The pack-up and journey

Bit of a gap since our last blog, we have good reason though.

On Friday 8th April, we picked up the rental van from Europcar and began the massive pack.

Our great pals, Claire & Dave arrived with their 2 lovely daughters, Molly Mae & Sol Misty to help us pack and squeeze as much as we could into the van.

Cousins David & Richard also turned up to help as well as Julia’s brother Chris and step-dad Peter.

So as to avoid going ‘freight’ on the channel tunnel plus avoid ridiculous insurance premiums, we had to fit our lives into a long wheel based Vauxhall Movano!

6 hours, a pile of pizza and a few beers later, we squeezed the last mattress and pillow into the bulging vehicle and forced the doors closed.

God knows where Dave picked up his mad packing skills, maybe endless hours of playing Tetris, but he managed to get a ridiculous amount of our belongings into this 4-wheeled tin box.

Our final night in barrel cottage consisted of a Chinese carry-out, an emotional visit from our chum Tony for one final hug and the spare-room gym going to its new home with Daniel and family.

Saturday morning sees us pack the final bags into the car with Becca & Dougie the Labradors settling in for a 3-day road trip.

Off we went, to Wales to stay at a lovely hotel called The Old Rectory as it was near Jessica who would join us to share the driving across the UK and through France.

The journey down the UK was pretty uneventful, safe and manageable. Felt a bit strange thinking that it was probably the last time I’d drive the length of Great Britain.


Day 2

We grabbed breakfast, checked out, fuelled up the vehicles and set off towards the channel tunnel. Again, safe smooth drive across the country saw us arrive early for the tunnel.

My travel anxiety had only really focussed on one part of this epic haul… the channel tunnel!

Where do we go?
Will the van fit?

Will the dog passports be accepted?

What about all those people trying to get into the country and the back of my van……? And so on.

Turns out, it was the slickest operation I’ve ever seen with regards travel. Free upgrade to earlier train, smooth loading, a ridiculously short journey and before we could shout bonjour, we were driving on the right hand side of the road and looking for a place to ‘manger’.

We had applied for the dog passports a few weeks earlier from our local vet. This included them having rabies injections and we also gave them tapeworm protection, although this is not compulsory going to France but it is coming back. At the tunnel, we were just waved though and nobody checked the dog passports or their identities.

My travel anxiety issue #2 : le péage!

My passenger seats have a lamp shade and an iMac on them, I’ll have to get out of the van to grab the ticket.

I’m in a hire van, will the barrier crash down and initiate a ridiculous insurance debacle?

Will those grumpy French truck drivers beep the hell out their horns due to my lack of left hand drivery?

The reality: The toll roads are brilliant things. Plenty of space to drive at 130 kmh all the way. Although drivers in France appear to have been taught to slow down ONLY once you are 3 inches from the car in front, everyone was courteous, driving pretty safely and I got the odd smile from French passengers no doubt due to my big cheesy grin which I couldn’t wipe from my face for the best part of the journey.

We drove for 6 hours en France and after a pretty tough 90 mins in the heaviest rain and snow I’ve ever experienced, we arrived down a dark country single track to the camp site we’d booked for a sleepover.

We hadn’t found a wine shop (yes, in France!) which was probably a good thing as we were totally wiped and had another 6 hours to drive via Bordeaux and down to Lot et Garonne to Francescas, the location of our new home.


The arrival and day 1

After the aforementioned 6-hour drive on day 3, we arrived in Nérac, the town near our home, the place where we are welcomed as locals at the market and the Taverne d’Henri.

An overwhelming feeling of belonging washed over me. This really did feel like home. We’d visited this place 3 times before the move and that seems to have been all it took! The sun was shining (21 degrees Celsius) and the streets were busy.

In Nérac, we checked-in with the immobilier and set off on the 11km hop over to the village that hosts our new home.

It’s a lot bigger than we remember!

Look at the size of the garden! 

The basement is a huge studio waiting to be brought to life.

How hot is this!

Is that a sausage dog? Yes, next doors 2 sausage dogs!

After a quick check over the house with the immobilier, we unpacked some of the van. No rush, we had three days until I had to return the van to Gatwick.

We were a few hours into our unpacking and the doorbell rang (we have a doorbell?)

“Bonjour, my name is Olivier, I live in Francescas and I have come to offer you my help.” 

Wow, a complete stranger comes to offer help as he speaks good English and well, we are in a small village in France. This is what happens!

“I have helped my friend Liam from Manchester so I know a few things that may help.”

(For a moment we thought hang on, Liam, from Manchester! Roll With It… Naaaaa, couldn’t be!)

Marie Claire, the postie, had asked him if he knew who was moving into the house along the road as some mail had already arrived for Monsiour Usher & Madame Douglas.

Working out how the boiler in the basement worked, the cheap power hours that kick-in from 10pm to 6am (best time for the boiler to do it’s thing), where the power meter may be and even finding us a phone number for the English speaking dept of Electricite du France (EDF).

We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to have a drink very soon. What a great wee start to our first week in Francescas and a fine way to make our first friend in the village.

That evening, our pal Lionel, who lives 15 mins away, had invited us to a welcome meal at his place. Being in his lovely home felt different… we weren’t foreign visitors, we were now voisins! Neighbours!

So, in short, we took three days to drive around 1,300 miles from a wee cottage in East Lothian to a lovely villa styled home in Francescas, Lot et Garonne, France.

This is the first step for us, quite a huge one. We said we’d get to France, we’ve done it.

Now, the search for a property to purchase for Studio Faire begins in earnest.


A note about Jessica Wilson, our friend, drinking partner and driver on this big step.

Jessica kindly offered to drive the car with Julia & the dogs as Julia wasn’t too keen to drive in France just yet. Especially on such a large trip.

I followed the girls and dogs in the van with my Spotify playlists and a knitted lampshade made by Jess sitting next to me.

Jess stayed with us for the first 5 days of our new chapter. She will be permanently engrained in our story and for this we are eternally grateful.

She also kindly christened my new basement portrait studio. There are a few shots from the session on the right.

Thanks Jess. xxx

Right, where did I leave the van keys… I need to return this thing to Gatwick airport!

More soon.