French Property News feature
Sunday Times top 10 bestselling author, Debbie Howells is used to writing psychological thrillers, but moving to Dordogne with her partner Martin has been her greatest adventure yet.
Many of us dream about upping sticks from the UK and getting away – permanently. For most, family, schools, jobs mean it’s a dream that remains rooted in the future. Then after, life is settled, isn’t it? Why move away from everything you know and go through all that upheaval on a whim?
There are always reasons not to do something. Aren’t you worried about BREXIT, people asked. I’ve lived in Sussex most of my life and it will always have a place in my heart, but in recent years, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with the crowded roads, absurd property prices, the relentless pace of life. I craved a peacefulness that was getting harder and harder to find. As a writer, I can take my work anywhere. Apart from the two sheep, a horse, a cat and a dog that form our extended family, there was no reason I couldn’t live anywhere.
There was no question that dog was coming with us – he’s well-travelled. Last year, he accompanied us on a road trip to Ibiza. Billy the cat has gone to live with my daughter, Georgie. The sheep have a wonderful home with our old neighbours, and the horse… She’s sweet, a retired racehorse, permanently lame from being raced as a two year old. We thought long and hard about bringing her, but a dear friend had just bought some land so she’s gone to live with her.
Nothing was solved overnight, but there are always solutions if you look hard enough. What followed was a cathartic clearing out of everything we no longer needed or used, whittling down our stuff to fit into a hundred foot square storage unit. While this was going on, we had to make the house look welcoming for potential buyers and a photoshoot with Sussex Life magazine, prior to the publication of my next book. Meanwhile, outside, as winter played out, the garden was coming to life. I watched bulbs I’ve planted send out shoots and the first flowers appear – spring flowers are my favourite – before banishing sentimentality. There were many reasons to stay, but all the while my inner voice didn’t falter.
Why France? What is there not to love about vast stretches of unspoilt countryside, where the roads are empty, and the peace is uninterrupted by the sound of traffic. Here, in the Dordogne, it’s warmer than the UK. Everyone we’ve met has been incredibly friendly and life feels simpler, somehow. Our cost of living has substantially dropped and as for property prices, money buys you so much more here. There’s the intangible, too. The adventurous spirit some of us can’t subdue. There’s a big world out there, with places to see and many ways to live a life, it simply depends on what you want from it.
For now, we’re renting a character-filled house set in a vast garden with a sunset view, while we figure out our longer term plan. In the evenings we sit outside on a shady terrace, surrounded by the trees, the birds and the breeze – when it’s dark, frog-song from the pond that’s a field away. We’ve window-shopped hundreds of beautiful homes looking for the right air of dilapidated elegance, with thick walls to keep the heat out in summer, exposed stone and timber interiors, wide fireplaces, high ceilings, distressed shutters, shaded sun terraces – the list goes on. Character in abundance, all with land and clean air and privacy, sought after commodities that in Sussex command a premium, that here is so much more affordable.
We do miss people, but these days, staying in touch is easy. And one proviso was to be close enough to an airport for family and friends to visit. It was important to know they’re only a short flight away. Now, we spend whole precious days together, rather than short evenings and snatched coffees. It’s different.
This year, in our old garden, the clematis I planted over a wide metal arch, will burst into bloom with thousands of flowers. It will be followed by the apple tree covered in soft pink blossom. I’ll miss the hawthorn coming into flower and the arrival of the first swallows. But what we’ve gained is a sense of liberation. Freedom. The inspiration that new surroundings supply. We’re discovering a part of the world neither of us know, and we’re loving it.
And life’s supposed to be an adventure, isn’t it?
Debbie is featured in the August 2019 issue of French Property News.