As the tyres of our rented car crunched up the pot-holed track I took one look and gasped in horror. I hadn’t expected to fall in love at first sight but the tumbledown farmhouse ahead of us was a bit of a shock. The place looked more like Alcatraz, California’s infamous jail, than the blurred black and white photograph on the estate agent’s particulars. It had an intimidating wire fence, a trio of satellite dishes stuck wonkily to the front and a barn with no roof tacked on the side. Most daunting of all, a scary-looking Alsatian prowled the perimeter, making me want to turn and head straight back down the track.
At the top of the drive we braked beside a pair of massive green wooden gates (above) and got out of the car. Glancing up at the side of the house, I groaned inwardly again. Ancient battered shutters dangled off their hinges at the first-floor windows and a maze of electrical wiring ran across the wall like strands of spaghetti. The garden was full of weeds and for some reason a couple of rusting car doors had been propped against the fence.
Suddenly I became aware of several pairs of eyes scrutinising me carefully. It was clear the owners were trying to gauge my reaction. But even if my French had been fluent, and it certainly wasn’t, I couldn’t have found the words to express my dismay. The long and the short of it was that the place was a wreck.
I’d first begun thinking about buying a bolt-hole in France just a few months after my mother died. The following year, still grieving and muddling through the days, I decided it was time I did something bold and life-changing. My mother had left me some money and, drawn by the idea of living by the sea, I hit on the idea of buying a two-up two-down in St Ives. We’d had a few family holidays there and I loved the thought of my children learning to surf while I wandered around the Tate St Ives gallery and lunched at the Porthminster Cafe. My husband wasn’t at all impressed. “Why don’t you do something more adventurous?” he said. “Like buy a bolt-hole in France?”
So that’s what I did... and five years on, after a lot of hard work by our fantastic building team, I'm so glad.
PS: “Why’s your blog called House With No Name?” the novelist Anita Burgh asked me at a writers' lunch in Oxford today. Good question - so for the benefit of new readers here’s why. When I first heard about the house I immediately asked what it was called, thinking that if it had a pretty name like La Villa Les Lavandes or La Maison des Roses it would be a sign I should buy it. Totally ridiculous I know, especially when I learned that the house wasn’t called anything at all. “So how does the postman know where to deliver the mail?” I asked. The estate agent shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said. “He just does.”