Walking in the Pyrenees, twenty years ago, Matthew Parris and his sister came upon a magnificent medieval house. It had crests and a date, 1559, chiselled into the stone: its walls and foundations were intact but the ancient oak ridge timber supporting the roof had split and was ready to collapse into the rotten floors beneath. Renovation would be an epic undertaking, a massive investment of time, money and emotion. And, the locals warned, nobody ever left L'Avenc with any money.
"What! Was that it!"