2I think the realities and difficulties of being 'self sufficient' in wood have finally hit us here at As Plos. We* always knew we had to be on top of things where wood was concerned but starting on the back foot with a near empty wood store has really stalled us and we've now spent the past two winters 'chasing' wood sources from here there and everywhere to keep ourselves, and our guests, warm.
it's not all naivety on our part. Yes, I can admit that back in the UK we had a small terraced house with central heating and a very small wood burning stove, but here in France we have a large stone farmhouse, a renovated barn and a cabin, NO central heating and SIX wood burning stoves! Naturally this means we need a lot of wood ...in fact more wood than you can ever imagine.
Unfortunately it's not as simple as getting wood from the woods and burning it, it has to be chopped down, or delivered, then left to dry (usually for at least two years), processed so that it can fit in each of our different sized wood burners, and those processes alone require working chain saws, trailers to pull heavy wood from one place to the next, a wood saw, an axe and a wood splitter. It also requires time and preferably a dry day...something in short supply this winter! Very, very fortunately for us we do have two sets of very helpful neighbours who have assisted our wood endeavours. Thanks to them we have a vehicle and a bespoke trailer to haul wood with (see below - thanks Mike), as well as a wood saw and splitter (thanks Jean-Claude et Françoise), which go a long way in making our lives easier.
But despite having our own pocket of woodland, we still need more of the hard stuff, so on our wood hunt we've also had to engage several local farmers in our best Occitane dialect (think French mixed with Catalan) to order stere after stere of wood. This is then delivered by tractor, often 2 metres long and has to be man-handled onto the 'death saw' and cut to pretty much six different sizes! It's safe to say there have been some lessons learned when it comes to a) Heating a house without central heating b) French winters in stone houses and c) the need to be organised!
In fact the farmer that had previously lived in our house told us that one year it was -15C outside and -5C inside with the fire on all day everyday! Thankfully we've got a much more well insulated house than in his day but even so, you get the idea!
And it isn't only fuel for the fire that you have to consider, it's the kindling and firelighters to get every fire started. Thankfully some very windy weather has helped the kindling situation, so we've been out collecting windfall twigs and branches after stormy nights. Even our youngest winter guests have been helping with their little trailers (Thanks Leo and Corin). We also secured hundreds of very old chestnut floorboards from a friend who offered them for free if we took them up for him - this has since been turned into the very best 'antique kindling' and fires up a treat, especially with all that bat poo on it! Add to this some ingenious firelighters constructed by Dad (sawdust and candle wax combined) then you're well on your way to lighting a great fire!!!
So what else is there in the tales of As Plos wood? Well I haven't even touched upon the lumbering of basket after basket of very heavy wood from wood store to house...Yes it is hard work, but it's not all doom and gloom. There is a sense of satisfaction knowing that you're warm because you did all the hard graft, and of course there's the playing with fun (and dangerous) machinery, the manly wielding of axes and then the art of making fire itself...all very primal and strangely gratifying (except when it's -1 outside and inside isn't much warmer!).
As I finish writing this, Jim and Marcus have spent yet another entire day clearing a backlog of uncut wood and stacking it for drying on the wood wall, and a local farmer has just replaced that with a delivery of another 10 stere of wood, which again will need cutting and splitting, however it should mean we'll be warm next winter!
*I should state this is the 'Royal We' - Jim and Marcus have pretty much been the sole lumberjacks around here!
**UPDATE March 19th: Since writing this post we have successfully burned our 10 stere of wood and have ordered a further 8 stere arriving soon! I think we're keeping the local farmers afloat!!!!