“It was hot and it was dangerous…”

Chateau Duffy 2015 took place over Easter, but before we share our stories from that trip, Texan Wes Lane had chance to share what Chateau Duffy has meant to him when he visited London in February earlier this year. 

When did you first visit France?

I’ve been twice, in 2012 and 2013. In February 2012, I’d met Shannon in Kerville, Texas. She brought up the opportunity and said it was going to be over Easter. I said, “Absolutely! I need that. I need to go on a sabbatical.” My wife and family were very supportive because they knew I needed time away as I’d just gone through some pretty rough times. I got to Saint Denis des Murs and was transformed immediately.

Happy workers

Happy workers at Chateau Duffy (it must be champagne o’clock!). Spot Wes in a fetching blue hard hat. April 2013.

What were your first impressions?

It was the first time I’d been there. I arrived at the gites, and Chris [Duffy] and Carl [Gordon] and I drove to the house and it was in shambles. All the tiles had been taken off the roof. Our job was to clean out what was the barn, which was packed full of rotten hay and wooden burn. And it was falling down, and it was dangerous. I was like, this is great. So we built scaffolding. We proceeded to take off the old the wood rafters and beams. During the week we took all the old stuff out and put all new stuff in. Then put new plywood down and out rain proofing on top of the plywood and really started to make something take shape.

Can you talk a little more about your time there?

It was so refreshing for me. It renewed me in a way that I didn’t know I needed to be renewed. Being able to be out of an office working with my hands, cutting lumber, building scaffolding… It was hot, it was dangerous, it was a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of climbing. When I got back, I hurt every day. I ached but it was a good pain – like I’d accomplished something. Bodily I hurt but mentally I felt better than ever.

I thought it was once in a lifetime chance. But every time I am mentally renewed, physically drained, but, again, I couldn’t have a better experience.

Shifting dirt, again.

Digging the dirt. Again. And again. And again.

What did you make of those long communal meals?

It was rebuilding time. Spiritually, mentally, physically. I lost 15 pounds during the trip although I ate more than I’d ever eaten. There was fresh bread for breakfast and fresh sandwiches for lunch. Amazing dinners.

Did your family join you?

[They joined me] on the second journey. On that trip the children turned 4 and 9. Austin, who is now 10, had his birthday meal at the base of the Eiffel Tower. I said, from now on we have a very high standard to meet for birthday presents. How does it get better than that?!

Happy 4th birthday Max!

Celebrating Max’s 4th birthday at ‘Shadow Duffy’.

Max turned 4 that trip. He had this birthday at the gites. It was wonderful! He still talks about it. One of the presents from the group was a French Spider Man comic book written completely in French. He cherishes it. It sits next to his bed. He keeps trying to have it translated but I don’t read French… He talks about Shadow Duffy because he does not understand ‘chateau’. It was a great experience.

That year we had a full-time au pair that took care of the children every day. There were four or five children there and they got on amazingly well. It was British kids and American kids. Austin and Max still talk about their friends who live in London.

The crew

The crew. Spot Wes in the back row, second from the left.

Interview by Svetlana Graudt

Photos by Liz Clutterbuck

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