A ‘once in a generation decision’


I was in shock – utter disbelief. How could they? What were they thinking!

I really hadn’t expected the Leave Campaign to win the referendum on whether or not Britain should pull out of the European Union. I’d been blithely reassuring our friends in France that the British would never vote to leave – we had too much to lose. For months, as the media hysteria grew on both sides of the Channel they’d been asking us how it would affect our plans. I hadn’t even given it any serious consideration – it obviously was never going to happen.

And then it did.

Over the next few days I went from incredulous to furious to desolate. We were Europeans – how could they suddenly just decide to take that away from us? What would the impact be on having our home in France? Would we soon need a visa to pop over for the weekend? Could we see exorbitant taxes imposed on us as property owners, once we were no longer EU citizens? (The French government had already tried that once, until the EU told them it was unlawful) Would we even be able to afford to retire once the British economy slid back into recession (as it most certainly would) and our pensions became worthless? Already the pound was starting to plummet against the euro and every day the news stories got worse.

There still hadn’t been any offers on our French house, and to be fair our plans were still very much dependent on our lottery ticket delivering the goods. But that hadn’t stopped us from having a second viewing of the mill and continuing to plan the to-do list when we got in. Over the last few months the vendor had reduced the price considerably and knowing that we were obviously interested, the agent had assured us that he could get it down to within our budget if we signed a compromis de vente committing to purchase within the next 6 months. Sorely tempted as we were, we knew that it would be mad to commit – we couldn’t go ahead until we had realised the funds from the sale of our house and there was no guarantee that we would find a buyer in the next six months. Many of the local properties for sale had been on the market for over 5 years! Under the French system we would lose our 10% deposit if we had to back out of buying the mill.

And now this!

There was no way we would be able to find an English buyer now. Everything was ruined. Everything was uncertain. Colin and I felt so low it was like there had been a death in the family.

And then two days later our agent phoned to say he had a viewing booked for the following day. Somewhat cheered but not exactly hopeful I wasn’t even particularly excited when he rang back the following day to give me feedback.

“Hi Ella, are you sitting down?”  He sounded so excited and happy, I held my breath. “He loved it and made an offer on the spot!”

There followed a couple of days of negotiations on the price, with me constantly running back to my enormous spreadsheet of calculations. Taxes, fees, exchange rates. Would we be able to afford the mill?

Now, as luck would have it, our agent and the agent handling the mill were good friends. I don’t know what conversations happened behind the scenes but suddenly all the agency and legal fees were included in the asking price and finally we were able to say Yes!

The dream was starting to become a reality.

Moulin de la Roche

Why am I writing this?

In 2002 Colin and I had only been together for a few months when we decided to spend a couple of weeks camping in France. As we toured the beautiful areas along the Loire and Cher rivers I fell in love with the country all over again and the seed of an idea began to grow. By the end of the fortnight, the clandestine glances into the windows of estate agents had developed into me dragging Colin from one agency to the next in whichever town we found ourselves. We returned in October to house-hunt in earnest. A small inheritance from my mum was going to provide the deposit and if I was really careful and creative, I could just afford the mortgage repayments on a holiday home in France. By February 2003 we had ourselves the shell of a beautiful stone 16th century village house, complete with tower and stone spiral staircase!

Roll forward thirteen years…IMG_5708

After many happy years of hard slog and every holiday spent lovingly bringing back the house to its full glory we had finally ‘finished’.  OK, so there was always something else we could have done, but retirement was approaching and we started to think about what we might do with more leisure time. Of course it was a given that we would spend more time in France, but was this house going to be our forever French home? It was fabulous as a lock-up-and-leave holiday home, but with little land around it to indulge our passion for gardening and its village location restricting the amount of sun we got in the winter – I started to wonder.

At first Colin was reluctant, but he admitted that he could do with a new project to get his teeth into when he retired. He patiently listened (or pretended to) as I rattled on about the slow-down in the already depressed French housing market, showed him details of ‘doer-uppers’ that we might be able to afford and even indulgently agreed to let me get ‘La Tourelle’ valued and put it on with an agent ‘just to test the market’. Over the years we had made some wonderful friends in the village and there was no way we wanted to move away from them, so this somewhat restricted the size of the area we could search in. After 9 months we had had a few viewings but no offers – the French didn’t want to move to a small rural village where there was no employment and the English weren’t interested as we were miles from the nearest airport. (A distinct plus, as far as we were concerned – we had wanted to be in la vraie France, not in a tourist honeypot or an expat enclave).

And then I saw it! Love at first sight! An old stone-built water mill on the edge of another village, not far from ours. The price was ridiculous  – way beyond our reach, especially as it obviously needed work, but as I showed the pictures to Colin that evening, I’d already moved in, in my head. On our next visit to France I persuaded him that it wouldn’t do any harm to book a viewing and that was it! He was smitten!

I even discovered that my normally calm, sensible husband had been showing pictures of the mill to all his mates down the pub, explaining what we would be doing to the place as soon as we got it…

Looking back on the laughter and tears that had gone into our previous renovation project, I regretted not keeping a diary to look back on. As our new love affair begins I’ve decided that I’m going to keep a blog to chart all the highs and lows, victories and disasters along the way. It’s primarily for me, Colin (if he wants to read it) and our families – but if you are reading this and don’t fall into the aforementioned audience, a very warm welcome to you. I’ll try and keep it updated regularly and if you feel like adding a comment, please do.