I think it was about 7 years ago that we bought a house in southern France. 3 houses actually. The primary house on the village square in an ancient fortified town going back almost a thousand years, was build in about 1760.
Right behind that used to be an alley where people would bring their horses into a barn. But in the ensuing years, the alley got blocked off and claimed by each respective house along the square creating a very small courtyard for each house.
That ‘barn’ was a three story structure built in the 14th century. From the main house a ‘bridge’ was build to connect it to the first story of the barn. Thus we called that building, ‘The Bridge House’ and it was the first part we renovated. It hadn’t been occupied for decades, if not 100 years. We lived there whilst renovating the main house on the square. It’s now our primary AirBnB house.
Beyond the Bridge House was an old ruin. No roof. Only 3 storey-high stone walls with empty windows. We later bought that and connect the Bridge House to it by punching through the wall of the Bridge House to the new property. And we made the ‘ruin’ into a private garden terrace.
To do all this we enrolled in the Workaway Program (www.workaway.info) as hosts. It’s a very successful international program where people who want to travel the world can enrol and post their own profile as to the sort of thing they are looking for (gardening, construction, eco projects, you-name-it). Likewise hosts posts profiles listing what they are looking for.
We’ve had over 50 workaways over the past 5 or 6 years and without them we never could have renovated this house by ourselves. They’re also just great fun to have around. They become part of the family.
We’re pretty highly rated as hosts because we treat them well. Good food, wine, beer, local outings and all that sort of thing in exchange for 25 hours of labour.
Dominic Harley was one of the early workaways.
It was his first.
He had earlier walked across France at the young age of 20 something. With him he carried a large leather-strapped tome into which he scrawled long-hand notes of his adventures, intending one day to write a book. His plan was to go off to somewhere in France on the Workaway program, and in his off-time he’d write that book.
So he came to us.
Indeed, he’d sit on the terrace after hours writing away, but alas, being a gregarious fellow, found much merriment in the village and made many friends. Long nights at the bar and other things tended to drag out the book writing. But he slugged on, albeit slowly.
One of his distractions was an ancient piano forte in our living room. He must have played the same song a thousand times.
Then there was the wheelbarrow race in a local hamlet the boasts itself as the international centre for wheelbarrow races.
These things and more take time.
He stayed many months, and I think a year or so later came back again to work on the book some more.
Eventually it was done.
And then my wife Laury sat down with him for weeks more to edit it.
Dom, as we call him, is an interesting mix of modern and ancient. He tended to invent words (like Shakespeare did) and occasionally to use the wrong word when it meant something else.
So he and Laury had to battle it out for some time until she considered (and he begrudgingly agreed) it was ready to publish.
Meanwhile he did another walk through Normandy France, this time to visit all the WWII sites–another book in the making to be sure.
Before he left I advised him to do a video diary. Long ago I had seen a documentary with Ewan McGregor called ‘The Long Way Around’, about a motorcycle journey with a pal of his around the world. Each day ended with a video log of the day and it was quite fascinating.
I think I gave Dom a few tips on how to go about it, and I’ll be damned, he did it and did it well. He did dozens of videos, and honestly I only had the time to watch a few of them, but boy were they good. Absolutely anyone would enjoy them.
So if you’re interested in travel and history and would like an insight into what it’s like to strike off into a foreign land on foot with nothing but a backpack (and GoPro!), I assure you that you would enjoy Dom’s adventures immensely. He’s quite the story teller, artist and adventurer.
He’s already ‘famous’ here in Chalabre. Every one knows Dominic. He’s been back here several times and we always look forward to it.
The book is done. It’s published.
You can find it here: Fair Stood the Wind for France
And for a good take on excellent video blogging, I highly recommend you subscribe to his YouTube channel here.
‘By the way his pen name , ‘de Bonhomie’ is from French, ‘de bon homie’, (the good man). I’ll attest to that.
This, I just discovered was one of his early videos describing the beginning of the journey of writing a book featuring, in good part, our house and village in southern France…