Thirty years ago, when I first came to live in the Dordogne in 1993, we bought a half-renovated barn in a farming hamlet near Domme in the Périgord Noir. Périgord Noir is magical with its fairytale castles, golden-stoned buildings, medieval towns and probably the most beautiful stretch of the river Dordogne. It is a land steeped in history, tradition, Foie gras, Confit de canard and walnuts.

La Roque Gageac

A traditional way of life

The hamlet where I lived in the Dordogne in 1993 was very rural, to say the least. Tucked away between forests, open fields and winding country lanes, it consisted of our property, a Chambre d’hôtes, a holiday home, a dairy farm and a small holding.

The main farm was mostly dairy and it was all part of a normal day to see a herd of cows walk past the window as they were moved from one field to another. The farmer also grew maize and tobacco leaves. The small holding did a little bit of everything from feeding geese for Foie Gras in the winter to raising ducklings in the summer. They also grew walnuts and tobacco and kept chickens, goats and a few pigs for themselves to make ends meet.

It goes without saying that the summers in the Dordogne in 1993 were fantastic. How could it not be with a pool, BBQ, friends, family, days out to visit beautiful sites and endless fêtes? But as the days grew shorter and it was time to light the log fire, for me, life in the hamlet became even more magical. It was then when we had to resort back to speaking totally in French and I felt that I really got to know my neighbours and the French rural way of life.

A mighty pig

One cold, Sunday morning in November, just as it was getting light, I heard loud voices at the Famille David’s farm on the other side of the tiny lane that cut through the middle of the hamlet. Thinking it unusual, I opened the shutters to check all was OK and through the early morning winter mist I could just about see what all the commotion was about.

Hanging upside down from a metal frame in the middle of the courtyard was their big, fat, prize pig departed from this world for good. As steam bellowed out of its emptied carcass, chickens clucked and fussed under foot and goats made themselves heard from inside the barn as if wanting to get a look in on the action. Banished by Madame David, Douleur the farm dog, sat obediently on the steps of the farmhouse looking on.

Beside the mighty pig, a makeshift table had been erected with tools laid out ready for the surgery that was to come. Dressed in her normal woolly tights and cardigan with a flowered overall, Madame David and her daughter, Brigitte, were busying themselves with buckets of hot water ordered by the mobile pig slaughterer. A farmhand rushed around after them sweeping and hosing down the courtyard.

Treasured memories

For my lovely neighbours, I could appreciate that this was an important event in their year. They had been fattening up the pig all year in order to eat it throughout the winter. It was a kind of celebratory day for them. By midday the mist had lifted, all was done and cleared away and their freezer was full of pork. When I heard a knock on the door a few minutes after midday, it was Madame David bearing porky gifts.

Thirty years ago! I have many treasured memories of life in the Dordogne in 1993. Living in that small hamlet in deepest Périgord, I felt as though I had been transported back in time. The way of life was simple, natural, rural. It was somewhere where rural traditions are respected and celebrated. And never have I felt as close to the seasons as I did when I lived there. The people were hard-working but always had time to stop for a chat. They became solid friends very quickly. They were happy, smiley and content and laughed at how many times we fly back to England, “like taking the bus!” they would joke. I felt privileged to be sharing their rural way of life. A life that, fortunately, had been preserved and that was in no hurry to change.

 

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