In 1989, Mick Watson and a business partner bought five houses and an old watermill in the Pays de la Loire, France, and as the old saying goes, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then…
In 2006, nearly to the day of my visit, Mick moved to France permanently and started the renovation work on the mill, furnished with a lifetime’s experience in the landscaping and building trade.
The Moulin de Go, which was first mentioned in records from the 13th century, is a listed building, built from limestone covered with mud plaster and lime. It is approximately a kilometre from the village of Saint Pierre de Erve. The village grew up in this position because of a Gallo-Roman ford, which provided a river-crossing between Le Mans and Laval. The crossing now has a bridge over it, and the village has a Natura 2000 listing. There is a wonderful Romanesque church, inside of which are 5 statues which are listed as historic monuments; a 19th century wash house and on the hillside nearby is a pilgrimage site, the Chapel of Saint Sylvain.
Throughout history, watermills were very important buildings, harnessing the immense power of the river, and for centuries provided essential services to the villages.
The Moulin de Go’s purpose was to mill grains such as barley and wheat into flour or animal feeds. It is situated between two other mills on the river Erve, upstream is the old Moulin aux Moines and the Moulin du Pont which is downstream in the same village. Mick’s intention is to renovate the mill to become a tourist attraction in the village and he would love to eventually make bread and pizzas in its oven, which still remains intact.
Immediately upon arrival it was easy to see the tremendous amount of work which has, and continues to be carried out there. My arrival interrupted Mick’s building work on a retaining wall for the river, and I learnt that the barrage had been closed upstream, to dry out the riverbed and allow him and his helper from the village, Jean-Claude, to work. Indeed, on the other side of the mill Jean-Claude was busily working on repairing the riverbanks in an enormous digger standing on the riverbed.
The mill, although still work in progress is well worth a visit. There is a cobbled floor entrance and a waterwheel shaft coming through the wall from the watermill on the other side. Eventually it will turn the metal pit wheel and crown wheel whose teeth are being replaced by new ones hand made very skilfully by Jean-Claude. He is using a wood harder than oak, in French it is known as Cormier, we know it as Mountain Ash.
The incredible craftsmanship which has gone into the construction of the new wooden water wheel, by Mick and Jean-Claude is amazing. To retain authenticity, they used the original as a blueprint, laying it out on the upper floor.
The furthest room at the back of the mill with doors leading outside in both directions is large and contains an original bread oven.
Climb just a few steps and you’ll discover a stone floor where the original milling stones can still be seen in good condition.
Whilst renovating Mick found, under the old bridge two guns and some bullets from WWII – Sterling and a Spanish Star (which was only made for the Americans). It is thought locally that the guns and ammunition had been hidden there by the Resistance.
Mick receives no funding for this private renovation but views it as being carried out on behalf of the village. He works tirelessly each day with his friend Jean-Claude. Whilst we talked, a large walking group came straight through the door and wandered around the building, greeting us with a friendly ‘bonjour’ and he didn’t bat an eyelid. He is very generous with his building, wanting only to see it completed and working in his lifetime. In 2018 the Moulin de Go received a Sites and Monuments Heritage prize for the renovation work…
See the Moulin de Go website for opening times.
Susan Keefe is an author and book reviewer