The Story of La Couscouillette
History of the Mills of the Couscouillette
So you think living in the country will be peaceful? Not necessarily so. We were very lucky, foresighted, call it what you wish, we carefully bought our estate at the edge of a village. But what with the barking dogs, church bells ringing all night, tractors starting up at 5 am Paris tourists staying right in the middle of the village, fled back to Paris to get some peace and quiet. It is very beautiful here though, in the Languedoc. And our position is actually breathtakingly beautiful. We live on the outskirts of the small village. On a hill, above the hustle and bustle. We found our ancient home as a ruin a long time ago. We had been camping with the kids up to then and were fed up with the dirty, crowded camp sites near the Mediteranean. Here is a photo of the whole family after we bought our house.
Margaret (mother), Peter, Robin, Allan (father), Paul
When we came across it there was no roof intact, no floors, no electricity, no running water. Paul, our second son claimed it wasn't worth a dime. There had been 300 sheep housed IN it, before it stood empty for 20 years till we found it. We optimistically reckoned that a few thousand dollars should make it habitable. Hahaha
We also counted on the Southern French builders actually fixing it up and making it habitable in a month or so.We shouldn't have.
In general if the Southern Frenchman says he'll be there 'sometime next week, maybe the week after' it means he will never come. Next week means in three months time. Tomorrow means in three or four days. We didn't know any of that then. We found the only way to have them come and do some work was to give a life or death reason. For instance 'bits of roof are falling on the kids' heads, could you perhaps fit us in?' In fact, the kids really were walking around with saucepans on their heads. Or 'the cracks in the walls seem a bit wider, could it be they are going to fall? Maybe you could have a look for us?'. Actually, the builders we had were incredibly capable at restoring the difficult, natural stone walls.
We wandered around the village, clutching a French dictionary, desperately trying to understand the Southern accented French villagers. They were very helpful and friendly, and hardly mentioned the fact we must be mad to buy a ruin like this.
History of the Couscouillette
And then we found out about the history of this fantastic place.
These two mills were the built in the 13th century and described by Pierre Cabirol, a priest researching the history of Montlaur in the ancient archives of the Abbey of Lagrasse, as the first windmills in the South of France. The part on Catharism in 'Montlaur-En-Val' (1926), as the book is called, has a section dedicated to the Couscouillette mills. It makes fascinating reading. You can buy it online at http://www.editions-lacour.com They were built in the aftermath of the Cathar wars, in 1260. Simon de Melun, who had been put in charge of the village by the King of France, ordered them to be built. He rented the land of the Couscouillette, paying 12 bushels of grain, to be paid at 'Saint Michel' (on the 29th of September) once a year. Only water mills existed in those days in the South of France. Montlaur had no large rivers, so the villagers ground their wheat at home, using two flint stones, attached one on top of the other by a metal bar. Simon de Melun had been on Crusades to the East and seen windmills operating there. One mill was to be used for wheat, the other for coarser grains.
Before the crusade the Languedoc, under the Counts of Toulouse, had been the most civilised land in Europe.It was an independent country, not part of France. With the notable exception of most of the Catholic priesthood, people had preferred simple asceticism to venality and corruption. Learning had been highly valued. Literacy had been widespread, and popular literature had developed earlier than anywhere else in Europe. Religious tolerance had been widely practised. This had been the home of courtly love, poetry, romance, chivalry and the troubadours. All this was swept away by the Cathar Crusade. The fort of Montlaur, and therefore the village, was taken by Simon de Montfort in 1210. Simon de Montfort appears to have been the Earl of Leicester. While Simon de Montfort was enjoying surveying his victory in a nearby village the locals of Montlaur retook the fort. The Catholic Garrison was locked into the tower of the fort, but not harmed. De Montfort then stormed the fort and drove them off. Many Montlaur peasants were executed by hanging for having tried to retake the fort. Much later, the locals of Montlaur helped themselves to the stones of the Fort, by the 15th Century there was not much left. The few stones that are left form a historical tourist attraction. Note the difference in behaviour between the Northern conquerors and the Southern Languedociens. Who is more civilized?
It was Simon de Melun who was put in charge of Montlaur after the occupation by the Catholic occupiers. He decided that the villagers should not have to grind their grain by hand at home but should have the benefit of these 'modern' windmills. Frankly, I have my doubts whether it was completely altruistic.... How much did they charge for the grinding, in whose pockets did the payment disappear. Were the peasants forced to use the mills? The book 'Montlaur-En-Val' writes from the perspective of a Catholic priest in the early 20th century, very much in favour of the Catholic Church and the invasion by the Pope and the King of France of the Languedoc and Montlaur in particular. The Cathars were referred to by him in a very derogatory fashion as heretics and he believed that it was only for political reasons that the South adhered to Catharism, i.e. to have a doctrine opposed to the Catholicism of the North.
The cruelty of Simon de Montfort was extreme, but his son was worse. Aimery de Montfort as he was called has left his traces to this day. Even now the village children call each other 'bougre d'Aimery' as a terrible insult.
When the kids left home we came to live here permanently. Our love of this region, and La Couscouillette in particular, seduced us into taking the plunge. At first Allan continued his work as a University Physics Professor, working with his students via Internet links, doing research from home and even commuting for his lectures to the other side of Europe. I am a Clinical Psychologist and had a psychotherapy practice in Holland for many years.
Restoring the mills seemed the perfect thing to do. We enjoy sharing the magic of La Couscouillette with our holiday guests who adore the tranquility and beautiful views as well as our animals.
The locals quickly discovered we were a soft touch for animals in need so one way and another we acquired lots of animals. I now turn down offers of baby donkeys, goats etc. We have nursed baby goats and wild orphaned baby rabbits. Both species had to be bottle fed and lived in the house at first. But that's another story..... All of which I plan to write a.s.a.p.