France: the first week of life in a chateau in the Dordogne

My fifth Workaway is in the Dordogne valley and I arrived to an environment I wasn’t prepared for; one both surprisingly similar to home and one that was reminiscent of childhood holidays – strange for a place I’ve never visited. Admittedly, I had been to France three times in my life formerly, twice to Paris and once to the south-west by the Gorge du Tarn, Millau and Rodez. I didn’t intend to ever go to France but after falling for Spain I needed a stop as I bounced back from the east to the west. It’s strange feeling closer to home than ever, with similar vegetation, English speakers (though no Brits as yet) and feeling the remaining weeks trickle through my fingers.

I’ll return to a very different England. Spending this summer in Europe has been the most valuable experience and it’ll be odd to go back to a place where the majority of people wanted to no longer be part of the union of these countries. I say the majority, but I bet you the 40 odd percent who didn’t vote had different opinions. The exit is already changing the lives of those around me, so much more than I first imagined. As a subject of angst and contention, that’s all I’ll say on the matter, other than that I am truly astounded that people actually refer to Britain leaving the EU as “Brexit”. This is nonsense…what are we all? Texting teenagers? Anyways, it’s hard to not think of what the future holds, especially when I’m typically the only one from England in many situations these days, so everyone wants to know my thoughts.

Back to my Workaway, I arrived here to a three course veggie dinner and movie night. I was the only workawayer and was  offered my own room, a room in a turret with my own private staircase. I feel like I’m finally a princess, living in a castle, and the dream is real if you ignore the hours I spend between 7am and 12, wearing overalls, shifting rocks and shovelling with sweat dribbling down my forehead into my eyes. It’s a typical chateau on a hill; huge rooms, stone floors, window with shutters and a view over the valley. The first night, I had a bat in my room. I love it.

Tonight, I lay atop my sheets for the heat overwhelms me and my windows sit open. I hear the hushed chatter of two of a trio of Irish boys who have just arrived and their voices are a sweet song of whispers in the darkness. A hilarious group of three very different guys cycling their way across the country have really brought a laugh to the table, as well as a load of hard work. The group is great at the moment, we have a good dynamic and the people all get along, all like to laugh, and all like to chip in. We have an American host, an Aussie, a Scot, me (an English woman) and 3 Irish guys. A wild concoction of accents that invite a load of confusion as we misinterpret each other’s basic words.

After dinner tonight, I walked up to the hamlet that sits above the chateau on the hill and got barked at by a keen golden retriever resting on a wall above the path. I took photos of the view across the hills and I felt truly on top of the world. So far, the memories here are good. Any initial awkwardnesses, felt often on arrival at a Workaway, have dissipated and now I feel comfortable, but happily so.

Tomorrow, a new workawayer arrives to take the place at the table left by Bart today. Bart and I had adventures walking up the hill opposite the chateau, working out which planets we could see (Venus, Mars and Jupiter) and listening to owls. I saw my first firefly/glow worm. Bart and I had many interesting conversations and perhaps one day we’ll be reunited in The Hague. I’ve now met 5 Dutch people and 4 of them were awesome. Perhaps when I return home I’ll do a tour of the Netherlands. I’m already aware my feet are going to be getting itchy, especially when the weather won’t be so great. If not that, perhaps a Workaway in Ireland. I realised upon meeting the three Irish guys, I know nothing about Ireland other than potatoes .

I was at first disappointed by the scenery here. Green fields that reminded me of England. Now, I’m appalled I felt that way. I love it. I’ve also learnt that I’m happiest avoiding the touristy towns where English people seem to retire to moan about their lives and everything in them. I’m definitely happier without that. I feel embarrassed by it sometimes. Gabrielle, the Australian lady, said to me, “haven’t you heard the expression ‘whiny poms’?” I hadn’t and now I’ll use it (and probably often). We did explore some cool places despite them being filled with people like us, (tourists and expats) including chateau de Milandes, the former home of Joséphine Baker. Though flawed in their restaurant’s inability to make a good cheese sarnie and find an appropriate sized mannequin for Josephine’s beautiful former stage costumes, the house was a snapshot into a beautiful and varied life. Josephine’s story is fascinating. The castle itself was marvellous and despite frequent no photos signs, was left almost intact. Her bathrooms were pictures of glamour with black and gold tiles and duck egg blue suites.

Outside, the gardens were nature overpreened and people took photos of birds of prey in cages not realising the irony of the situation. The castle is gated and we paid to be there.

Also last weekend, we visited two flea markets, took Gabrielle to sign for her new French home and wandered around some little French towns that I would describe accurately as ‘sleepy’. I bought gifts, committing to goal I made in a former post.

Through the week, we swam twice in a waterfall, went out for pizza and went for dinner at the strangest restaurant where you had to build your own meal but couldn’t deviate from the presented options and everything was only a few euros. We all had too much to eat but the beer was excellent. We also went to a lovely little town to do some postage and Bart bought Gabrielle and I a Belgian beer each. I thank him for introducing me to Leffe blonde and I’ll think of him always when I drink it. It’s too easy to drink and also be 6.6%.

I’ve finished three books since arriving in France and sit staring at a copy of Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon that I picked up for a euro on a whim at last week’s flea market. I’m not sure I’ll read it.

After my ramble, here are some photos.


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