Monday, 14 February 2011

If you go down to the woods today....

I always thought I was a true ‘townie’ but my current property search is leading me astray. I have been asked to find a family home in the country with plenty of land, views and a pool, and some of the properties I have found have made me have a bit of a rethink. I can now imagine flinging open the shutters of my stone mas and taking my cup of coffee down to the pool where I can look down the garden, to the fruit trees in the orchard, and admire the view of the Pyrenees in the distance. I was almost thinking about chickens and perhaps a donkey until a viewing last week reminded me that country living is not always as idyllic as you might think.

The owner showing me around was accompanied by a very enthusiastic and bouncy dog who, having given me a very inappropriate greeting (the dog not the owner!) insisted on following us around and getting in the way to such an extent that we finished the house in 10 minutes and then proceeded into the garden. The garden was fabulous – about an acre of flat land with terraces near the house, a swimming pool in the middle, and then grass and trees dipping down to a river just beyond the fence. On the other side of the river was woodland which also belonged to the property. I could just picture my clients and their children paddling in the river and strolling through their woodland but there is a price to pay for everything: the first thing to consider is that if you ‘own’ part of a river it is your responsibility to keep it clear of debris, the second is that woodland generally needs annual ‘clearing’ of undergrowth and if it is left to run totally wild the Commune can fine you. I’m not suggesting these are reasons not to buy a property but are just worth bearing in mind if, like me, your idea of outdoor life is lying on a sun-lounger rather than intensive manual labour!

The dog was still galloping around and coming back for surprise rugby tackles as the owner laughed at how ‘playful’ Bob was being and then, as an aside, mentioned that they were lucky to have him as he kept the ‘Wild Pigs’ from the garden. Have my clients got a dog? – No. End of viewing. Wild pigs (or Sangliers) are very common here in the Pyrenees-Orientales and although they prefer to live in densely wooded areas, are not averse to making nocturnal visits to neighbouring gardens where they can do a lot of damage through digging and scratching young trees. Also, where there are Sangliers there will be hunters - during the season of ‘La Chasse’ you will come across groups of men with guns up to 3 times a week, and whether you put up signs on your land saying ‘no hunting’ (or even have your land designated as ‘non-hunting’ land), Sangliers cannot read and hunters are not renowned for checking out local bye-laws!

Wildlife apart ‘though, I really am beginning to see the merits of living in the country – any excuse to buy a pair of Cath Kidston wellies!

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