Everyone has those moments, where they are reminded about what is really important in life. Our story starts much the same as others who have made the move to France – with a desire to live a life that more closely aligns with our values.
The Importance of Connecting with Nature
Living on the border of the High Peak in the UK, with its rolling hills, historical towns and villages is a fantastic location to be. However, our lives had become so busy with work and other commitments that we had lost any connection to our surroundings. The very small amount of time we were able to escape and visit nearby places or even have a short walk in the country gave even more weight to the need for a change.
As a family we had an ever repeating on and off discussion about our hectic lives and the lack of ‘us’ time. What made us happy? Having time together, fresh air, walks, days out, being more connected to the environment and its wildlife. Along with being creative and spending time in our garden.
So why weren’t we doing more of that, what were we going to do to change things, what was stopping us?
UK vs. France – Affordability
We talked about changing our lives and staying in the UK, but affordability was a huge factor. So, we looked at moving out of the UK, but where? I loved the idea of running an Eco Glamping Retreat where people who had hectic lives could come and relax, unplug from their daily lives, and just breathe a bit. Both of us wanted to be much more in touch with our own surroundings, live a more eco driven life and spend time on our own garden and with each other.
We researched everything we could think of and visited the living abroad exhibitions in Manchester for property prices and tax laws etc. After much research, we made the decision to move to France, open a Glamping retreat, and just live a simpler life. We were just going to go for it – ALL or NOTHING!
Being a floral designer, I really wanted to grow my own flowers, also grow our own food. And just be more self-sufficient.
John IS a gardener; I honestly think his DNA has tiny flowers and plants in it. He has helped create and maintain so many beautiful gardens, he’s even helped celebrities in Cheshire transform blank spaces into stunning creative gardens. But he was so busy he often missed the ‘Open Garden’ days for the gardens he had worked on. He longed to transform his own land.
Next Steps – Selling our UK Home and Moving
Our next challenge was to sell our house in the UK. Life never runs smooth though does it? Our UK house sale fell through four days from signing. What a blow.
There was a point when we nearly unpacked everything. We ended up living surrounded by our boxed-up belongings for 9 months – it was tough. But we had a goal and we needed to stay on track and keep focused on why we were doing this in the first place.
Moving to France
Eventually we sold our house, waved goodbye to our belongings, had emotional farewells with family, put our dogs in the very packed car and set off on the road to Grenord in the Charente and our rental home in France. It felt like we were on a holiday at first.
We arrived in Spring, the disappointment of having to leave my cowslip plants behind faded quickly, the sides of the roads here were full of them. Finding our feet and exploring our surroundings was helped by meeting other British people living here; and many kind French people, willing to let us try our broken French skills on them.
House hunting in France
Then the house hunting began. We looked at a lot of properties – some too small, too big, too much to renovate, not enough land, too much land, or even too hilly. Then we came to La Sudrie.
That was it, I could see it in my mind’s eye. If you looked passed the fallen trees, 5ft thick 5ft tall brambles, grass so tall I could hardly see the edge of the field. I could imagine the tree lined meadow with eco bathrooms, bell tents and all the decorative structures. John would have a real blank canvas to play with once he got the land cleared. And it was going to take some clearing.
Permission to run a business on the land
We needed to know if we could open our retreat here. You can’t just buy a bit of land and put tents on it. If we were going to do this, we needed to do it properly. We had heard of too many people just buying properties that were then unable to open a business at or go further due to not having the correct permissions.
Our estate agent here contacted the local Mayor’s office (La Mairie) and we sat for two hours with the mayor and his very lovely secretary, showing them images of bell tents, our work in the UK; and explaining to them our ideas for a retreat.
It turns out Glamping is quite a new thing here. Our plans were to open a creative and mindful Glamping retreat with yoga sessions, art sessions and a events venue along with quality accommodation.
Could that work here, can we do that, we asked? The answer, thankfully, was yes!
Making a start
We moved into our new home on Saturday 24th August 2019 and John was on that field making a start on clearing those brambles on Sunday 25th. The rest, they say, is history. Our first year saw its fair share of challenges, but we have never looked back.