When we got off the ferry from Portsmouth, England, to Caen, France, my cousin Ash, picked us up to take us to Chateau De Lalacelle – a property in Alecon, France (in Northwest France – rural Normandy) that he and his partner, Terry, purchased to restore when moving from Middlesborough, England.
On arrival, everyone dropped what they were doing to come greet us. We felt like family from the first moment as we met Terry, Tony, Tracy, Graham, and not long afterward, Jonathan when he got home from school.
The 70-acre dream property was purchased for 300,000 Euros and had been abandoned for 40 years when they bought it 18 months before our visit. When we arrived, most of the structural repairs had been completed to the chateau and the cottage, and cosmetic work was beginning.
At the time we visited (in June of 2022), Ash and Terry were still waiting on plumbing and electricity to be completed, and drywalling was mostly complete on the highest-level flat where Ash and Terry will live once the main floor and first floor have been turned into a bed and breakfast and event space.
While there, we were reminded of our RV life from back in Canada as we stayed in RVs parked in the garden – a taste of home and a break from petsitting in England.
The boys had one, Celine and I had another, Ash and Terry shared one, and Ash’s stepdad, Graham, stayed in the fourth. By this point, Tracy, Tony, and Jonathan had the cottage renovated so they could sleep in their own beds there.
After we left, some volunteers and the Chateau’s YouTube Fans arrived to help wherever they could on the massive project.
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Life around Chateau De Lalacelle
…is jam-packed and full of activity. We started the day with breakfast – sometimes together and sometimes more in passing. We would all talk about what our tasks would be for the day while enjoying some fresh French pastries with coffee or scrambled eggs and ‘roasties’ (Roasted potatoes).
On our first full day, Celine and I were going into town to get groceries with Ash, so we asked if anyone needed anything specifically as we wrote a grocery list. Someone else was heading to the hardware store to pick up some pieces and asked if anyone else needed anything there.
We were planning to have friends over that evening for the raclette, so a reminder to be finished up work to eat around 5, and that reminded us of something extra we needed to pick up at the grocery store.
Daily, Ash and I would usually finish breakfast, talking about what would be for dinner, and finish up dinner by talking about what would be for tea. We’re clearly related.
Throughout the day, there was a constant buzz of power tools, “Could you give me a hand with…?” and “Don’t forget to turn on the iPad and film.”
Coffee was always on, and someone was always coming or going or dropping what they were doing to help someone else.
Since the whole family has been active on YouTube, we filmed each step of our visit there. Here’s a video we made on our second day there:
First Project: Weeding the Chateau’s Back Steps
I wanted to help Ash weed around the steps leading out the back of Chateau De Lalacelle, and once we realized that pulling out some of the roots was going to leave the back steps unbalanced, we figured out that some steps were going to have to be removed and leveled to be put in place and usable again – Ash said that’s how life around the Chateau works.
Thankfully, Ian was anxious to try out the pressure washer, and Patrick the Daschund kept us company.
You pick a job, and once you get started, you realize the work is 10x what the original job should have been, so you get to it.
Celine was rototilling the back garden to get the weeds out so the garden could be reseeded with grass. It also looked like it may not have been touched in 40 years, but when I commented, Ash said that he’d just done the exact job a month or two ago.
Working on Chateau De Lalacelle is not just about the effort that goes into restoring the property but also the effort that goes into ongoing maintenance.
Visiting Mont St. Michel
By day 3 or 4, we were ready to take a break and the garden steps had been restored to former glory, so we couldn’t pass up Ash’s offer to visit Mont St. Michel – a castled village surrounding a massive cathedral on the northern coast of France.
We were lucky to have arrived at Chateau De Lalacelle during Jonathan’s school break, so he played with our three boys during the day, and was able to come to Mont St. Michel with us.
A couple of hours of driving, we arrived at this fairy tale on France’s northern coast:
One day close to the end of our visit stood out for me
In the morning, we all had our jobs lined up for the day and Tracy said she was planning to lift out the stone floor of the kitchen in the cottage to eventually pour concrete as a level floor for new plumbing and cabinets.
What is now the cottage was originally a stable – at least that’s what we imagine from metal posts in the floor ground down below the concrete where we’re guessing original stable doors would have sat.
The cobblestone had been filled and covered in with mortar, so Tony used a jackhammer to crack the mortar and the stones had to be removed from the floor by hand. The kitchen is probably 25 ft by 25 ft, and the same work on the other half of the cottage took about 3 weeks for Tracy and Tony.
We all decided to drop what we were working on and help – not an easy task, but while Tony jackhammered, Graham used a pry bar to pull out the cobblestone and the rest of us grabbed the stone and threw it into the back of a tractor (full disclosure: I spent about half of my time taking video for Terry to edit and trying to avoid manual labor until Graham caught on and called me out).
Ash drove the tractor to the end of the laneway to drop off the stones, which would eventually be integrated into the gate. We had the floor pulled out by that evening. What took two people weeks last time, 7 of us got done in a day.
One of our favorite times during the 10 days we stayed at the Chateau was sitting down on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings at 8 pm to watch the live YouTube show being released and seeing all of the comments of people encouraging the family in what they were doing.
On top of all of the work that goes into the Chateau, Terry finds time each week to edit two full videos.
While the chateau could feel like a daunting (and probably lonely) project just working away at a property in the middle of French countryside, the encouragement that comes from the comments and community built around the chateau’s social media and YouTube channels keep the family going.
Packages and gifts for YouTube fans worldwide
Someone mentions that they’re going to put wildflowers in a certain area of the property in a video and thousands of wildflower seeds show up over the next few weeks from fans.
Jonathan decided he wanted to start his herb garden and mentioned that in a video, and a fan sent in a herb garden starter kit. Even hand-made art depicting the chateau occasionally arrives with a kind note from a fan who is also a skilled artist.
Visiting Chateau De Lalacelle was incredible, but more amazing was the opportunity to reconnect with Ash.
We hadn’t seen each other since we were 18 months old and connected immediately. While we can’t wait to see the progress made on the Chateau since then, more importantly, we can’t wait to visit our family in France again.
After visiting Chateau De Lalacelle, I almost killed a goat (by accident) at our next housesit in France. Read about that here.