City Gal to Country Bumpkin
Rewind to 2012 and we were living a very comfortable life in suburbia, a few miles from Edinburgh city centre. After a chance conversation, a dash of serendipity and an uncharacteristic ‘let’s throw caution to the wind’, we found ourselves heading for a new life in the land of baguettes and escargots!
Moving from a city with a population of almost half a million to a small hamlet of about 20 inhabitants was quite the contrast… to say the least! Within a few months, we had swapped city living for a life in the heart of French rural countryside. We’ve had some ups and downs – mostly ups – and five years down the line seems like a good time to look back and reflect on this experience. If you’re thinking of upping sticks and *literally* heading to ‘the sticks’, read on!
Better Social Life
This may sound surprising but we actually have a far better social life now than we did when we lived in Edinburgh. The French are more than happy to include the kiddos in any invite – drinks, meals, etc (well that’s been our experience so far). And when you only have to walk 100 meters to your closest neighbours’, you find you don’t have to worry about having a drink or two and making your way home. Despite only boasting a population of about 20 inhabitants, we live in one of the most sociable hamlets there is! The locals will come up with any reason for a get-together or ‘apéro’ – the roses blooming, a new gate being built, the purchase of a ride-on lawnmower – they will enthusiastically proclaim, ‘ça se fête’ (this needs celebrating!)
Our village has held on to some longstanding rural traditions. The celebration of les Feux de la St Jean (French equivalent of bonfire night that takes place in June) and a village fête during the last week-end of August. Everyone in the village brings along a dish and an evening of eating and drinking ensues. Another lovely tradition is ‘significant’ birthday celebrations – every decade is celebrated. So if you’re turning 10, 20 , 30, 40, 50, 60 and so on, you host the village for a get together. Again, everyone brings a dish. After the age of 70, the get-togethers take place every 5 years, lol.
Shops & Shopping
I’ve always been a marketer’s dream and a hoarder to boot…. and so I wondered how I was going to cope when I suddenly found myself in rural France where the nearest H&M was a two hour drive away. I quickly discovered the convenience and power of online shopping. Nah, just kidding! I actually began to realise that I didn’t *actually* need all the crap stuff that I’d accumulated and had bought on impulse in Scotland. I’ve definitely become a more mindful shopper although (if I’m being completely honest), I know I would get sucked right back in to my consumerist habits if we ever went back to Scotland!
You can’t fail but notice the changing of the seasons when you live in the countryside. In the autumn, the leaves start to fall, the landscape changes, trees lose their colourful foliage. Then spring comes along in all its glory and mother nature bursts to life. You can’t help but notice the blossom, the buds, the greenery, the brand new green leaves growing back on the trees. The miracle that is nature never ceases to amaze us and we try to impress this upon the children.
We’ve learned so much about nature during the course of the last 5 years. We know that we’ll be drowning in plums from our trees in July and August. We will collect walnuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts in September and October. We will watch in amusement as the locals, gripped by mushroom fever, head into their secret woodland patch to find some ceps (in October) and girolles (in spring). We have learnt about seasonal eating and would never dream of serving up strawberries to our French guests in January.
Good Life Wannabe or the Antithesis of Mrs Green Fingers
After watching too many episodes of the Good Life and A New Life in the Sun, I had grand ideas of growing all our own vegetables and living off the land. The reality was rather different though. A talented green-fingered person I am not! Our friend and local farmer, kindly offered to plough some our land. We were a little overenthusiastic and suggested he plough a 30 square meter patch. We planted all sorts – peas, onions, potatoes, runner beans, tomatoes and more. In the summer we discovered that the land, full of clay, turned rock hard in the summer heat making it nigh impossible to weed and work with. Under the burning sun, I quickly decided that this was NOT for me.
We gave up our large ‘potager’ (vegetable patch) and moved to a smaller 3 square meter plot – much more realistic. Every now and again I convince myself that I can do the whole gardening thing and decide to grow from seed. During my last attempt, our little seedlings were doing well until we went on holiday, forgot to arrange for someone to water them and came back to some very shriveled up dead plants. I’ve decided that strawberries are my friend – they grow back year after year and you pretty much don’t have to do anything.!
And don’t even talk to me about keeping chickens…!
French markets… need I say any more? Fresh, local, seasonal produce. We live in one of the gastronomic capitals of France and are so spoilt for choice.
Space & Outdoor living!
Mother Nature provides the best playground for children. The forest with all its possibilities of den making, foraging, hide’n’seek is a wonderful place for children to grow up. We have plenty of space around us – however, with a large garden comes gardening, upkeep, pruning, dead heading, weeding – the double-edged sword of country living…
Freedom for the kids
One of the main reasons for moving to the countryside was to try our hardest to extend our kids’ childhood for as long as possible. Inevitably, city living isn’t always conducive to keeping kids…well… kids. Don’t get me wrong they’re still confronted with screens and technology and don’t always want to go play outside, however, they (seem to) have kept a childlike innocence. They’re our freerange chickens!
Everyone knows them in the village and we know that there will always be someone keeping an eye. The kids can play in the garden, they can go for a ride on their bikes or go-karts. They help keep the village alive (read: they’re pretty noisy!)
In Edinburgh, we lived close to one of the busiest and most polluted roads in the capital. The contrast to where we live now couldn’t be further apart. We can be in the wood within 2 minutes. The air is so fresh and pure – well apart from when the local farmer is spreading muck on his fields.
Given that we have the woods on our doorstep, we have found that we get out into the great outdoors a lot more often. We go for walks, bike rides, runs, butterfly chasing…
The nights are magical – we have no lamp posts in the village so there is no light pollution. We marvel at the starry skies that shine down on us. It reminds us of how small and insignificant we really are in this vast universe. We have been known to lie in our sleeping bags in the garden and watch the shooting stars whizz across the sky (August is the best time for this so we don’t get too cold). We love checking out the various constellations and locating planets with this handy app.
Fibre optic internet – the stuff of dreams. We struggle along with our clunky wifi which barely reaches 1mb… This is actually very frustrating and we’re currently investigating the possibility of getting a 4G router.
No girls’ nights out
I probably miss this the most – girly nights out – hitting the town, catching up over a few drinks or a meal. Enjoying the buzz of the city. Remembering what life was like before children. In the countryside, we’ve found that people tend to eat round at each other’s houses a lot more. On the up side, these dinner parties are lots of fun and we learn plenty about the exquisite French gastronomy.
Getting hold of stuff (DIY)
This is Mr Den’s biggest bugbear. He does all the DIY and building work round here. The locals call him ‘McGyver’, an American television series from the 80s which most Brits haven’t hear of! Anyway, I digress… we generally find that the local DIY shops simply don’t have the required stock in and things are usually overpriced. For some reason, the price of paint in France is exorbitant – we’ve never quite worked out why.
I do miss the coffee mornings I used to enjoy with fellow mums on their days off. There doesn’t seem to be the same coffee morning culture where we live. On the flip side, instead of sitting drinking coffee, whilst the kids destroy the house, play, we tend to go for a weekly walk – exercise, chatting and getting fresh air. It’s perfect.
Amenities & Kids activities
We certainly don’t have the broad range of activities that are on offer in large British towns. And I must admit that I’m so happy that I had my children in Edinburgh and was able to make the most of everything that was on offer for new mums. Maternity leave is short In France, with mums often going back to full-time work after 3 short months’ maternity leave. Part-time working or flexible hours seem to be rarer than in the UK and as a result there are far less new mum/babies activities on offer. I wouldn’t change those early years when I made some very dear and special friends in Edinburgh for anything. Once the kids are older there are still a surprising amount of activities on offer though. So far, we’ve tried out football, athletics, gymnastics, Zumba, African dancing and art classes.
For the most part, we love our life in rural France and everything the experience has brought us. It’s not for everyone and I also think there’s a life chapter/life season when it suits some more than others. We do miss the city and especially in the winter times when the skies are grey, the landscape is barren and a little bleak. Those are the times when we book a city break – we’ve previously checked out La Rochelle and Perpignan – with our favourite being Bordeaux, although we do love discovering new places.
With the onset of tweenhood, we start to explore other options… and let’s not forget that we, as adults, also come to have new and different needs. Next chapter? Who knows! Watch this space!