We are from England, I worked for IBM, and Janet was a Manager of a veterinary practice. It was in 1993 when Janet saw an advert in the ‘Exchange & Mart’ offering :
‘French farmhouse, for sale, or exchange for a Porsche..’
We had reached a time of life when we felt that we needed a change. Work for us was really just a means to an end – that was to give funds in order for us to go car rallying, a sport that had somewhat dominated our life for nearly twenty years. It has been said that we only got married to cut costs by living together – a term, in those days that was not so ordinary as it is now! The aforementioned advert coincided with an offer of ‘early retirement’ from IBM, our rallying ‘career’ had really reached its natural conclusion and we even had a Porsche then, agreed it was an old 924 model that was only worth £1600 but we fell in love with the French farmhouse!
The move was a complete change of life, we knew it was not retirement at all, we had bought an abandoned farm with 25 acres of scrub, woods and rocks. We had a limited budget, no fixed plans, a dog and two cats. There was an ancient farmhouse with a mixture of outbuildings which many would have described as ruins. The water was from a spring but we did have electricity and telephone, the latter delivered by 13 telegraph poles just for our house – at no extra charge.
The natural choice for us was to go for the ‘Good Life’. This meant that our previous life activities like rallying, sailing and even cycling were left in England. We gradually built up our countryside skills and over twelve years we had built up a menagerie with a herd of goats a flock of sheep, also pigs, chickens and ducks, even geese and turkeys, a draught horse, a Camargue mare, donkey and a mule. Oh, and ‘obtained’ an extra dog!
It was a great life, but even that idyllic existence, for me anyway, started to weigh heavy on my belief that I could keep it going forever. Janet, I think reluctantly, agreed that we should move on. We sold the farm, time to move to another of my dreams: live on a boat. We are nothing, if not changeable! A barge was purchased, moored in Montpelier. From here, still with our two dogs we cruised the canals of Southern France and after a year we motored up the Rhone to Dijon where we decided to sell up again, partly because the boat was too small for us and our two dogs, but also finances were not going to allow us to try to make the impossible goal we had, to cruise all the waterways Europe.
The realisation that everything had got so much more expensive in the real world, since our original move to farming in France, prompted us to return to England and run our own Art Gallery and Picture Framers. This was something we had dabbled with before. We did not have any dreams of making a fortune, it was just a way we could do something that interested us that would give us enough to live on. The existing business we bought came with rented premises that included a small flat above. We enjoyed our small venture into the world of a proper business, but with the lease of the premises coming to an end it was time to make another decision. Janet was now receiving a state pension and I had started receiving my IBM pension, not a great sum because of my ‘retiring’ in 1993. The funds we had now received from selling (eventually) the boat, were in euros – so we decided to use them to buy a house and ‘retire’ back to France. We are now living near Mortain, about 15 km from our old farm. The area we had come to know quite well – it felt like home.
Cycling seemed to creep back into our lives at first, we bought a rather sedate Dutch Tandem, solid and built for comfort. As we rode more, and further afield we became more serious, even passionate about travelling by bike. Eventually we bought two single touring bikes and embarked on many excursions from our home. Always looking for goals, Probably after a beer, I suggested to Janet that we could ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End, when she agreed, I couldn’t back down. If you read our story of the ride you will realise that there was another very important reason that we completed this goal.