WE ASKED readers living in France to tell us what they like most about their home – here Pauline Machin talks about the house she and husband Ron bought in Mayenne
It started with a small child and an old man. “Tell me again Gramp the story of the pink granite farmhouse and a pretty young lady called Irène.”
My grandfather was a dispatch rider on the Somme and was posted missing in action after being blown off his bike.
He was sheltered by a French family behind enemy lines and he fell in love in the few weeks he was with them. Irène told him every detail of the pink granite farm courtyard, the kitchen, its range, the pewter jugs and brass candlesticks.
When Ron and I were looking for a house we came to Le Fresnay in Mayenne and found a pink granite farm courtyard and barn just as told in my grandfather’s stories.
It has the same feel: the old barn was the original house; the hearth and the chimney space, the low walls of the first thatch – it all fitted.
So began our renovation of 300-year-old Fresnay Grange with Ron and our son Tom doing most of the work – to the delight of our neighbours – restoring some of the detail plucked from those old stories. The mantle with candles and jugs via vide greniers, the stairs of local oak and the hearth stones relaid.
We have owned it for 10 years and spend about half the year here where we run an art holiday business.
We say the house has a spirit, we call him Pierre and see him as an old farmer. There is no ghost, it has the spirit in its stones, the privilege of rediscovering, reinhabiting those stories from long ago.
It is also a homage to the old man’s stories; he never forgot that French family and later named his daughter, Irène, after the girl he had met.
That daughter unknowingly named me Pauline, an old French name, which tickled my grandfather!
My grandfather cannot tell me the stories now, but as I look across the farmyard, history lives and I smile.
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