A LO­CAL’S VIEW

In 2003 Lynn and Dun­can Bir­tles moved from Kent to a small vil­lage in Seine-Mar­itime where they run a B&B in a for­mer wa­ter­mill. Lynn gives the low-down on the depart­ment she and her hus­band call home

Living France - - CONTENTS -

See Seine-Mar­itime through the eyes of a cou­ple who have lived there since 2003

What were you do­ing be­fore you moved to France and what prompted you to make the move?

We lived near Ton­bridge in Kent. Dun­can was a ve­hi­cle in­spec­tor and I worked for the Univer­sity of Kent as an ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. While work­ing for the univer­sity, I spent five years study­ing part-time for a de­gree in French. After I grad­u­ated I did some teach­ing for the adult ed­u­ca­tion ser­vice and the univer­sity.

What at­tracted you to Seine-Mar­itime – did you know the area well?

In 1984 the univer­sity or­gan­ised a trip to visit three gar­dens in Up­per Nor­mandy (Giverny, Bois des Moutiers and Le Vas­terival) and this was my first in­tro­duc­tion to this beau­ti­ful area and its won­der­ful gar­dens.

Be­ing Fran­cophiles, we had con­sid­ered the idea of a hol­i­day home in France and started look­ing around. Mean­while, I was asked by a col­league to as­sist her with a day school on Nor­mandy. Need­ing ma­te­rial and pho­tos to il­lus­trate my lec­tures, we came to Nor­mandy and dis­cov­ered more. We loved the peace­ful green coun­try­side and rolling hills. It also had the ad­van­tage of be­ing easy to reach for week­ends and short stays. We there­fore de­cided to fo­cus our search on this area.

What at­tracted you to the wa­ter­mill?

I have al­ways had a hanker­ing to live near wa­ter, be it the sea, a lake or a river, and it was thus that we found our wa­ter­mill, in the small vil­lage of Ste-Beuve-en-Rivière. Ini­tially we went to view it out of cu­rios­ity, rather than with a se­ri­ous in­tent, as it seemed too large for a hol­i­day home. But once here, we rapidly fell in love with the mill and its idyl­lic lo­ca­tion; and also saw its enor­mous po­ten­tial.

Our favourite TV pro­gramme at the time was No Go­ing Back. We would see peo­ple with few French skills but big dreams mak­ing a suc­cess of their lives abroad and we thought that with our com­bined skills – my French and ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, plus Dun­can’s mar­vel­lously prac­ti­cal en­gi­neer­ing skills – we could do it too! So we took a deep breath, gave up our jobs, home, left fam­ily and our life in Kent to start a new ven­ture – with some trep­i­da­tion.

We found the mill in Au­gust 2003 and moved in the fol­low­ing Novem­ber.

Did the wa­ter­mill need much renovation work?

For­tu­nately most of the work was cos­metic and man­age­able, and by the time we opened up for busi­ness in April 2004, we had in­stalled shower rooms and re­dec­o­rated the bed­rooms and main liv­ing area. Grad­u­ally over the years we have re­placed a chicken barn with a cov­ered area re­sem­bling a lavoir for out­door meals, built on a con­ser­va­tory for break­fasts, and cre­ated an of­fice and laun­dry room from a garage. Dun­can is never hap­pier than when he has a pro­ject on the go, and our mill has pro­vided him with far more op­por­tu­ni­ties than we could ever have found in the UK. Apart from the house, we have a large veg­etable gar­den, from which we sup­ply the sal­ads, fruit and veg­eta­bles for ta­ble d’hôte meals; an ap­ple or­chard which en­ables us to make cider and cal­va­dos; a wood­land bor­dered by the river, full of snow­drops in win­ter and wild straw­ber­ries in sum­mer.

Where do your guests come from?

Many of our clients have be­come reg­u­lar vis­i­tors and good friends that we look for­ward to see­ing ev­ery year, and some sev­eral times a year. They come from ev­ery­where: the UK, France, Ger­many, Hol­land, Bel­gium, US, Aus­tralia and New Zealand, to men­tion a few.

What is it like through­out the sea­sons?

The sea­sons are sim­i­lar to those in the south of Eng­land, but with the va­garies of the cli­mate nowa­days, we are not at all sure what a ‘typ­i­cal’ win­ter or sum­mer is here. Some win­ters have been mild, some wet, some cold with snow, some windy. Sum­mers too vary from year to year. The lo­cals claim that you can get all four sea­sons in one day...

What do you most en­joy about liv­ing in Seine-Mar­itime?

What we par­tic­u­larly like about life here is the tran­quil­lity, the free­dom from the stress of try­ing to get about on con­gested roads, the plea­sure of driv­ing on empty roads through lovely coun­try­side, the many beau­ti­ful gar­dens, châteaux and vil­lages to visit, and the coast with its cliffs and at­trac­tive ports.

Do you have a favourite mar­ket in the lo­cal area?

There are many – in fact, one some­where most days. Our near­est is on a Satur­day morn­ing in Neufchâ­tel-en-Bray. There is also a very good all-day mar­ket in Dieppe, about 40 min­utes’ drive from here.

Can you rec­om­mend a good lo­cal restau­rant(s)?

There are many restau­rants in the area and we rec­om­mend Les Airelles, a ho­tel in Neufchâ­tel, and the Lion d’Or at Lon­dinières. Also Le 235 in Forges-lesEaux. For a spe­cial treat there is the Les Voiles d’Or in Dieppe which has a Miche­lin star for its seafood.

What is your favourite place to visit?

Our favourite places to visit are Varengeville with the Bois des Moutiers and a won­der­ful linen shop called Lin et l’autre. The Hô­tel de la Ter­rasse is a good place to eat and has a view of the sea.

We also like Veules-les-Roses which boasts the short­est river in France at 1.1km. It has a de­light­ful walk from the springs to the sea. In June there is a rose fes­ti­val which is worth a visit.

Étre­tat with its ‘ele­phant trunk’ cliff, and Rouen are not far ei­ther.

Apart from Les Moutiers, our favourite gar­dens are Jardin Aga­pan­the and Le Jardin des Sculp­tures at Château de Bois-Guil­bert.

Did any­thing sur­prise you about liv­ing here?

The only as­pect that did sur­prise us here was the dis­cov­ery of just how many places there are to visit and en­joy.

Have you found it easy to get in­volved in lo­cal clubs or as­so­ci­a­tions?

When we first came, we started a ‘Brits’ night’ once a week. This en­abled us to meet many Brits who lived here, or had hol­i­day houses. These con­tacts pro­vided Dun­can with a lot of work while we were get­ting our busi­ness off the ground, and a lot of friends in a sup­port­ive net­work.

We also joined Gîtes de France and they and the other mem­bers were a great source of ad­vice and help. We have been on sev­eral well-or­gan­ised ex­cur­sions to other parts of France with them.

I be­long to a walk­ing group of mixed French and Bri­tish lo­cals that meets once a week. We take it in turns to host the af­ter­noon, pro­vid­ing tea, cakes and Rum­mikub. I nick­named it ‘the cake walk­ers’ group’, as we of­ten spend more time en­joy­ing de­li­cious home-made cakes than walk­ing!

For walk­ers, there are many marked trails which can go straight along the Av­enue Verte (a for­mer rail­way line) that runs from Dieppe to Paris; plus many marked cir­cuits through for­est and coun­try­side. The Av­enue Verte is very pop­u­lar with cy­clists.

There is an ac­tive so­cial com­mit­tee in the vil­lage and we try to attend as many events as busi­ness will al­low. Three times a year we attend a vil­lage gath­er­ing at the church war me­mo­rial to re­mem­ber those who gave their lives in the two world wars. moulin-epinay.com

Above: The beach at Varengeville

Top: Lynn and Dun­can Bir­tles moved to SeineMar­itime in 2003 and run Le Moulin de l’Epinay Bot­tom: Un­usual sculp­tures at Les Jardins d’Étre­tat

Left: Lynn and Dun­can’s veg­etable gar­den has a che­quer­board herb gar­den

View of Étre­tat from the Jardins

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