As the plane swung from side to side and then slammed down onto the runway at Tours airport I wondered if we'd actually make it to the Notaire's office to sign the final paperwork and pick up the keys to our new home. Having survived the terrifying landing we waited impatiently for our hire car and then hit the mercifully quiet roads to Le Mans.
Buying a house in France is a lot more personal than buying one in the UK. Twice in the process the buyers and sellers have to spend several hours sat around a table while the Notaire reads through all the paper work, irons out any issues and then asks everyone to sign everything. This I should imagine, could be a very painful process if the two parties don't get on.
Happily for us the family we are buying from couldn't be lovelier. Often at pains to make sure we understand how things work in France and concerned that things weren't being lost in translation they have made the whole buying process very easy for us.
I know it hasn't been easy for them though. Letting go of a home that has been in the family for many, many years is never simple. We feel incredibly privileged to be allowed to take it on. And we do feel like the family have given us permission to make it our home. When we made our offer we met Madame Pousset and her eldest son Xavier at the house. Madame Pousset looked stern and reserved and I was terrified of her. Xavier took us through room after room telling us stories about the house and the family while she stood alone, just outside the front door.
I was worried she wouldn't like us, that she would turn down our offer and refuse to sell us the house. Then I noticed that there were tears in her eyes and I realised that her reserve wasn't because she didn't like us, but because she knew she needed to say goodbye to her family home. We asked Xavier to tell her that we wanted to restore the house and that we would bring our family there and love it for years to come. She looked at me, gave me a hug, then gently held my arms by the elbows and told me that she wanted us to be happy there, to breathe new life into the house and fill it full of family again. I couldn't stop the tears from coming and soon we were both wiping our eyes.
Each time I've met her since she has been a quiet reminder of the promise we've made. To restore La Ruche and most importantly to make it into a family home again. As we sat around the table in the Notaire's office with Madame Pousset and three of her nine, now grown up, children I could see that it was a hard day for them. Xavier was less his usual jovial self and we all put off the handing over of the keys. Leaving our family home was a huge wrench and we'd only been there for nine years. La Ruche has seen more than 60 years of their immediate family history and many more years besides.
They kindly took us back to the house to show us how the ancient boiler systems works and to tell us a few more stories. They took some pictures of us standing on the front steps to show the rest of their brothers and sisters and then they drove away, waving out of the car windows and no doubt wiping away tears as they turn into the long tree lined drive.
Tim and I stood on the steps and looked at each other and then at the huge house behind us. It suddenly all seemed very overwhelming. With all the family's things gone and only some furniture left, the rooms seemed bigger and emptier. The amount of work seemed suddenly insurmountable and it was getting dark. The phrase 'bitten off more than we can chew' kept jumping into my mind.
We bought ourselves some cheap bedding from the supermarket and made up a bed in what will be our new bedroom. I lit candles in the dining room and sent Tim to close every door and shutter before night fell completely and it became too spooky. We ate rotisserie chicken, dauphinoise potatoes and bread, washed down with an obligatory glass of rose and then went to bed, hoping that the journey ahead would feel less formidable in the morning.
I didn't sleep. I listened out for every noise, every creak. I kept looking into corners to see if there were mice (I didn't see any). Without all our familiar things It was like trying to sleep with the ghosts of another family all around you in the very essence of the place. I panicked about where the children would sleep when they arrived and if they would be scared too. I worried about the state of the house, the money in the bank and thought about the cosy house I had stupidly sold to someone else so I could buy this crazy place.
At 4am I finally got to sleep. I was woken up at 7.30am by the sun filtering through the shutters. We threw open the windows and listened to the birds singing in the trees and the cows calling to each other in the fields. In the light of day it all felt less scary.
We walked from room to room talking about our plans, exploring cupboards and opening shutters that hadn't been opened in years. We sat in the sun, looked at the avenues of trees running down to the woods and watched lizards run in and out of the gaps in the stone steps.
As it finally started to sink in we realised it was time to leave. We completely underestimated just how long it takes to shut up a 14 bedroom house and we almost missed our flight, getting to the airport just in time to check in.
Next time we unlock the big front door we'll be staying for good. Only a few more days until we make La Ruche our family home and start our adventure. Our excitement is still mixed with a good amount of fear and I keep reminding myself that it's the challenges that make it worth doing in the end. Keep your fingers crossed.