Jane Naylor and her husband Tom first contemplated a move to France in the early 1990s after a chance purchase of a magazine.
“Tom picked up a copy of a magazine that had listings for houses in France,” says Jane, 70. “We realised they were so much more affordable that side of the Channel.”
The following year, the couple went to stay with a friend of Jane’s sister, a French teacher of English living in France, to help with her English, and fell in love with the country.
“The pace of life was slower,” says Jane. “It was like the England of the 1950s, just with more technology.”
Having decided to make the move, they travelled to France in 1995 and looked at houses in Corrèze, Creuse and Haute-Vienne before falling in love with a property in Dordogne.
“In those days there was no internet, so we relied on adverts in magazines and recommendations from estate agents,” says Jane.
“We wanted somewhere undulating rather than flat, and settled on a house in a hamlet of around 25 inhabitants near La Roche-Chalais in the extreme west of Dordogne.”
Extensive renovation work needed
The house needed extensive work as it had never been properly lived in.
“It was built in the early part of the 20th century for a man who was killed in action in World War One. His widow never lived there, and she died quite young too,” says Jane.
“Then her son inherited it, aged three. He grew up and worked in Angoulême, grew wine grapes on the six hectares of land, and he and his wife used to ‘camp’ in the house from time to time to prune vines and for the vendange.”
When the Naylors moved into the property in May 1997, it needed a full rewire and modernisation. It had four rooms – and only one electric light socket in each.
“Only two of the rooms had a plug socket. There was no bathroom, we had to put in a septic tank, bathrooms and a downstairs toilet. We knocked through into an old wine vat for a kitchen and larder,” says Jane.
Widowed but determined to stay in France
The couple then lived happily in the property for several years.
“Tom had a pension, having taken early retirement. I had bred a litter of puppies every two years or so in the UK and wanted to continue. To comply with French law, in 2002 I registered as a dog breeder – always making a loss!” says Jane. “I was – and still am – also involved in dog shows.”
Sadly, Tom died in 2010. Despite the loss, Jane decided to stay in France.
“I have a sibling and step-family in the UK, who I see from time to time, but no other family.
“Here I live in a pleasant hamlet with good neighbours. The commune has a wonderful maire who is very supportive, and I have several close friends who really came through and supported me after Tom’s death. I was happy to stay put.”
However, with house maintenance and constant woodcutting to feed the property’s two woodburners, Jane, by then aged 59, began to worry how long she would be able to keep it up.
An inheritance changed everything.
€5,000 for plot of extra land
“In 2009, Tom and I had bought a plot of land opposite our house for €5,000, worried that someone else would build a house and block our view. When, in 2012, I received an inheritance, I realised I had enough to build a new house on that plot.”
Jane approached several house-builders with off-the-shelf plans, but wanted a few tweaks here and there. She quickly discovered that not all the firms were willing to do that.
“The one I eventually chose was great – they did all the alterations, planning permission, everything.”
Construction cost around €140,000, but Jane spent a further €9,000 on a driveway and fencing. She finally took up residence in September 2014 after seven months of building.
“The property is on one level, with an L-shaped living area, separate kitchen, study and two bedrooms.
“There are sliding glass doors and full-length windows in several rooms, meaning it is always light.
“Underfloor heating powered by a heat-pump means I save a fortune on electricity but am always nice and warm.”
The half-hectare of land with the property is partially fenced off to make a run for Jane’s two remaining dogs, Poppy and Lettie, and is otherwise given over to grass and flowers.
Jane’s original property sold to the son of a local man in June 2015 without her even having to list it: “He just knocked on the door one day and asked if I was selling.
“Ever since we moved here, the local community has been wonderful, especially the maire. I feel part of things and very welcome.”
‘We sailed to France on a barge and took our time house hunting’
'We wanted a small bolthole but bought a ruined French chateau'
Forever home? We have moved four times in France to suit our lifestyle