Matt and Wendy backpacking in Sumatra 1991
Matt and Wendy enjoying sunset down at La Cabushe
They were looking to lead a more fulfilling, relaxed and connected life.
Matt's willow structure in Prince Charles' Healing Garden at Chelsea Flower Show 2002
Matt and the boys getting ready for winter
It's very much a family affair!
Matt and Harry looking after the bees
Sam's Summer Salad
Early Days in Australia and Oxford
Wendy and Matt met in Australia in 1989 after finishing their studies, Wendy in business and Matt in agriculture. On arrival back in England after their adventures, Matt worked as a farm manager on a sixty-acre fruit and veg PYO farm just outside Oxford and Wendy in sales and marketing for Royal Mail. After three years they left the farm and its’ tied cottage and Matt started his own business growing willow and making woven willow fences and garden products, all whilst renovating a pair of grade two listed cottages in the Cotswolds and having their first baby – a busy time! Luckily Wendy stayed at the Royal Mail doing a proper job (well, earning money anyway)!
The willow business became very successful and Matt undertook many exciting and challenging projects including exhibiting each year at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, constructed the centre piece (large willow bower) for Prince Charles’ Healing Garden in memory of his grandmother at Chelsea Flower show, ran regular courses at RHS Wisley, and fell out with Tommy Walsh whilst constructing a willow castle on a Ground Force episode!!.
Off to France
Having made a lovely home, had another couple of children and established a viable business some said they were mad to give it all up and start a much bigger and scarier project in France, however having fallen upon their dream farmhouse and smallholding in the north-west Dordogne and never ones to shy away from a challenge, Wendy, Matt, and their three boys moved to France in 2002. They saw the move as a chance to jump off the merry-go-round of their hectic lives and lead a more fulfilling, relaxed and connected life ……… little did they know!
Renovations and Self-Sufficiency
What followed was a mammoth task of renovating buildings and barns to create their own home and a holiday gite, setting up the gardens and kitchen garden with a polytunnel, orchard and rainwater recuperation irrigation system, land management to include fencing in preparation for the arrival of the chickens, sheep and pigs, and planting 25000 willow cuttings of varying varieties and managing the growing plantation. Alongside all of this Matt still managed to do willow commissions in peoples’ gardens, taught willow weaving, took on other fencing and landscaping work whilst Wendy ran the holiday gite and became registered as a cater doing anything from small dinner parties to large weddings.
And then, after eight years of hard work they started offering luxury eco holidays in yurts built by themselves from willow grown on their own land. The yurt building all started because they were invited to exhibit their willow business at a French eco festival. At the time they had a lotof willow suitable for yurt building so Matt decided to have a go at building one. It was a big success and they realised that there was an opportunity to create something really special utilising all of their resources – Matt’s willow and green woodworking skills, Wendy’s seamstress skills from when she was younger, the willow plantation, and their desire to run an ecological, sustainable and ethical business and also to share the beautiful countryside in which Chez Devalon sits.
Yurt Holidays Developments
And now after a further seven years and with four individual yurt spaces, landscaped areas to relax in, a well-stocked kitchen garden and a plunge pool to keep you cool on those hot summer days they truly believe that something very special has been created here. There is immense pride in what has been achieved on ‘The Island’ not just in the quality and the beauty of the workmanship but more so in the way that it has been done. Since 2010 Wendy and Matt have been involved with an international volunteering scheme and have now had over two hundred people from all around the globe come to help and learn, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to share knowledge and experiences and has enriched the lives of the whole family.
In 2014 Wendy and Matt were approached by a young couple who asked if they could hold their wedding at Chez Devalon and what a wonderful event it turned out to be a laid back, natural, outdoorsy, earthy, festival wedding with the bride and grooms family and friends heavily involved with decorating and organizing and making it such a special and personalized marriage. Since then weddings at Chez Devalon have become an annual occurrence, each very much a one-off event, with bride and groom, family and friends deciding how they want the day to go and Wendy and Matt encouraging that freedom.
Matt recalls one of his favourite commendations that came about whilst taking the previous owners and now their nearest neighbours down to La Cabushe for an aperitif one evening to watch the sun go down. Madame Bagouet who has worked this land for over forty years said with tears in her eyes that she had never viewed the landscape like this in the past it was the first time she had seen it as something so astonishingly beautiful rather than just a place of work.