Upon leaving the orchard on the estuary, we had planned on giving ourselves two days to make the 100 kilometre journey to our next wwoofing stop. Annie had been monitoring the weather on our behalf and we knew there was going to be a storm coming through; we just didn’t know if we would be biking fast enough to beat it. And that is how we came to bike a record distance of 103 kilometres in one day, get caught in a thunder storm, end up nearly staying in a nudist colony, finding refuge in a bus shelter before finally arriving a day early and being welcomed in by our gracious host, Sara, at her beautiful home and retreat.
On the trip so far, we had been caught in a typhoon, a hail storm and in torrential rains, but we hadn’t yet been forced to do the calculations as to where the best place to be is when you are on your bikes in a thunder and lightening storm. Let us know if you have any insight into this…
During this particular storm, we had the great fortune of finding a newly-built pine bus shelter on the side of the road which showed up exactly when the downpour and thunder began. We made it to our new home for the next two weeks (wet, but very grateful to have a shelter over our heads). And it wasn’t just any shelter either, it turned out: it was the kind of place that inspired us, taught us some essential new life skills and opened our eyes to the possibility of building our own home with the most basic of materials: clay, straw and mud.
Terre et Toi is the vision of Sara Daniels, our host and inspiration, who moved from London 15 years ago and has been living on her beautiful property in the west Dordogne region near Saint-Géraud-de-Corps, for the last 6 years. She has single-handedly refurbished, built and started a successful chambres d’hôtes business where she accommodates guests in eco-friendly lodging from a lakeside cabin to straw-bale and plaster rooms to a yurt, and, soon, a magical hexagonal earthen plaster-built building of her own design and creation.
Sara is an incredible woman: feisty, headstrong, independent and fearless, she came to France at 40 completely on her own, speaking no French at all, with no experience in running a business or ever building anything with her own hands. Six years later, she has a successful and growing B&B, a community of friends and neighbours to help her (special props to Pierre, her neighbour who was always there to lend a hand) and an incredible property with a very minimal environmental footprint.
Sara is also an amazing teacher, and we learned one of the most invaluable skills we have learned on this trip so far: to build! From the first steps of making the earthen plasters to actually building walls with it, we both became so empowered to think that we could do this ourselves one day!
The first day we were there, we learned the art of mixing the perfect amounts of clay, sand and straw together to make a mixture that was strong enough to make buildings. Now, if you don’t know this about me, I am a very tactile person. I can be counted on to walk through a clothes store touching every soft-looking item on the racks; in the bulk aisle of organic grocery stores, surreptitiously dipping my hands in dried lentils, and at botanic gardens, regrettably poking myself on cactus spines. So I was in absolute heaven grabbing handfuls of soft clay and stirring them by hand, together with sand and straw, until the consistency was perfect. We were covered in the mix by the end of the day, but it was a great chance to see all the steps of making and using the earthen plaster.
Sara also taught us all about taking this mixture and applying it to the walls of her new little home in the woods, and this was another very enjoyable task for me. Taking it in big handfuls, slapping it on the wall and smearing it in so it was a nice hard thick mess: I think I may have found my calling.
As Sara described it, earthen plaster building (very similar to cob but using less sand and more straw) is the most democratic of building processes. Anyone, from little kids to old people, are able to do it, the environmental impact is very minimal (because everything you source is ultra-local), and it certainly doesn’t take a lot of exact measurements or fancy construction equipment to do. Just a bit of vision, a bit of know-how and a bit of earth and wood, and you can do amazing things.
Other work we did while we were there included weeding and watering the gardens, preparing rooms for visitors and putting up the yurt!
We also learned how to make Sara’s special bread recipe and have vowed to only make this once we return to a normal life in the near future because freshly made bread is so much better than anything you could buy in the store.
Terre et Toi certainly ranks in the top 2 (closely following our stay at Kakariki in New Zealand) of our favourite wwoofing spots of the trip (we are at a total of 7 now!). We met a ton of great people, learned some great new skills, relaxed on the property (including a beautiful sunset paddle on the lake, complete with strawberry-adorned prosecco) and even got to sleep in the yurt on our last night.
It was with heavy hearts that we said goodbye to our new friends, but I am sure we will see Sara again (maybe even Pierre!) when we welcome her to BC to help us build our new earthen plaster home one day…maybe even soon!
Next up: Chateaus for days in the beautiful Dordogne.
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.