Meet Northern Ireland couple swapping Co Down for the Dordogne: How housesitting in Europe and Brexit unhappiness persuaded Jenny and partner to swap Co Down for French countryside
When they decided to sign up as overseas housesitters last year a local couple never dreamt that within a few short months they would be quitting the rat race, selling up and leaving family and home to start a new life in a new country.
Making a fresh start is something which Crossgar life coaches Jenny Grainger (48) and partner Eoin Scolard (59) have been helping clients to do for decades and now the couple are taking a leaf out of their own book by moving to France.
In a move which many dream of but few ever find the will or means to do, the couple has taken the drastic step of selling their house and most of their belongings with plans to head off to France in a campervan later this month to start the search for their new home.
Jenny joked: "I don't know if it is a mid-life crisis or what, but it is exciting and it's all happened so quickly we can't believe we are actually doing it."
The couple run three businesses in Northern Ireland including Freshstart Coaching, the Positive Living Network and Source Wellbeing Centre on the Beersbridge Road in Belfast, renting out rooms for workshops and classes all focused on wellbeing. They hope to continue their work remotely from France.
They both have grown-up children who are fully supportive of their move - especially as it comes with the chance to holiday with them in sunny southern France.
The decision to make such a radical change to their lifestyle came about after the couple signed up last summer for Trusted Housesitters, a new concept in travel where you apply to stay in people's homes all over the world for free in exchange for looking after their pets.
As huge animal lovers and owners of two dogs, Samson and Delilah, this really appealed to Jenny and Eoin who first used the site so that they could enjoy a holiday in Italy last June while their dogs were looked after by a housesitter from America.
Jenny explains: "We got this lovely retired lady from California who wanted to see Ireland and it was just fabulous how well it worked out. We came home to happy dogs, a tidy house, dinner on the table and a very happy housesitter.
"We went off again a couple of times last summer using housesitters and then we thought maybe we could do it too, so we signed up and got our first assignment in October looking after a dog, an old horse, a few cats and some hens for an English lady who lives in the Dordogne."
Jenny expected to use the site to experience some long haul destinations. She had no idea that their first housesitting experience was going to change both their lives.
Not only did they fall in love with the area, relishing the opportunity to experience France as locals but they were so inspired by their first house-sit that in the next five months Jenny booked over nine weeks of house-sits back to the area.
It was on the last day of their very first holiday, however, while visiting a local market that Jenny had a life-changing moment.
"We were in a small town called Sarlat and it was the end of October and we were in our T-shirts and jeans and it was a sunny morning and we were walking round the market.
"I just suddenly started to cry as I thought 'This is how I want to live, to be outdoors more and to know where my food is coming from and be able to shop in markets'. I loved the ease of it but I came back home thinking it was just a pipe dream. My life circumstances changed last summer when my dad Michael died in June. He had dementia for eight years and we cared for him a lot and he was living with us for part of that time.
"My daughter Georgia graduated from Queen's University last June and decided to move to Dundee so it left me with no family ties and Eoin's family is grown-up and lives in Dublin.
"Also, with Brexit we weren't happy as I feel more European than British and it just didn't sit well with me. We did another sit over Christmas and I went back for another for the whole month of February.
"Coming back from that trip to grey, dark, cold and wet weather after sitting out in the sun having lunch before we left was when we both decided that we wanted to live in France. We put the house up for sale thinking it could take months or even years to sell and within five weeks we had an offer and we signed the contract on July 9; it was very, very fast and a bit of a shock, really."
The couple has also discovered that it would actually save them money to sell their furniture rather than ship it to France and are currently in the process of selling their house contents.
They have bought a campervan and will leave Northern Ireland to start the next exciting new chapter in their lives on August 25. While they have decided they want to live in the sunny Dordogne area they don't yet know exactly where in the region they will put down roots. Their plan is to spend a few weeks touring and exploring.
For Jenny, making such a huge change is all about enjoying a slower pace and a simpler lifestyle.
Their hearts are set on growing their own food, living outdoors as much as possible and escaping the long, wet winters.
Jenny says: "We are going to take our time looking for our new home and we can park up in any village we like for a few days and get a feel for the place first. We have another house-sit in October in the area so we will have a lovely roof over our heads then and a swimming pool and if we haven't found anywhere to buy we might rent for the winter first.
"House prices are so much cheaper over there and you get so much more for your money. We can get a beautiful old house with a 12-metre swimming pool and our own little house for family and friends in the garden for a fraction of what you would pay here.
"I'm looking forward to more outdoor living. We always grew our own vegetables and fruit but there is so much more you can grow in France and we are looking forward to becoming more self-sufficient and just living a simpler life.
"We've also had the chance to make friends already as many people in the area who are English-speaking have moved there like we are and been through the same thing so I am looking forward to having that sense of community as well.
"All of our friends and family have been very supportive. They already know that we are a little mad! They are all looking forward to coming to stay in our 'maison des amis' at our new home. In fact, my daughter Georgia came to house-sit with me for a week in the Dordogne last month and just loved it."
Jenny works as a life coach and mentions that the majority of her clients are aged between 40-55 who, like her, find themselves wanting to make changes in their lives once the kids have left home and their elderly parents have passed away.
She prides herself on helping other people make that leap of faith in life so it seems apt she is about to do the same thing.
Jenny says: "It is all about helping people to create a fresh start in any and all areas of life. So the next phase of my life is simply a fresh start in France.
"There is a quote I love by Mark Twain which says that 20 years from now it is the things you didn't do that you will regret rather than the things you did do, and I don't want to have those regrets.
"I want to grab life and live it to the full and I hope that's what we will be able to do moving to France."
You can follow Jenny and Eoin's adventures as they start their new life through her blog at jennygrainger.net and also a video diary on YouTube - Travel Light with Eoin and Jenny
Matching up on trust
TrustedHousesitters - a British business - now operates in 140 countries and has tens of thousands of house-sitting opportunities, as well as thousands of house-sitters joining each month. Each house-sitter builds a trust profile as they are rated by existing members, and homeowners choose the sitter or sitters who best match their needs. Their community is over 300,000 members strong. You can find it online at www.trustedhousesitters.com , facebook.com/trustedhousesitters or on Twitter: @housesitting and YouTube: www.youtube.com/ trustedhousesitters