Lost in France – Brexit Driven Meanderings

Despite having an incredibly flexible lifestyle at the moment, for which we are very grateful, I have to confess that we’re not always great at dealing with change. Sometimes, in fact, we go to such lengths to avoid it or distract ourselves from it that we end up making decisions out of panic which aren’t necessarily our highest choice. One poor choice leads to another, and another, and before we know it we look back and think “why have we just spent a week/month/months doing that? Why didn’t we just…..”, which is a little bit how the previous couple of months in France have felt. Here’s what we’ve been up to.


Having left Switzerland somewhat reluctantly, I decided to try and lift our mood by planning an exciting Autumn in the French Pyrenees. Way back in 2014, during our very first year on the road, we’d had an unexpectedly great October and early November tackling some amazing cycle climbs such as the Col du Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden and Col d’Aspin to name just a few. With a pleasant weather forecast for those same areas for the first weeks of October, I resolved that we should try and do the same again, partly because we loved it and partly just to remind ourselves that Switzerland wasn’t the only place with lovely mountains.

Unfortunately, in my impatience to get started, I then decided the best thing to do was hop on the motorway and plough down to the Pyrenees in one big drive – 8 hours in one day in fact. 7 ½ hours of driving and traffic jams later and Esther was being travel sick in a layby, three of the dogs had a bad tummy and we were still several hours short of the mountains. So far so good.

We spent a couple of days recovering from the drive, initially heading to a spot we’d visited in 2014 called Pre-l’Hospitalet-les-Andorre close to the French-Andorran border. A couple of lovely bike rides and hikes later and we were starting to feel a little more human. Sadly, however, the forecast lovely weather never quite arrived. It was usually warm around midday, but either side of that and at night especially it was cold and often drizzly.

Heading back down into the valley, we then enjoyed a quite week in the spa town of Ax-les-Thermes. The weather remained quite cool, making the couple of cycle climbs we tried quite challenging but no less lovely for it, and we also found a wonderful riverside walk for the gang. Watching autumn arrive like a tidal wave was incredible. It was as though the leaves changed colour overnight and watching the team charge through the woods was so much fun. We even treated ourselves to a visit to the town’s famous spa. Now, I’ve never sat in a steam room that smelt of rotten eggs before, due to the sulphur from the thermal waters, and, to be honest, I found it difficult to enjoy. The rest of the place was very nice though.

Evidently, however, we were still not feeling settled as evidenced by the fact we then got drawn into the ongoing Brexit saga. Listening to information from some retired friends who are trying to settle in Spain, in addition to the handful of tumultuous media reports we’d noticed (since we don’t look at the news often), we suddenly began to worry about what might happen to us next March when I would suddenly stop being an EU citizen.

Since we are so grateful for and appreciate the freedom to move around that we have enjoyed these past four years or so, always respecting local legislation and ensuring we have private health insurance rather than relying on EHIC, I confess we hadn’t given much thought to how that might change post-Brexit. The whole situation always seemed such a mess anyway, we thought, that we’d be better off waiting to see what actually happened and then respond accordingly. If the worst-case scenario was returning to the UK for a while, it was hardly the end of the world we had thought.

But then, this October, we started to get caught up in the mania. I joined various Brexit-related expat groups where thousands of members are scrambling to get residency permits in France, Spain or wherever they have made their lives, and I began reading the legislation. ‘Waiting to see’, our previous plan, all of a sudden, seemed naïve. If we really wanted to retain our freedom to move, shouldn’t we be settling in France, getting a residence permit and moving our administrative affairs outside of the UK for good before Brexit?

Looking for houses and house viewings across the south of France followed, driving our home from one place to the next as we sought out landlords happy to accept us and our furry family. Reassuringly, there are quite a lot of landlords in France who don’t mind dogs at all, even five of them. We even got to the stage of provisionally agreeing a move-in date, checking energy tariffs and insurances rates with one landlord before we got cold feet. Why were we rushing to recreate the life we’d left behind in the UK in France based on uncertain future circumstances and legislation which may or may not even apply in the future? Sure, if we were already living and working in France then getting our affairs in order would make sense, but what we really wanted was to keep moving. Plus, Esther has a Dutch passport so we will always be able to settle in Europe in the future one way or another. What had been so wrong with “waiting to see” after all?

In hindsight, we could see that we had been panicking, motivated by fear, rather than being pulled by any inspiration to settle. We also realised that we still hadn’t taken any time to slow down and reflect after a busy summer, the long drive from Switzerland and several other health and admin’ issues that had cropped up recently. Instead, we had locked onto a new issue and started to run with it, possessed mostly by fear and anxiety that we might ‘get it wrong’. Fortunately, we eventually saw that this wasn’t the state of mind we should be making important decisions from and, while we regret that we wasted so much time and energy worry about the future rather than just putting that energy into our creativity and living in the moment, it has become a good opportunity to practice a principle that is dear to us, that ultimately there no mistakes, only opportunities to learn from. In this case we learned, among other things, that there are better ways to approach life-changing decisions, that we need to continue focusing on our communication to avoid both trying to please each other without understanding what the other wnats, and that our indecision does have a negative impact on others.

All of which is a very brief and necessarily un-detailed description of where the month of October vanished to. We spent so many hours discussing what we should do, changing our mind and then changing it back, that I can hardly remember the order of things. We still did our best to exercise most days and eat well, and always make sure the dogs had their needs met, but it was a bit of a whirlwind. Somewhere along the way we found ourselves back in the Department of the Gers where we have spent so many happy times over the past two years.

After a lovely but brief visit with our friend Gordon, close to the town of Nerac, we resolved that we were simply going to head down to Spain after all and see what happened over winter. We packed the motorhome, left Gordon’s garden and headed off, planning just a single, brief pause to say hello to some other new friends who also have a house and gite in the area. Two days later and not only were we still in France, we had moved into their gite with an open invitation to stay as long as we liked.

If there’s one thing that’s undeniable, we have met some fantastic and wonderfully kind and generous people on our travels. In this case, Kathy and Graham’s attitude that the place would only be sat empty over winter and so it only made sense we live there, if we wanted to, was very open-hearted. We ended up spending three more weeks there, in a converted barn with a mezzonine floor and an enclosed garden surrounded only by open fields and forest tracks, with the nearest house several hundred metres away and the next-nearest a couple of kilometres. The dogs, needless to say, loved it and so did we.

It was also nice to have a taste of what settling in France would be like, and whilst we enjoyed and made the most of the opportunity to explore a new area and a new routine, we came to feel that this particular gite was a little isolated for us as well. That if we do settle down one day, then because it’s just the two of us most of the time, that access to other human contact is important. When we are touring in the motorhome we do get those interactions in intermittent doses and they are usually very lovely.

It also reminded us just how much we enjoy our motorhome travels. It’s so easy, day-to-day, to focus on the handful of challenges of motorhome life throws up and forget just how wonderful it is to move around, have new experiences and always be able to move on when the mood arises. In short, we remembered that right now we don’t have to choose and, until we do, we’d prefer to enjoy both. i.e. enjoy a house when we’re in a house, and enjoy the motorhome when we’re in a motorhome. It sounds so obvious, because it is, but it seems to be in our nature to forget sometimes.

Writing this now we are very slowly moving east across France. In the past we’ve always picked a place and gone there quickly, making several days of long driving. This time, in contrast, we are determined to move slowly for as long as the weather permits and focus instead on our routine within each day: sleeping well, eating well and retaining our self-care routines. It’s a lesson we’ve been reminded of time and again, but after three weeks in the gite to recuperate, we’re feeling very committed to looking after ourselves day to day rather than focusing and wasting energy on changing our external surroundings in the search for happiness.

















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Adventures In Life, Love, Health & Travel: Lost in France – Brexit Driven Meanderings
Lost in France – Brexit Driven Meanderings
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