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Wednesday 28 September 2022
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‘We sailed to France on a barge and took our time house hunting’

Moving to France on their own boat took the pressure off finding a perfect home for this UK couple

John and Jane Griffin moved to France on their barge in 2006; they finally settled in a three-bed house in Capestang, Hérault Pic: John and Jane Griffin

When John and Jane Griffin moved to France, it was to live on a 70ft barge on the Canal du Midi. 

“John works for British Airways and we realised we could settle anywhere within reasonable proximity to an airport,” says Jane, 50.

“Choosing to move to France meant we could have an adventure and improve our work/life balance.

“At the time, I worked as a company director for a retirement housebuilder, but I was ready for a break.”

Sailed across the Channel

The couple already owned the barge, which was moored in Southampton. 

They crossed the Channel in June 2006 and began exploring France to hunt for their ideal home.

By November, they had found and purchased an Alpine apartment – living in the Alps had long been Jane’s dream – but they kept hold of the barge, mooring it on the nearby canal.

John, 52, and Jane spent four happy years in their property, but over time it lost its appeal.

“John works part-time so can be off work for two-week stretches. 

“The apartment did not need any work, so when we weren’t skiing or snowboarding, he felt really bored,” says Jane.

Back on the barge with baby

“In the end, we sold the apartment in 2010, shortly after our daughter Sophie was born, and returned to the barge full-time to explore our options.”

Despite the fact the barge had plenty of room for three, as Sophie grew, the couple began to think about finding a more permanent family home.

“She was nearing school age and I was aware she might not be having enough contact with other children,” says Jane. “And I’ll be honest – I’m a land-lover at heart.”

Renovation project near Toulouse airport

In early 2013, they sat down with a map of France and pinpointed all the places from which John would be able to commute to work – ideally within a two-hour radius of Toulouse airport – and began visiting them all.

Eventually they came to Capestang, Hérault, a lively town in a great location, and found a partially renovated house with plenty of work for John to be getting on with.

“The town had a similar population and size to the one we had lived in in the Alps – busy and vibrant, with all the facilities,” says Jane.

The house was 100m² in total, with three bedrooms and open-plan living space. 

There was also a terrace and balcony, as well as 200m² of barn.

Since moving, they have finished renovating the house and John has also created an apartment in the barn for guests.

Plenty going on while John is away

The family feel settled in their home and Sophie is thriving at the local school. 

“As an only child, she needs friends around and she has connected with some lovely children,” says Jane.

“So I think we will be here at least until she leaves for university.”

For Jane, life in their Capestang house beats living on the barge, especially with John away for work for two weeks at a time.

“I felt a bit isolated on the boat sometimes, as I was often in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “Here there is plenty going on.”

Mortgage broker helped with UK income

So how did the pair find the moving process? “We have been lucky – we always had quite smooth transactions,” says Jane.

“We needed a mortgage for this house, which was a bit tricky as John’s income is from the UK. In the end, we used a mortgage broker, who got us a good deal.   

“Then, in 2015, we finally parted ways with the barge and used that money to clear the mortgage.”

Despite staying put for the time being, the couple took out another mortgage to invest in a small rental apartment in Capestang.

“We started the process in January 2020 but it only went through in the May,” says Jane. 

“We had planned to let it as a gîte but, due to Covid, we decided to rent it long-term instead for now. It is not ideal, but the income covers the mortgage payments.”

‘Glad we moved to France in a barge’

While the family have now put down roots in Capestang, with Jane involved in organising the Christmas fair and local charity work, they have not entirely let go of nomadic life. 

“We bought a little sailing boat and a campervan in 2016 with proceeds from the barge,” says Jane.

“The boat is a ‘Mirror dinghy’, promoted by the Mirror newspaper in the 1970s and originally sold in a kit. We have already travelled far and wide in the camper.

“I am glad we decided to start life in France with our barge adventure – being able to live on it gave us time to think, plan and make sure we made the right decision for our circumstances at the time. 

“It also took pressure off the moving process, as we knew we would never be without somewhere to lay our heads.”

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