Families enjoy wild adventures at renovated riverside mill in France
- Credit: Archant
Turning a working mill on the Argentor River, in Charente, into a holiday home has been a labour of love for Tom and Claire Harvey and their extended family – and now they’re sharing it with others too
What attracted the family to Charente?
We love the open space, the rivers and the fact that it's one of the least populated and undiscovered areas of France. It's very rural and agricultural, so there is so much of the land that still remains as field and forest.
Did much work need to be done to the property?
The mill has been in Claire's family for nearly 20 years. It needed a lot of work initially, though quite a bit had already been done by the previous owners.
One of the things we love about old buildings is that it can take a few generations of different owners to fully evolve. The journey for Le Moulin de Tingaud has been taking it from a working industrial mill to a family home. We have tried to keep as much of the detail as we can, so all the sluices still work and there is a lot of the old machinery still in place.
How long have you been holidaying there as a family?
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Our children had some of their first holidays there and our oldest is now 22! There is now a third generation paddling in the river and playing in the fields. We're lucky in that our children still love coming here, so it feels very much part of the family history now.
What are some of your favourite pastimes while in France?
I'm really enjoying working in the woods. We have a lot of chestnut and hazel forest and all of it would have been coppiced originally.
I've been learning the old coppicing techniques and have been slowly restoring the woodland to functioning coppice. I have also been laying hedges and replanting.
We also love the outdoor life, so during the summer we are seldom indoors. We've turned the old sawmill into a field kitchen, with a big barbecue, a prep table and a fire pit - we can feed about 20 people up there.
We often hang a cauldron of stew over the fire pit and let it simmer away for a few hours, ready for supper, then the kids roast marshmallows in the embers. It makes for the perfect evening.
A couple of miles away there is wild swimming in the river at Condac, and we often all head there to jump and dive off the weir and swim in the cool water. We also enjoy family canoe trips, cycling and running.
There is miles of open countryside and empty tracks and roads and we make good use of them.
How often do you get to visit?
We try to get out three or four times a year. This often coincides with the seasons, so we can cut firewood, prune fruit trees and generally try to keep the place functioning and looking good, though the French seasons don't always behave as you expect.
Last year we went out in October assuming we would be getting ready for the winter, but it was 26 degrees and still like summer.
What is it like throughout the seasons?
Spring, summer and autumn are really lovely. Particularly autumn when the leaves are turning. In spring there is an incredible sense of everything getting ready to grow, you can feel the energy in the plants and trees. Summer is always glorious. Thank goodness for the rivers and our big terrace, temperatures can be in the high 30s!
Winter has a very different feel indeed. Most of our time in winter is spent inside, with big log fires, books and jerseys!
Where are your favourite places to visit nearby?
One of the kids' favourites is the treetop village at Taizy Azzy. There are a series of nets and ropes about 60 feet up in the trees, the nets are like trampolines in the sky, and they love it.
We always go to the Auberge de l'Argentor restaurant in Nanteuil; we cycle there along the site of the old railway line, arriving in time for Sunday lunch. There are riding stables which are a favourite with our girls. They even go on the riding camps there, which improves their French no end!
In Verteuil there is a lovely pottery and painting school run by painter and potter Nichollas Hamper and Jane Courquin and the moulin is now full of a very odd collection of pots we've all attempted to make over the years.
What are your plans for the future?
We hope to rent Le Moulin de Tingaud out to bigger groups who are looking for a tranquil place to live the good life. We want to attract people like ourselves who like the outdoor life. We might even run a small arts festival there soon!
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