“Bon Courage!” – is a phrase that Yip Ward and Paul Mappley have heard a lot. In English, the closest equivalent would be ‘good luck’, but the French meaning is closer to ‘stick at it’, ‘keep going’.
The couple, who spoke to The Connexion last year, have been busy restoring La Buslière, the hamlet in Normandy they purchased in 2019 for €26,000.
To restore one house is enough work for most people, but the couple have taken on far more than that. The couple, both 49, had been looking for property in the UK but felt priced out of the market, facing prices of £300,000 in their home region of Kent, where they worked as landscape gardeners. A friend offered them the opportunity to purchase a cottage in La Buslière for €12,000. Instead, they purchased the whole hamlet for €26,000.
In addition to restoring the hamlet, running a gite, earning a living as landscape gardeners and learning French, they also feature in the Channel 4 series Help! We Bought a Village.
“If we looked at all the things to do it would feel like too much, so we try to just take things one at a time,” said Mr Ward.
“But most of all we feel very blessed to live in such a beautiful place with such wide-open space.”
The old stone hamlet of La Buslière is surrounded by Normandy’s vast green fields. “Only one car comes here each day and that’s the post lady,” he added. “It is difficult to actually convey the space and tranquillity here, which is amazing.”
Opening the gite
With work on so many fronts, progress has been slow. However, the hamlet is now open to visitors. “We opened the gite in May and it took a few months to get going but August has been really busy,” said Mr Ward. “People have already left us lots of lovely comments and five-star reviews”.
Viewers of Help! We Bought a Village have watched them over two seasons of the show as they carefully put the old stones back in place, fix roofs and cope with an array of potentially overwhelming problems while staying surprisingly calm. Fans from as far afield as Sweden have come to stay at the gite.
Search for materials to buy on shoestring as costs mount
With so many people interested in their project, the couple launched a Go Fund Me page. “We weren’t really comfortable accepting money but it certainly helps,” said Mr Ward.
The couple have so far raised almost a quarter of their €20,000 target.
However the increase in the prices of building materials over the past year means they have had to slow down and adapt.
“We aren’t paid to be on the TV show and both work clearing the land for people around here, mostly other Brits who have seen the programme, but all the money goes straight back into building. We are constantly on the lookout for materials we can buy on a shoestring.
“We’re currently working on the old bread oven building. The converted pig barn is ready and the converted horsebox is already hosting guests,” said Mr Ward.
Pic cap: The converted horsebox is already taking guests via Airbnb
Their guests seem to appreciate their efforts. So far their reviews on Airbnb are all a glowing five stars.
“One French guest was amazed by our gite saying that ‘rarely in France do we find this level of quality’.
“Locals have been very appreciative, too. The farmers around here, who are all friends now, give us all sorts of advice.”
Cottages set for conversion
The hamlet is still far from fully restored, with only a third complete. Later this year the couple will begin work on the first cottage, which will also be used as a gite. They hope to turn the other two cottages into a brocante or thrift shop, while the bread oven building is destined to be a bread oven again.
Much work lies ahead for the couple as they continue to ‘stick at it’, ‘keep going’ and slowly but surely restore their Norman hamlet.