school holidays and most of the houses in our street are holiday homes, only occupied during some of the holidays. The ones further down the street are mainly owned by Brits but also by one Belgian family.
 This is a shot of our living room and kitchen. It's not finished yet and the other rooms we won't be showing you yet as they are still filled with boxes and bin bags of our possessions. One thing we have found out is that the fireplace is really efficient providing heat round the whole house.
My lovely, fairly new German Shepherd, Leo.

 Then of course, I had to show you the castle. This shot is from the centre of the village, in front of my son's house.
And then, just so you have the whole picture, this is a shot taken from the top of the hill opposite which shows the main village, then the castle, then the church and our little neighbourhood. All this is on a ridge round which on three sides flows the Aveyron river deep down in its gorge.
The chateau you can see by itself in the woods upper left was built in the late 18th century and is now owned by a British company which lets it out as a gite to people who have loads of money. My daughter-in-law oversees changeovers between guests.
So in a way it's no surprise that there are an awful lot of Brits with homes here, keeping up the tradition started in the 12th century.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Sorry, no posts but I'm moving house.

Just a quick word to those who read my posts, to excuse myself for not having written anything recently. The reason, of course, is that I am moving house and have been very busy with this process. If you follow me on FaceBook you will have read about this and so will perhaps have guessed why no blog posts.
The village baker's, the one remaining shop that stays open all year.
It became clear to me that I was struggling a bit financially, a situation not helped by Brexit and the resulting falling Pound. As my pension comes from the UK, it has been falling month by month and seems likely to remain weak. And, in spite of adding to my income by renting out my car with and my bedroom with AirBnB and getting some payment from a few gigs, my overdraft at the end of each month seemed to grow like Topsy.
Discussing this with an English friend, Alan, who lives a few hundred meters away, we realised that if we shared a house our overheads would go down: sharing the rent, the heating costs, the internet costs, house insurance, etc and even the food bill. On top of the finances, we were both fed up with the noise we were suffering from, me because of a huge building project on my square and him because his flat is on the High Street and near a kebab restaurant which is the main evening hang out for teenagers with their noisy mopeds.
So, the search was on in earnest, mainly using the website LeBonCoin and we looked at loads of places that were either too expensive or not what we wanted. We were looking for a place where we could work more with AirBnB as well as giving us a room each with a kitchen and living room. So we needed a place with 3 bedrooms.
Then we found the ideal place which not only had those rooms we needed but a bedroom with ensuite bathroom as well as a second bathroom for our use and two extra toilets and a laundry room and garage; the only thing missing is a garden but in fact it looks out onto a small open space where Leo my German Shepherd can hang out (there are no other dogs, very few cars and he loves people) and we have already been offered a patch down by the river where we can have a kitchen garden. The rent was just 30% more than my present flat and the state of the place is immaculate including a superb fitted kitchen. And, another saving, there is a log burning fire which directs warm air around the house and also a heat exchanger and the house has been very well insulated.
The village church which supposedly the villagers were forced to built after being suspected of being Cathar heretics.
So, all has been done paperwork-wise and we move in on Monday with friends giving help and a big van. The move including rubbish clearing and cleaning will take three days then I have a day off, hopefully time to write a post, before the Reggae and Dub festival in nearby Sauveterre along with the arrival of a couple of friends from England. I'll be translating between the festival organisers and the Jamaican musicians as well as enjoying the music and taking photos over the weekend and then spending the rest of the week showing my friends around our region. Then, when they leave, I have four days with writing time before I head off up to Edinburgh to visit my eldest son and his family and to celebrate his wife's birthday and mine. Once back from there, my life will settle down to being much quieter through the winter with more time to continue with my story of Lastwind's tour supporting Hawkwind in 2006.
What I have omitted saying is where our new house is: it is in NAJAC, one of my favourite places on the planet. And, not only that, but it is at the edge of the village, well away from where the tourists gather in summer. Any tourist who ends up in the short street where we are, down below the church and the castle, is well and truly lost. It's almost a small hamlet, set apart from the rest of the village which is up on the ridge whilst we are off the main road and down towards the river with its long and pleasant walks down the gorge. There are only a handful of round the year inhabitants, most of whom I know already and the other houses are mainly owned by Brits who come from time to time.
I won't be walking up the steep hill into the oldest part of the village but we can drive up to the village centre in minutes.
The church and balcony which is several metres up above our little street.
And, AirBnB seem to think we will do well here able to charge more because of the touristy reputation of the village and the fact that our house is neat and tidy and with an ensuite for the guests. And, the final bonus, my youngest son, his wife, and 5 of my grandchildren all live up in the main village!!
And so a new chapter of my life begins. The future is looking rosy.
NAJAC CASTLE, built by the English back in the 13th Century.