It was a cold evening in March and I was staying with my parents. We were searching for something to watch on TV that would entertain us all and stop Dad continuously hopping between channels. Escape to the Chateau was on Channel Four. None of us had seen it before, but as we watched the chat stopped. Mum's knitting needles paused and I started to search to see whether it was really true that you could buy a château for the same price a four bedroom Victorian town house. It turned out that it was entirely true, and there were hundreds of them for sale, hundreds and hundreds.
I emailed Tim, who was away working in China. We should buy a château in France I said, and sent him the link to the show, in the same way that I sent him Rightmove links to forever houses we could never afford. I expected him to laugh it off and I wasn't really serious anyway. We couldn't move to France it wasn't in the plan.
And I am certainly not a risk taker. I like things set out and stable. At the age of 12 I put in place what I called 'my life plan'. I would work hard at school, do A levels, go to university and get a degree. In my 20s I would build my career, one that would fit around the family I would have after I got married at 28 (I had to wait a year on that one because the proposal was out of my control). I would have my first baby at 30 and my second at 32.
There the plan stopped. What else, my 12 year old brain reasoned, could I possibly want once I had achieved all of that? But I did want something else. We both did. We had good jobs, a lovely house, in a beautiful town, full of great friends, two happy and healthy children and families close by. We were perfectly happy but kept asking what was next? It felt like there should be something else to work towards, something else to achieve in the next ten years other than just paying off our mortgage and then whiling away the time at our desks until we finally got to retire at who knows what age.
We couldn't see a way out until we started searching for châteaux. Tim spent a whole weekend looking but we kept coming back to just one. In the Loire Valley near Le Mans it was an area we knew because Tim's mum used to live there. But I wasn't convinced. The planner in me was struggling with the idea of leaving my settled life and my lovely home. I was terrified about wrenching the children from a school they loved and sending them to one where they couldn't understand a word. I was worried about leaving my family and friends and making such a huge and crazy leap. And I'm still terrified about all of those things.
The more we talked about it though, the more we realised that we needed to more than just talk about it. We asked for the property details, we scoured google maps looking at every inch of the huge amount of land that came with the house and we dreamt about the amazing outdoors lifestyle we could give the boys. We already had a trip to France planned at Easter and we decided a few extra hours in the car were worth it so that we could either forget all about it or really start dreaming.
The closer we got the more my stomach churned. As we turned into the tree lined drive, the sort of drive I'd always dreamt of having, I caught my breath. We stared at each other wide-eyed as we got our first glimpse of the house, unsure just what to make of the beautiful, but run down place in front of us.
We spent the next three hours exploring room after room, outbuilding after outbuilding, the woods, the lake, the meadow, the farm yard and the gardens full of trees. The boys ran around like wild things, then retreated to the car, slightly overwhelmed. It was so much to take in and so surreal, we'd spent so long studying the few pictures we had of the house that it almost felt as if we were walking around inside them.
There was silence for a first half an hour of the drive back. I had convinced myself that I wanted to hate it, that it wouldn't be what we wanted, mainly so I didn't have to make the decision to upend our lives.
"No, we're not doing," I said. "We'll end up moving in November, it'll be cold and miserable, we don't speak French, the children will have to go to a new school where they won't understand a thing, they'll hate it, it'll be stressful, there's too much work to do. No we're not doing it."
We barely spoke again until the next day, when almost every conversation started with the words "but if we....". We returned to all the photos we'd taken over and over again, looking at the floor plans and started talking about what we would do with each room, how we would make it our home and turn it into a business that meant we could work together, be around for the children more and hopefully have a different pace of life.
Our families have been incredibly supportive, even if they had their reservations as first. They understood our need to live our lives now rather than wait for a retirement that might never be ours to enjoy. So when we put in an offer and it was accepted they were the first to celebrate with us and book tickets so they could see it too.
Someday soon we will be packing up the boxes and moving our lives to France to start our new adventure - there will no doubt be many bumps in the road - and there have been a few already. I know there will be parts of the dream that won't come true and others that we haven't even considered. It could all be an unmitigated disaster but at least in ten, 20, 30 years time we can look back and say we owned a petite château in France once.