You just wouldn't believe the state the two Medieval windmills and the House 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. 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 guy 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.
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.
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.
The photo above shows the back of the house, it was not visible on the advertisement. Guess why not!
Inside the house we found what you see on the moving photo gallery above! There had been 300 sheep living in the house before it was standing empty for 20 years.
Upstairs we found crumbling plaster, broken roof and straw on the floor. And no staircase to get up there.
The countryside was bare, bare, bare, but with thym, rosemary and lavender growing wild.
Our friends said we were crazy, our son said, I wouldn't give 1 guilder for it! Don't buy it!!
But we bought it and got to work.
There was no running water, no electricity. No sewers. In 1977 we were the first foreigners buying a property in the village. They were friendly and the local builder, Jeanot was a Godsend. He helped us every inch of the way, teaching us how to joint stone walls etc. As well as outside in the beautiful Languedoc countryside how to plant a vineyuard and grow tomatoes in our back garden. His brother, who happened to be the Mayor at the time promised us connections to the electricity grid and local water. He was responsible for planning permissions and as we had chosen his firm for the renovations that was pretty useful.
We were not living in France at the time and could only do the work during our holidays. At first carrying water from the village up to the many small trees we had planted.
Planting pin parasols and cypresses with pickaxe or dynamite! Our son Paul, 13, planting a tree using a pickaxe! We had to carry water up from the village at first, there was no running water! We all worked very hard, restoring the ancient Mills and the House.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.At first we worked on the house in our holidays, though the marvelous local builders we had did the main structural jobs.Paul, Robin and me working XWe 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. But we made the best of it, here are some photos.Lunch in the rubble of the Patio, no electricity for shaving. Our faithful dog Leroy 1 peeping out under the table.
Finding the right stones for a job is very important, I was looking for stones to build little walls around the baby trees we were planting to protect them from the fierce Tramontane, the local wind. Some of those 1000 (!) trees were grown from seed on my windowsill in Holland. hen there were the two Mills Both had been used to house 300 sheep before standing empty for 20 years. The second Mill, (now named 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.
This is in 1977, the countryside is bare, bare, bare, but with thym, rosemary and lavender growing wild.
so we got to work
We had to carry water up from the village at first, there was no running water!
We all worked very hard, restoring the ancient Mills and the House.
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.
At first we worked on the house in our holidays, though the marvelous local builders we had did the main structural jobs.
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. But we made the best of it.
Lunch in the rubble of the Patio, no electricity for shaving. Our faithful dog Leroy 1 peeping out under the table.
Finding the right stones for a job is very important, I was looking for stones to build little walls around the baby trees we were planting to protect them from the fierce Tramontane, the local wind.
Some of those 1000 (!) trees were grown from seed on my windowsill in Holland. This is a photo of them made a few years ago, they are even taller now. Quite a Change!
This is what the Pointed Roof Mill looked like when we found it in 1977.
In 1977 there was not a tree in site, the whole bald area had been used for Rugby by the Village.
We planted a huge amount, planting pin parasols and cypresses with pickaxe or dynamite!
Even grew them from seed in my bedroom.
I was gathering stones from the renovations to build little walls around baby trees to protect them from the wind. Now the trees protect us from the wind.
1978 carrying water up from the village, the house had no running water.
This is the Pointed Roof Mill, it had a tree growing in it and no roof. Allan and our builder working on it in 1989.
Paul and Robin helping out. During school holidays we came to France with the kids, restoring the house and planting trees
The Charming Sloping Roof Mill as it is now, really Romantic and Perfect for just 2 persons though it can house 4.
The Pointed Roof Mill as it is now, really gorgeous.
This photo was made a decade or so ago, The house, the Sloping and the Pointed Roof Mill.
Perched on a hill called La Couscouillede surrounded by Olive Trees, Cypresses and Pin Parasols.
The Grounds are breathtaking.
The Sloping Roof Mill had the traditional sloping roof which for centuries was given to mills which had lost their original, wooden roof. We called it the Sloping Roof Mill.
After we moved to La Couscouillette permanently in 1988 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. One of the photos above show Jean-Jacques and my husband Allan, working on what was to become the Pointed Roof Mill.
The windmills date from the Cathar period (1266) 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!