Arriving at the train station, we weren’t sure what to expect. Would they only speak to us in French? Would they expect us to work 12 hour days, feeding us only gruel?
It turns out none of that was a problem, and as we were driven away in a grey Honda, we started getting to know Joyce and John - and a more lovely pair you couldn’t find anywhere!
Joyce is an American, and has just written a book (Entwined) about her sister who had downs syndrome (and then turned out to be an amazing artist). John is a jolly ecologist, with a special interest in spiders. He has been involved in a number of nature documentaries and is a very good cook.
Our first mission was to weed the vege patch, and just generally tidy the place up. After that we were sanding and re-painting shutters, and I was helping Joyce out with computery things for a little bit each afternoon.
The work wasn’t much to talk about, but in the afternoons and weekends we had some grand adventures!
There is a beautiful town about 45 minutes bike ride away called Angles (pronounced “ongles”), which is one of the top 10 most beautiful villages in France! We went there a lot, trying different back roads, or using it as a break-point where we could stop and have crêpes (or the amazing orange gelato).
After a whole lot of wheedling, I convinced Laura to come for a longer ride to Tournon, which weighed in at a whopping 40km!
Then there was my rather eventful final trip back from Montmorillon - a 32km ride. It started well, I was feeling fresh and fit and zipping along the backroads - stopping only to check my directions on Google Maps. About half way back the trouble started…
I reached what was shown as a crossroads on my map, but which was actually a T-junction! “No problem, there are lots of roads for detours, it should only slow me down by 5 minutes”, I thought. Well, it turns out that was a bit optimistic - the roads going around were ancient forest tracks, with lots of slippery rocks and not at all suitable for my road bike!
Still, 15 minutes later I turned back onto a real road and carried on, vowing not to trust Google maps again.The fun didn’t stop there though - oh no! The next surprise Google had planned for me was a trip through some random farm (complete with barking dogs), and through a backroad that the farmer used to get to his friend’s farm - suitable for an all terrain vehicle, perhaps!
Not too big a deal though, it only slowed me down a bit, but I should still get home for 11 o’clock right? I was feeling ever more optimistic as I got closer and “St. Pierre de Maille” started to appear on road signs. 12km… 8km… 6km… And suddenly - Road Closed! “Noooo!” I cried out in dispair. I had to turn about and go back the way I had come for a few kilometers before I could even start curving round back the way I wanted to go (missing my turn off, because of course it was another tiny country path).
Finally getting close to home again, then wham! “Road Closed“! Not again! I was so close! At this point I was getting sick and tired of country backroads and so, lifting my bike bodily over the road block I scurried across the forbidden road (it was a crossroads here, and I wasn’t staying on the closed road), then started the glorious downhill all the way home! Somehow, despite my ride turning out to be a slightly longer 53km, I beat Joyce home and had time for a quick lunch, ready for the afternoon! Phew!
When we weren’t having exciting cycling adventures round the countryside, or walking along feasting on the blackberries that lined the paths, we could probably be found on the river, drifting along in an inflatable canoe. We even came up with a way to pull the boat up weirs, which Laura didn’t really like - although she did enjoy coming back down them! And of course we had our rather chaotic attempt at building a sailing boat - all foiled due to the lack of a centerboard (more rope would have helped too).
We had a lovely time staying with one of John and Joyce’s friends, Ed Buziak who was quite the character - in his 70s, but biking round everywhere (he didn’t own a car) and basically acting like a 40 year old. Ed is an artist and a photographer, so we got to see some of his amazing art, and we also enjoyed his house, which was in a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere. After doing some weeding we were off exploring the hills nearby (there were pheasant farms!), or racking our brains to come up with ways to use his practically unlimited supply of Mirabelle plums.
All in all we had a wonderful time, and felt sad leaving (though we might just have been tired - it was 5:00!), on to our Swedish wwoofing!