Ren­o­vat­ing a di­lap­i­dated water­mill in Mayenne has been a labour of love for ex­pat Mick Wat­son, as finds out

Gil­lian Har­vey

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

Nestling among the trees, its moss-cov­ered and par­tially di­lap­i­dated roof vis­i­ble through the un­der­growth, Moulin de Gô – a 13thcen­tury water­mill, si­t­u­ated close to StPierre-sur-Erve in Mayenne – was grad­u­ally fall­ing into ruin; its over­grown grounds and dried-up trib­u­tary mak­ing it rem­i­nis­cent of an enchanted build­ing from a fairy tale.

It was this mag­i­cal at­mos­phere which Mick Wat­son was drawn to when he first saw the build­ing in 1989. “I was cap­ti­vated from the start,” he says. “I was in France buy­ing prop­er­ties for ren­o­va­tion and sale, but this pur­chase was made with my heart rather than my head.

“I first fell in love with France when I was about 18 af­ter spend­ing some time in the south build­ing swim­ming pools, so it was al­ways my am­bi­tion to live here even­tu­ally,” he ex­plains.

While Mick, a builder, pur­chased five other prop­er­ties for in­vest­ment and re­sale dur­ing his trip, Moulin de Gô was bought in the hope that he could re­store it to its for­mer glory. “I was fas­ci­nated by the his­tory of the mill – thought to have one of the ear­li­est wa­ter­wheels in France – and bought it with the in­ten­tion of restor­ing it au­then­ti­cally,” he says. “One of my dreams had al­ways been to have a river at the bot­tom of my gar­den, so to ac­tu­ally have the chance of own­ing a water­mill, even in the state it was in, was amaz­ing. At around £28,000, there was no way I could have ac­quired any­thing like it in the UK,” he says.

Un­for­tu­nately, Mick, 65, who owned a build­ing com­pany in the UK at the time, fell vic­tim to the re­ces­sion shortly af­ter his pur­chase. “I had to fo­cus on keep­ing my com­pany in the UK go­ing, so ev­ery­thing else got put on the back-burner,” he ad­mits.

It was 23 years be­fore Mick had the op­por­tu­nity to turn his at­ten­tion to the mill again. “I moved to France full-time, on my own, in 2006, and was work­ing on a ren­o­va­tion in the south, when I got a call out of the blue from a res­i­dent of St-Pierre-surErve named Jean-Claude. He loves wa­ter­mills and had been mo­ti­vated to find out who owned the one near his vil­lage. He sug­gested that we form an as­so­ci­a­tion, which would en­able him and other will­ing vol­un­teers to work on the site with­out pay­ment, sim­ply just for the op­por­tu­nity to be part of such a his­tor­i­cal pro­ject.”

At first, Mick was re­luc­tant to ac­cept. “I’ve al­ways paid my way,” he says. “So the idea of peo­ple work­ing for free wasn’t one I warmed to im­me­di­ately. How­ever, Jean-Claude, the most en­thu­si­as­tic of the vol­un­teers, per­suaded me. His pas­sion for the pro­ject was in­fec­tious.” Soon af­ter­wards, the non-prof­it­mak­ing as­so­ci­a­tion Les Amis du Moulin de Gô was formed.

As part of the pro­ject, Mick, to­gether with his vol­un­teers, ran a se­ries of open days to giv­ing cu­ri­ous lo­cals and mem­bers of the pub­lic ac­cess to the site, and the move proved a pop­u­lar one. “I hadn’t been near the prop­erty for years, so ev­ery­thing was com­pletely over­grown. There were trees grow­ing through the walls! We cleared the back and opened within three months, with 300 peo­ple at­tend­ing over the course

Above:

Right:

Moulin de Gô in Mayenne has been re­stored to its for­mer glory by Mick and a group of en­thu­si­as­tic vol­un­teers

The water­wheel is as­sem­bled

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.