A strange impression this week of being submerged, as the April skies have opened unpredictably and showered us with what seems like half a year’s long awaited rain in under three weeks.
Here I sit at Salavert, in our clients the Baulkwills’ holiday home near Beaumont-du-Périgord, as Lou struggles on outdoors cutting the joints on rafters and joists for the barn roof in between heavy, wind-flung showers. The feeling of being underwater is only enhanced by the sound of the fridge, which booms and echoes like some deep sea vessel as the dishwater grey skies press in at every window.
Our task of putting up the rafters and joists has been so disrupted by relentless wind and rain that we have decided to return to The Barn and come back next week.
After a surprise cold snap in February (-15C° at night for 10 days), I am beginning to wonder whether this idea of the weather being better in South West France is more fiction than fact. Either that or we are hexed with bad weather. The latter explanation is probably closer to the truth (albeit due to cold fronts rather than dark arts), which at least means we should not see too many repeats.
It has hardly rained for a whole year since we have been in Dordogne, so the parched soil was desperately crying out for a good soaking. From our point of view though, it would have been fantastic if it could have rained throughout March instead of April.
As the country focused on the results of the first round of presidential elections on Sunday evening (Sarkozy, the conservative UMP candidate came a tight second to Hollande, for the Parti Socialiste), we trundled through narrow, meandering lanes in our old army ambulance to meet an English couple who want to convert a remote barn and happen to be staying nearby this week.
While we admire their old ‘cruck’ barn in an isolated hamlet, it feels like we could not be further from the epicentre of national politics. At this moment I am more occupied with wondering how a ‘cruck’ happened to be built in Périgord as they are very unusual here, than with who will occupy the Élysée (the presidential palace) in May.
The winding lanes in the ‘Beaumontois’ region (the area around Beaumont-du-Périgord) are hilly, wooded and now blossoming in all the welcome humidity. The rain may be a curse to a timber framer on site but it is a very welcome balm to nature and has brought out its abundance in luscious layers of rich green peppered with bright wildflowers.
As we followed the twists and turns of the map past tiny hillside hamlets and low-lying marshes, we happened upon Montferrand. Nothing on our map suggests it might be special but it has to be one of the most stunning ‘Périgourdin’ villages. Stacked on a steep incline in a woody valley, its rose-tinted golden limestone buildings fall over one another in their haste to charm the unsuspecting traveller, each one more gorgeous than the next.
The flat-tiled roofs are much steeper here than in northern Dordogne where we live and the traditional ‘outeaux’ (air vents) are much in evidence. Some roofs around here are tiled with ‘lauzes’ made from limestone slates, much like the traditional stone tiles in the Cotswolds.
Bizarrely, as we are further north, the more Mediterranean Roman or ‘canal’ tiles and shallower roofs are traditional where we live. This seems counter-intuitive as there are signs that we are closer to the Mediterranean region down here, such as the regal White Asphodel flowers that line the roadsides around Salavert, which I have never seen before in Périgord Vert.
It turns out that the choice of material was simply a matter of the proximity of natural resources, with the limestone tiles coming from quarries around Sarlat and slate from Terrasson. With its steep stone-tiled roofs, limestone villages and green valleys, the Beaumont region has more than a few similarities with the countryside around Bristol and Bath. And despite its Mediterranean leanings, this week the weather feels remarkably familiar too.
As Lou says, the itinerant work of a timber framer can mean that you find hidden places you would never otherwise have discovered, in the Cotswolds as much as in Dordogne. The ‘Beaumontois’ is certainly a gem to unearth and although it is one of Dordogne’s celebrated jewels, its green valleys reveal many hidden facets. I just hope that when we return next week we will find it has emerged from under water like a sea pebble that finds its true colour in the sunshine…