Renovating a dilapidated watermill in Mayenne has been a labour of love for expat Mick Watson, as finds out
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
Moulin de Gô in Mayenne has been restored to its former glory by Mick and a group of enthusiastic volunteers
The waterwheel is assembled