Crumbling Barn, Caves and Mystery Bread Oven

We wanted a house with a barn. Although I no longer drive because of poor health, I have been scratch building car for a few years.

We knew when viewing houses we would never find one that met every single one of our criteria 100%. In this case the compromise was the barn; although a perfect size; was in poor condition and would have to wait until after the house was renovated. The barn is older than the house; it shows on a map dated between 1820 & 1866 whereas the house does not.

Sadly, the barn was riddled with woodworm. The large oak beam running across the front was resting on a rotten post. The bottom of this post had begun to rot and to sink into the soft soil it was resting on. There didn’t seem to be any foundations for this post. As a result the whole section, all the way to the roof had dropped around 4 to 5inches causing one of the major roof A frames to split.

When we viewed the property there was no way of accessing the top floor of the barn. We assumed it was always done via a ladder. What was puzzling however was there seemed to be vent in a wall that might lead to a walled up room. To the left of the barn was a mass of brambles and small trees that had obviously been growing for several decades. The barn and garden have several signs stating ‘attention zone piégée’ – which means animal trapping zone. So we weren’t too keen to explore the brambles. Also, there were a group of hunters with shot guns shooting in the field just the other side of the end fence.

I was looking at Google maps and there was quite a bit of woodland surrounding the property. I looked up the price of land as I knew the vendor’s family owned most of the local landscape. I asked the agent immoblier if we could get a ‘pacte de préférence’, or first right of refusal if ever any of the surrounding plots came up for sale. I was particularly interested in the plot right behind the barn as it would make it really easy to repair the roof.

The vendor didn’t want to sell the whole plot but sold us about 600m2 for 400 euro. – perfect

My cheeky purchase of extra land came with a double bonus. The vendor hooked up a massive hedge trimmer to his tractor and cleared the brambles. He found extra rooms, the back entrance to the barn and the probable location of the well.

Behind the barn the woodland is mostly brambles and hazelnut trees. If we clear the brambles and strip back all the overhanging ivy we can make some nice seating areas with some absolutely amazing views of the mountains the distance.

The brick-work seemed to be very solid and the roof tiles seemed to good too. The timbers however, were absolutely on their last legs. They were barely holding the weight of all the junk on the upper floor.

The barn is obviously a massive undertaking and our plan is to empty out the attic very carefully to alleviate some of the stress on the very weak timbers. Acro-props will be used to shore up the floor temporarily and we will also look at pouring concrete foundations.

There are two caves under the house. During the initial visit with the agent immobolier there was a small bat. I like bats. I used to have a job applying radio tags to bats for the local forestry commission in Dorset England. Although the Estate agent assured us bats aren’t protected in the Creuse, I believe they are and as I like them I’ll let it find another home naturally. There are dozens of empty barns around.

The Bat hasn’t been seen for a while. There is a large vent hole, 400mm x 200m where it is free to get in and out. We now have an iron grate for this, so this will stop it for getting in. The caves are just about big enough to park a pair of original Mini’s in (ignoring door width).

We will look at doing something with the floors. If we concrete them we could cause a damp problem, as currently the soil floor can breath. Concreting would however help with the radon gas issue mentioned in the “compromis du vente”. The ceiling has been concrete grouted, which isn’t ideal, as it should have been lime mortared. If we re-do the mortaring then the cellar breathing will improve.

The biggest mystery of the whole purchase was the bread oven. On the side of the house was a brick out-building that we were told was a bread-oven but could indeed be anything.

There is no door, only a opening where maybe somebody could use a ladder to crawl in to an attic space. It’s rather bazaar.

In the kitchen on the other side of the wall there is simply a tiled wall. Our goal is to knock through from the what is currently the kitchen and make a door into this bread oven space. We will turn this space into the downstairs toilet.