My French vocabulary is growing. A month ago I did not know the word for ‘horse shit’, now I am an expert on different types of ‘fumier’ and their benefits in a rose garden. Secateurs works in either language but tronsonneuse (chain saw) was new. I have had fun heading down to the Jardinland or the local Husqvarna dealer to buy manure or to replace chains.

We are lucky to have seven hectares of grounds, of which perhaps a third are woods. However, last year it was impossible to get to the chateau at the right times of the year. The roses had been left untended and there has been a build up of fallen trees in the wood – at the same time as we have started to run short of logs for the many open fires in the chateau.

Friends have been enthusiastic and wonderful allies in the task. They have come at the weekends from Paris and Fontainebleau – in legal quantities each time! – to bring man/woman power and plenty of expertise.

What have I learned? A day of chopping and lugging wood is more exhausting than a hard day’s skiing, for one. But also, that if you can revive your friends with a long hot bath, a good dinner and something special from the cellar then they will be ready for more the next day.