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Putting wind in your sails

PUBLISHED: 17:47 17 May 2010 | UPDATED: 16:34 01 July 2010

Simon Parkin

East Anglia's flat rural landscape has a long history of windmills. This summer will once again see dozens open their doors to the public. SIMON PARKIN is blown away.

East Anglia's flat rural landscape has a long history of windmills. This summer will once again see dozens open their doors to the public. SIMON PARKIN is blown away.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Let's hope for some windy weather to set the sails turning over National Mills Weekend. The weekend is organised by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, an organisation founded in 1877 by William Morris to counteract the highly destructive 'restoration' of medieval buildings being practised at the time by many Victorian architects.

The society protects hundreds of traditional windmills and watermills from demolition or damage each year and campaigns for the sympathetic repair of mills and to return buildings and machinery to working order.

Following last year's record weekend, when more than 400 mills opened their doors, more mills than ever are expected to take part.

The mills that are open to the public during this national festival do not only produce flour, but include a silk mill in Hampshire, a woollen mill in Wales and the country's largest water-powered cotton mill in Cheshire.

Here in Norfolk and Suffolk we have lots of mills to be proud of, so join in the National Mills weekend and take a trip to support your local mills. www.nationalmillsweekend.co.uk

HORSEY WINDPUMP

Horsey Mere, B1159, 2.5 miles north east of Potter Heigham, open Wed-Sun 10am-4.30pm, £2.50 adults, £1 children, 01493 393904, www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Horsey drainage mill was built by millwrights England of Ludham as a four-storey, red brick tower wind pump with a boat shaped cap, petticoat, gallery and four patent sails. It was working by wind until 1943, when it was severely damaged by lightning. Acquired by the National Trust in 1948, it was restored in 1961 by the Norfolk Windmills Trust but lost its fantail once again in the October 1987 hurricane.

During the subsequent restoration, the mill was given new sails without shutters or a spider. The white painted fantail had red striped blades and tailpole. The complete wind powered gearing remained is still in situ along with the turbine pump in the adjacent pump-house.

The mill - on the edge of the broads and less than a mile from the sea at Horsey Gap - has had a long assossiation with smuggling. It was reputedly used as a hide out and for secret smugglers signals. A message could travel from Yarmouth to Horsey in a quarter of an hour - much faster than a customs man could ride.

BERNEY ARMS WINDMILL

On the banks of the River Yare about 3.5 miles from Reedham, 01799 522842, www.english-heritage.org.uk

One of the finest of Norfolk's tower mills, now in care of English Heritage. It has an impressive seven floors, and is therefore the tallest mill in the Broads.

It ground cement clinker until about 1880, and was then used for drainage until 1951, finally pumping water to drain surrounding marshland.

Recent conservation work has finished and the mill is now open on a limited basis in partnership with the Gorleston Steam Packet Company (www.southernbelle.co.uk), so now is the time to pay a visit.

The company run boat trips to the mill every Monday during July and August. 11.30am and 2.15pm from the Haven Bridge, Great Yarmouth. To make a booking or for further details call 07906 020225.

STOW MILL

Stow Hill, Paston, open daily 10am until dusk, £1.50 (£1.25 cons), 50p per child, 01263 720298, www.stowmill.co.uk

This lovely mill, a tower corn mill, is situated in an area of natural beauty and is just six miles south of Cromer just outside the seaside village of Mundesley.

It was built between 1825 and 1827 and operated from 1828 until 1930, a working period of more than 100 years. Then when the mill was out of work it was stripped of its interior machinery below the brake wheel and turned into a small home but was redeemed in 1960 when it was selected for preservation by the Norfolk County Council.

From then until 1999 the mill was maintained by a private owner with the help of donations and admission charges. In 1999, it was taken over by the current owners, Roger and Andrea Hough, who have carried out considerable restoration work and have now turned Stow Mill into a loved and favoured tourist spot.

The mill building has four floors which are accessed by stepped ladders and information is displayed at each level explaining the use of each particular floor.

There is also a good range of old photographs on display as well as display cabinets on the ground floor which show items for sale in the Stow Mill shop next to the windmill.

DENVER MILL

Sluice Road, Denver, Downham Market, open daily 10am-5pm, admission to windmill this weekend free, usually £2 (£1.50 cons), children £1, family £5, 01366 384009, www.denvermill.co.uk

Denver Windmill was built in 1835 and an additional steam-powered mill was added on site within the following 25-years.

The mill stopped production after being struck by lightning in 1941 and was then gifted to the people of Norfolk in 1971. The site was re-opened by the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust in 2000 with funding from a number of sources.

In 2008 the Abel family took over the operation to develop an educational, training, leisure and above all working heritage site and if you visit now you can expect to see a magnificent six-storey tower corn mill which retains much of its original machinery and in

working order producing bread flour from one set of millstones all year round.

Also on site is the in-house bakery and café with top quality hand made bread, cakes and fresh home made snacks and light meals, plus a new coffee lounge to sit and chat with friends or family.

BIRCHAM WINDMILL

Great Bircham, King's Lynn, open daily 10am-5pm until the end of September, £3.75 (£3 cons), £2 children, 01485 578393, www.birchamwindmill.co.uk

Bircham Windmill still looks as it did more than 100 years ago. At that time more than 300 mills ground corn for horse and cattle feed and bread-making in Norfolk.

Today, very few windmills are left, and Bircham Mill is considered one of the best still remaining: it is the only windmill in working order in the area open to the public.

Visitors can climb the five floors up to the fan stage and, when possible, on windy days, visitors can also see the sails and the milling machinery turning. There are also many items of interest to see in the tearooms, bakery and grounds.

The whole family can enjoy this beautiful mill and its history plus children will love the Children's Baking Corner which takes place every day at the mill between 10am and 1pm.

For just £2 children will be able to bake their own rolls or mini-loaf to take home and have plenty of fun too.

Also on site you can take a look at the bakery adjoining the mill with its original, coal-fired oven. They still bake in the original bakery and sell a wide range of bread and cakes today. They also sell the flour which is used for baking and other speciality flours.

PAKENHAM WATERMILL

Mill Road, Pakenham, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, Sat-Sun 2pm-5.30pm, plus Thurs 10am-4pm with milling demonstrations until 11am on the first Thursday of each month, £3 (cons £2.50), children £1.50, 01284 724075, www.pakenhamwatermill.co.uk

This watermill is the last working in Suffolk. For almost 1,000 years millers on this site have been using the simple technology of water power to produce stone-ground wholemeal flour from locally grown wheat.

Now owned by the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust, a team of dedicated volunteers, this tradition continues.

They mill traditional stone-ground wholemeal flour from locally grown wheat, which is a strong bread flour, excellent for use in bread makers or hand methods.

The area within the mill grounds overlooking the mill pool is ideal for picnics and there is also a pleasant walk along the river bank. Over this weekend there will be milling and baking demonstrations.

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