Liz Murphy and her husband Dave were playing with their kids in the back garden in Manchester when the idea popped into their heads to simply leave their life and flee to France and buy an entire 17th-century hamlet.
Mr Murphy ran inside to grab the laptop and within days they were swapping Britain’s grey skies and their jobs in radio for the endless rows of sunflower fields and cattle ranches of the Poitou-Charentes region.
Instead of just joining the 86,000 UK households with second homes across the Channel, and with the help of Mr Murphy’s Irish passport in a post-Brexit world, they managed to snap up a whole village.
As soon as they laid eyes on the crumbling farmhouses in Lac De Maison, which translates to House Lake, they knew straight away there was no turning back.
The three-acre plot with six houses meant their parents Terry could also sell up and join them, leaving the family enough change left over to transform the dilapidated farmstead into holiday homes that could hold 20 guests.
“I discounted it at first I thought it was too far out in the countryside,” Ms Murphy told The Independent. “But when we got here, we pulled into the driveway and we were like, ‘wow’.” We have six houses so it is kind of a village. In the UK it would be millions of pounds but here it is £400,000.
“It’s quite scary when we look back now. If we stayed in the UK we would have found it very difficult. Our mortgage was a costly £1,700 per month and repayments are just skyrocketing every year.
“When we came here we were instantly mortgage-free. We are never going to make as much money as if we were back home but we have a much better lifestyle. Which makes us happier in a sense.”
A typical day now sees the couple getting their kids up for the school runs in the nearest village, 2km away.
Then it’s time to feed their goats and ponies, collect eggs from the chickens, and clean their swimming pool before cracking on with more renovation work and preparing gites (French self-catering holiday homes) for guests over Christmas and the new year.
“It’s very different to what we were doing in the UK, it’s much more manual than our office jobs,” Ms Murphy said. “Dave was always pretty handy at DIY but neither one of us were experts in any way and we don’t claim to be now.”
Despite coming up to three years of constant renovations and more than €100,000 spent, the couple’s relationship was never placed under strain.
“We always dreamt of moving abroad when we first got together but then kids, careers, mortgage and life got in the way,” she said. “We get on really well. We are like any normal married couple... some days we want to kill each other.
“We were both on furlough during Covid and it sounds corny, but we just really enjoyed each other’s company.
“When you are stuck in the rat race, you see each other but you can kind of forget why you got together. It’s been so much fun and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else.
“Anyone can do this but you just have to take that leap of faith. It’s scary, but it’s no more scary than staying in England and watching your mortgage creep up and up until you can’t afford to pay it.
“There is a small English community as well, we try to mix it up as much as possible. Everyone is so lovely and welcoming if you make an effort to speak French.
“When we first came, our life admin was bloody hard work. The French are really bureaucratic and if you don’t speak French fluently, it is really difficult. I have GCSE French and that’s it.
“We were lucky, we met an English guy with a French wife who didn’t speak English but helped us with all the forms. Without her, we would have been stuck.”
Their biggest challenge was transforming an entire farmhouse that had lay dormant for over a century.
“It had no electricity, no plumbing, no windows, no doors,” said Ms Murphy. “It was full of birds, bats and all sorts. We turned that into a four-bedroom gite.
“It took a year during the wettest summer on record. There were a few times where we lost the plot. We had to live in a caravan in a field with our animals – it was f***ing horrible.
“We had horses at that stage and they kept trying to get in with us. We can laugh now but at the time, I really hated it. We’re never going on a caravan holiday ever again.”
Ms Murphy finished with some advice: “I would say, anyone thinking about it just do it. If you think about it too long you will talk yourself out of it.
“There’s always a reason to stay or say, ‘maybe next year’ or, ‘we can’t move the kids’. Life’s too short. Just do it.”