Faith Warn meets a couple who have kept an eye on history while renovating a ruin in order to keep the past alive
When I look at the original photos of Gigoutoux, I really wonder why we bought it,” muses Karin Pollard. “Back in 1989, the building hadn’t been lived in for over 60 years and was in complete ruins. Everyone said we were mad to attempt to restore it.”
Karin and her husband Edwin had been looking at six to eight houses a day in Lot-et-Garonne when they finally arrived at the disused farmhouse and barn with four acres of land. They sat in warm February sunshine in a field by the house, had a picnic of bread and cheese, soaked up the rural views, the sense of space and peace, and decided they had found the place in France that was destined to be their holiday home.
“We were both very keen to buy in France, which I had visited as a child,” explains Karin. “At that time people knew Dordogne, but this area was quite undiscovered. It had wonderful stretches of countryside and a very traditional French feel – it still has. Farms had become too small for owners to run profitably, so they were building new houses and selling off the old ones. It wasn’t only the setting and privacy of this farmhouse and barn with its land that attracted us. It is also close to the village of Cuzorn with its bar, restaurant and shop, near to Fumel for banks and supermarkets and just 10 minutes from the Lot river and the wine-producing area.”
Once the purchase was completed, it was time to assess just what Karin and Edwin had become the proud owners of. There was no water on site and what later became the kitchen was then a barn open to the sky.
The long, narrow stone farmhouse consisted of just two rooms with earth floors and a loft, and its front wall was leaning outward by about eight inches.
The couple were advised to demolish the property and start again. However, Edwin is very keen on history and was aware that the former farm stood in an area steeped in history, so he and Karin were determined to preserve and authentically restore the farmhouse in its original setting.
A team of builders – a combination of French and British – was recommended and set to work, completing projects as the Pollards’ funds permitted.
“We only visited twice a year,” remembers Karin, “but the builders were all totally trustworthy and seemed to understand exactly what we wanted, even though we didn’t really know what we were doing to start with!”
With vision and a creative approach, they decided to retain the original fireplace in the farmhouse and create a living area around it. They also chose to leave the hall at its original ceiling height and to install stairs on either side for access to the upper floor, where bedrooms were created.
The integral barn was transformed into a large kitchen-diner and eventually the property became a home with living room, dining room, hall and kitchen downstairs, and three bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs.
After a few years of enjoying Gigoutoux as a holiday retreat, the Pollards were approaching retirement. Karin had been working as the matron at a prep school and Edwin was running an art gallery along with his own building and decorating business.
“We felt that it was time for a change from West Sussex and in 2004 we decided to go for it and relocate to France,” explains Karin. “The house was habitable by then but it still needed more work, and during our first winter we concentrated on making it more comfortable for full-time living.”
The couple have embraced life in the area, making the French language their priority. “We thought our French language skills were reasonable, but soon found communication difficult because of the accent and the local dialect. Actually, we’ve only just stopped taking lessons,” admits Karin, who has joined a number of cultural clubs and associations to get involved in local events and help with the process of integration.
Edwin has been working with building teams, doing jobs such as decorating and adding extensions. He emphasises the importance of registering properly for work and ensuring that you comply with all the legal requirements. “If you don’t, you run the risk of being thrown out of the country,” he warns. He also continues to pursue his interest in history in this ancient region of Aquitaine, with its links to English kings.
“History fascinates me and here you can just turn down a country lane and find an 11th-century church untouched,” he says. “The countryside is incredibly unspoilt and Cahors is ancient and beautiful.”
Located some 40 miles away, Cahors is at the centre of a wine-producing area and the Pollards take great delight in having bought wine from the same local vineyard since 1990. This has been appreciated by their family and friends, who have been to visit regularly.
Like Karin and Edwin, they have also come to love the area and have been enchanted by the peace and space, not to mention the above-ground swimming pool, which overlooks the valley, as well as the stunning views from the farmhouse.
Visitors either drive or fly into Bergerac airport, which is about 45 minutes away, and there is a good local train service from Libos. The Pollards have used the excellent French rail network to meet up with their family in Bruges from time to time, travelling by train via Bordeaux.
It is now the pull of their family – especially the grandchildren – that has prompted Karin and Edwin to make the hard decision to move back to England and put their beloved farmhouse on the market.
As well as the three-bedroom farmhouse and four acres of land, the property also includes a separate stone-built barn, which has a concrete floor and an electricity supply.
At present it is used to store firewood and garden equipment, but there is the opportunity to create further living accommodation here should you find that you need more space, or turn the barn into a self-contained gîte to generate some income.
Given the original condition of the property, it is satisfying for Karin and Edwin to know that the new owner will acquire a beautiful house that is ready to move into, along with potential for a new restoration venture.
They are also heartened to see that members of the younger generation of the old farming families are becoming interested in restoring the traditional properties, so that more will be saved for the future.
Gigoutoux is on the market for €295,000 with French Connections, ID 159434
Tel: 01580 819303