Monday, 6 October 2014
Welcome back to 'the old presbytery' in our little corner of south west France. Autumn is creeping in across the vineyards and the vines now, stripped of their precious harvest, stand resplendent in their golden leafage. At the bottom of the garden the sun sets behind the old log store. Piled high with wood dried in the baking heat of summer, it is the clue to our survival here in the French countryside, when winter temperatures often drop below -14c.
Inside 'the old presbytery' we welcome the change of seasons, and, just as we basked in the heat of the summer sun, in the mists of Autumn our attention turns to the wood burning stove, where it sits patiently at the heart of the home. During our first winter here in the Charente, we relied, almost totally, on a rather antiquated oil-fired heating system, which battled manfully to heat the large rooms of the presbytery with their high ceilings. Not only did it fail to provide enough heat, but it soon became evident it would have required its own oil refinery to keep it supplied with fuel! We did also, optimistically, light a fire in the huge grate in the living room, which produced an impressive blaze, as it devoured the massive logs we slavishly fed it. Alas, however, our valiant efforts only served to warm the birds nesting on the chimney above, as all the heat went straight up the chimney!
Finally, observing those who had lived here a lifetime we noticed that everyone heated their homes with wood and that the ritual of stocking the wood store over the summer months provided economical and efficient heat throughout the winter. At last, we had discovered the 'wood burning stove' and it was to transform our lives. Not only did its powerful heat fill the house with ambient warmth, but its flickering flames proved more entertaining than a night in front of the television.
Now we say, "Roll on, Autumn!", as we close the shutters against the evening chill and share family life around the heart of our home. There is something primaeval about a living fire that connects us with our ancestors of long ago and warms us like nothing else.