As the nights draw in, Erin Choa’s thoughts turn to who she shares her historic home with…
An Indian summer seamlessly merges into a fiery autumn of long shadows and morning mists. Trees begin to turn a spectra of faded russets and dispatch their leaves ahead of winter and I find this turn towards the twilight season of lengthening nights approaching All Hallow’s Eve, prompts one of my most asked questions: are there any ghosts at Château de Bourneau?
It is easy to let the imagination run wild when mists rise above the moat and swirl around the turrets like the perfect opening to a Gothic novel or when howling winds moan and whistle though the chimneys. On those days, a phantom carriage, winding through our forest in the gloaming, would not be too surprising nor would a spectral ‘Dame Blanche’ lamenting in the woods, as many supposedly do in the legends of our region of Vendée.
Ghosts and mysterious beings haunt our local lore and we sit around a roaring fire and let them walk among us with each tale, enjoying the icy thrill of old myths and legends over glasses of wine. But we leave them in the stories and lock them back in the books although a screech in the thick of a moonless midnight certainly shakes the nerves of even the most rational sleeper on their first night in a castle, even if it is only the call of the barn owl that also calls Bourneau home.
The château itself is silent at night. No footsteps trouble our sleep or bangs of slamming doors echo in the dead of night. There aren’t even any creaking sighs of an old building resting from the day to stir the imagination with thoughts of unearthly visits. All is beautifully still all the way down from the darkness of the medieval vaulted cellars to the rafters of the attics and I am not afraid to be alone here or to go into the forgotten bedrooms at night to close a window blown open by a storm.
If there are any ghosts still residing at Bourneau, then they certainly make themselves scarce, letting us work to save their home in peace without any interference. However, whether you believe in ghosts or not, it’s hard not to feel the impact of past generations of people passing through our doors over the centuries. They have somehow left their imprint in these walls, their stories and how they lived here seeping into the fabric of our home. We wonder about the parties they hosted, the guests they invited and the brides who swept down the marble staircase, all contributing to the light and happy atmosphere here. We keep the past alive by honouring the château ancestors’ stories and building on and restoring what they began in order to ensure that Château de Bourneau continues well into the future.
It is a lot of work but also a privilege to follow in their footsteps and to add new memories to the old. However, if one day a team of phantom servants, armed with mops, brushes and gardening tools, decides to present themselves, we certainly wouldn’t complain – a little help at the château wouldn’t go amiss!
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London-born hospital doctor Erin Choa is the 6th châtelaine of Château de Bourneau, where she lives with her French fiancé Jean-Baptiste and bossy cat HRH Oscar. Read her regular column in French Property News magazine and follow her as she blogs about their château-life on Instagram @theintrepidchatelaine