S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

National Mills Weekend

Fresh off of a transatlantic flight, I was collected from the airport on Sunday morning by S.W., A., and C. for a full day of mill visits, inspired and aided by it being National Mill Weekend. The biggest complication was the staffing of mills by volunteers, resulting in most of them only being open between 2-5 or thereabouts, not exactly condusive for seeing multiple open mills in the same day. Despite all the time driving around, touring the lovely Chiltern hills and surrounding countryside, I spent most of the travel time between mills sound asleep. Unable to sleep on the airplane, I couldn't help but fall asleep at every other available opportunity.

I started my mill-themed weekend on Saturday, at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City, with cliosfolly, where, as part of an exhibit on the development of cutlery, there were a few molinets (literally, little mills), devices especially designed for stirring hot chocolate.

  • From a roundabout en route from Heathrow to Reading, we spied a modern wind mill, three clean white blades rotating in the gentle wind. We pulled over long enough to take a photo - our first mill of the day!

  • Mapledurham Mill is the last working watermill on the Thames. Tucked away in the lovely manor estate of Mapledurham, complete with a nearby flint-walled church and impressive manor house, the mill is open Saturdays, Sundays, and Bank Holiday Mondays from Easter to the end of September from 2-5:30. We made it there by shortly after 10 am, figuring that it was the easiest mill for any of us to return to in the future. We could see the mill and its undershot wheel from a distance.

  • Venn Mill was open in the late morning for National Mills Weekend two years ago, the date of the guidebook we were using, but since then, it's had insurance problems and is no longer open to the public. (It can still be seen by informal appointment, but we figured it might take to long to have someone come over to open it up for us, and we had many more mills to go.) The overflow and neighboring stream was beautifully overgrown, lush with flowers and twining vines. We were all glad we'd worn generally nettle-and-thorn proof clothing.

  • Then it was on to Pann Mill in High Wycombe, a pleasant town with a nicely restored mill. The crowds were thronging, but the water levels were too low from the winter's drought to run the breast-shot mill. I crowded upstairs for an Informative Talk, and we bought informative booklets before heading onward. This was our fourth mill of the day, and the only working one so far had been the accidntally-spotted windmill!

  • We drove up and up into the Chiltern hills, the landscape unfolding in soft hills on the far side of valleys decked in rape-yellow. In a village the top, the tall sails of a smock mill turned in a field beyond a pub, The Whip. That the pub was having a beer-and-cider festival that day was probably not unrelated to the large numbers of people who'd turned up to tour the Lacey Green Windmill on Sunday. The sails turned steadily in the wind (finally!), bearing down intimidatingly on those of us standing just beneath them, but they were not connected to the gears within. The rest of the mill needs too much restoration. Indeed, the deep cracks in the wooden post at the building's heart showed just how much more work the place needs. Still, it was magical climbing up the building's four stories to stand beneath the brake wheel at the top; it was like being inside an oversized mechanical clock. I bought several brochures, including a few on food production, and a commemorative mug.

  • It was now 5 o'clock and the next mill was scheduled to close at 5:30. We pulled in just as they were taking down the SPAB flag and vacuuming up the flour from the day's milling. At Ford End Watermill in Ivinghoe, we found the holy grail of our day's questing: a working water mill which had made its own flour that very day and was selling it. The host was happy to stay late, open the sluice gates again, and start the overshot wheel to working, to tell us all about the mill. The rest of the volunteer staff stayed only long enough to sell us flour and commemorative objects before leaving. Highlights of the three-story mill included a sheep-washing shoot, a modern rotary hand quern, a functional bag hoist, and a locally-excavated medieval millstone from a hand-turned mechanical mill which I could handle. A. commented on just how much S.W. and I were grinning afterwards.

  • Pittstone Windmill, probably Britain's oldest post mill, is located a short drive away from Ford Inn, but has fewer volunteers to run it. It wasn't even open for the day, which is part of why we left it late. (It's National Trust Property and its hours are 2:30 to 6 pm, Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays, from June 1 to August 31st.) We walked through the knee-high field of green wheat to the dark wood structure at the field's center. The vanes were fixed for the winter, the tailpost disturbingly broken.

  • The last mill of the day was, like so many others, not working today. The waitress at the Moor Mill near St. Alban's, in the shadow of the M25, said that was unusual though; usually the waterwheels turned, although the mill does no work any more, for it has long been a restaurant. Currently, it's owned by the Travel Lodge chain. The food was decent because it surpassed my low expectations of it. But it was an appropriate finish to the day.

We didn't have the best luck with working mills on Sunday, but we did see mills, and in great variety. Happily, we saw a few functioning mills, and did find a mill which had had the water levels to grind earlier in the day. We all went home with bags of flour.
Tags: flour, national mills weekend, watermills, windmills

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