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.
Renovating The Mills of La Couscouillette
You just wouldn't believe the state the two Medieval windmills were in when La Couscouillette adopted us all those years ago. The Pointed Roof Mill had no roof, no windows, no doors, no floor... It was on the point of crumbling down to ground level. There was even a fig tree growing IN it!!!
It was in 1977 that Allan and I started looking for a holiday house. We had spent years getting more and more annoyed at the dirty overcrowded campsites in August. Allan was scientific about it, he made a list of our requirements. Sun and heat in the summer was the first and most important. Having been given an atlas with that kind of thing in it when he left Rolls Royce we started working it out.
We homed in on France. A narrow band close to the Mediterranean coast looked perfect.
Pointed Roof Mill 1977
Of course the Riviera was out of the question as it would far exceed our pennyless situation. Actually, as house prices had risen a lot we could get a second mortgage. It was amusing. the second mortgage arrived on his bicycle. That is how it goes in Holland, Delft where we were living. He was disapproving about the recent surge in value of property and reluctant to the extreme. However, he said we would of course get the 75.000 extra we wanted, he frowned and muttered under his breath. (He was right, when we sold up 11 years later we had a 'short fall' (horrible phrase) and had to cash in some pension.)
But that was not all, in our list we required, situation, near a village or town but not in it. And room for (no, not a pony as Mrs Bucket would have it) but a pool. And large rooms. Also we wanted to avoid areas already full of expats.
In those days there was no Google to help out. We bought Newspapers and perused the adverts. Found an exciting option, stone built bungalow near the Med in France surrounded by vineyards, not expensive. I phoned the estate agents. Having heard of houses sold without mains water I checked it out. Yes, no problem. So we dumped our 3 little boys (9, 12 and 13) with our poor, unsuspecting neighbours (that's another story for another day) and drove off with Leroy, our little dog to inspect the place. Yes, after a gruelling drive we found it and the estate agent and owner..... Oh my God, it was awful. The grounds nearby had been burned by fire and were completely black. As for water... The owner pointed at the ground and stated that as there was a fig tree there was bound to be water if you dug for it. The bungalow had just been finished by him and was uninspiring. After arriving home I phoned the townhall of the village it was associated with. In no uncertain terms I was told there was no way, ever, that village water would be supplied to that building.,
So that was that.Then there was the dodgy offer of an artist abode in Provence, we were suspicious of the offer. It seemed too cheap for what it was, a lovely house on a river in a wooded area. When we asked we were told that the artist wanted better lighting, but were advised not to go view as it was first come first served. We decided to not try for this one.
There were various like this, another we drove to, 12 hours solid with kids on the backseat of the car... sold by a Dutch estate agent living in France was high in the mountains, I don't like heights.
I remember getting out of the car on a motorway layby en route back to Holland and just collapsing from fatigue and disappointment. Much to the annoyance of our three kids who were embarrassed having a mother like that.
So then we bought a French newspaper, Le Monde. And there it was; a few lines about marvelous views and some mention of olive trees (were told later we would have to plant them to have them) in the Languedoc. The phone number was wrong. We guessed what it it should have been and got through to an estate agencyon the other side of France. Yes, it sounded perfect. The girl claimed that for 3000 Dutch guilders it could be renovated. The photo showed the front of the place with windows and a door.
So, bundling the protesting kids in the car we set off again. 1400 km and we met up with the estate agents in a nearby restaurant in Capendu. He drove in front of us to La Couscouillette. When we drove up the path I was so scared, I put a cushion over my head. It was unpaved. then we arrived at the house. Here are some photos
This is the back of the house, it was not visible on the advertisement photo. Guess why not!As you can see, the roof is missing in most parts, the windows are bricked up. A nightmare!
But, the location was superb, gorgeous view of the village. And we were very, very naive.
Shouldn't cost more than a few thousand, perhaps, or tenfold, or 100fold? None of which we had.
So here is the advertisement photo, the front of the house.
Someone had bunged a few windows in and made the photo:
Inside the house we found the following: this is the diningroom/ kitchen now.
There had been 300 sheep living in the house before it was standing empty for 20 years.
Then there's the bedroom, with its crumbling plaster, broken roof and straw on the floor
And no staircase to get up there:
Here's the Sittingroom
this is the 'chai' where we would build our first pool
countryside is bare, bare, bare, but with thym and rosemary growing wild
planting a pin parasol
Our son Paul, 13 years old,
planting a tree using a pickaxe!
We had to carry water up from the village at first, there was no running water!
The Grounds and Pointed Roof Mill:
1000 trees planted all those years ago,
with pickaxe and dynamite
Quite a Change
Yes, the same bedroom as above, with the crumbling walls, broken roof and straw!
Our House Pool Now
New Pool for Mills
The Royal Suite
Front Door to Kitchen/Diningroom
No electricity, no running water, no sewers so no lavatory. A ruin............. But... it had potential. Large rooms, stone walls, ground around it. Near a village... Space for a pool.
How We Got There
At first we worked on the house in our holidays, we were living in Holland at the time with our three sons. The first 'holiday', in 1977 was a disappointment, the builders had not done much, the place was still a ruin. Still, we made the best of it, here are some photos:
Wielding a Pickaxe
Lunch in the Rubble of the Patio, no electricity for shaving!
Finding the right stone for a job is very important, probably I was looking
for stones to build little walls around the baby trees we were planting.
Some of those trees grown from seed on my windowsill. Go up a few
photos and see what the trees look like now!
Then there were the two Mills. Both had been used to house 300 sheep
before standing empty for 20 years. The second mill, (now named the
Pointed Roof Mill) had no roof at all and there was a fig tree growing in
it! It would have crumbled and collapsed if we had not rescued it. The other
mill had the traditional sloping roof that was given to mill which had lost their
original, wooden roof in the last centuries. We call it the Sloping Roof Mill.
Then, after we moved to La Couscouillette permanently we decided to resurrect the Pointed Roof Mill. We found historical drawings of similar mills which all had pointed roofs. However, the roofs were made of wooden boards which we didn't want.
We decided to rebuild according to the historical shape of the roof, which meant we had to use slate. Slate is of course not typical of local village roofs, although the Cite in Carcassonne has lots of slate towers. The lovely pink local tiles can not be used at such a steep slope so we decided to go for slate.
The nearest roofers who were specialised in slate roofs are to be found in the Montagne Noir. Which is how it came about that every day Charles and his helper drove about 60 km to come and build the roof on the Pointed Roof Mill.
Being French, they had to have their cooked daily lunch, which I prepared for them. Having fortified themselves with that and drunk a bottle or two of wine, off they'd go again, clambering high in the air on the roof of the mill. I was amazed that there were no accidents.
Before that point was reached though, Jean-Jacques, our local builder had already laid the foundations for the roofing work.
Here you see Jean-Jacques and my husband Allan working on what is to become the Pointed Roof Mill
The windmills date from the Cathar period (1280) and are probably the first windmills in the South of France. The historic interest of this property is well documented in an ancient book, recently reprinted; 'Montlaur-En-Val' (1926) in which an entire chapter is dedicated to La Couscouillette. The period is important in the history of France. For more details of the book and history of the mills please also look at History of the Mills of the Couscouillette .The two mills, and maybe part of the house were built in the 13th cent. by Simon de Melun, one of the Northern conquerors of the South of France. He had them built so the villagers would no longer have to grind their corn and maize manually and individually. The windmills were new to France then, only watermills were well known.
It is said that Simon de Melun, well known in the history of France, brought the knowledge of the East concerning windmills (Crusades) to the S. of France. He purchased a piece of land called 'La Couscouilede' (the name of the hill) to build the mills on.
In the 14th cent. the windmills were destroyed, probably by the 'Black Prince' who had also burned down the town of Beziers, killing 20.000 people.
In the 16th cent. the Comte de Malacoste acquired 'rights on the wind' from the French king. He restored the two mills and became rich due to his monopoly position on the grinding of corn. After that he was given his title by the king. In those days farmers lived mainly from growing corn, not grapes.
Over the centuries the house was constantly changed and extended. Millers lived here up to the beginning of the 20th century. Around 1930 grinding the corn was no longer economically interesting. A shepherd moved into the house and mills with 300 sheep. He left around 1950 and the house stood empty, falling to ruin till we bought it in '77.
It was of course divine justice, or instant karma, whatever you want to call it, that the English Black Prince burned it down and we then bought it and it became our life's work to renovate it and make it live again!! At least, that is what the builders stated when we started renovating it... the English destroyed it, the English rebuilt it!