A walk to a mill

There’s been a mill on the site of Howsham Mill since before the Norman Conquest (and subsequent massacre of all things Northern) – it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book.

It’s taken me this long to get round to seeing it. We took a walk there, from Kirkham Priory. This is all that remains of the priory now. The grounds are peaceful, well-tended, and have picnic tables.

From there we headed up into the woods.

The keen-eyed among you might spot a rather cheekily-shaped mushroom at the foot of a tree to the right of the path. More mushrooms were growing on a tree nearby – not edible, as far as I know:

Leaving the wood took us out onto farmers’ land, then a quiet road. A tree had dropped hundreds of tiny apples onto the verge and the tarmac. Many of them have now found their way to places where they stand a better chance of growing. Not into trees with sweet, edible apples to be sure, but at least into trees. This country needs all the trees it can get, and this is just the time of year for-

Pears??


I have never seen a pear-tree, at a random roadside, drop perfectly edible pears (we tested a few) onto the road like this. Pity to waste them…

We crossed a proper staffed level-crossing. Inside the office, we noticed, the windowsills were stacked with books. Perfect job for someone!

And so to the River Derwent:

And on to the Mill.

The present Gothic pile was built in 1755 as part of the Howsham Estate – apparently the gentlemen of the house wanted a bit of a conversation piece, visible from their stately home, as well as a useful source of income.

But bit by bit, over the next 200 years, grinding first flour, and then animal feed, became less and less profitable. The last miller left in 1947 and the building fell into such bad disrepair that some bright spark in the 1960s (of course) put in an application to demolish what was left of it.

Luckily, conservationists intervened.

In the early 2000s local enthusiasts formed the Renewable Heritage Trust with the aim of getting it rebuilt and running, both as a source of electricity and a venue for educational outreach and the like.

Our writers’ group had even booked a day there, but sadly it got Covid-ed.

The Mill now has two sources of renewable electricity: a classic mill-wheel that generates about 10 kW (about enough energy to fire the boiler to heat a small house), and an Archimedean Screw (a spiral rod that the water turns as it passes down a tube – particularly good for venues with a low height difference between the water arriving and leaving, as the Derwent has in this flat landscape) which, when we turned up, was generating about 45 kW.

It also has a picnic table – so we had lunch.

The volunteers who run it all appear to be retired engineers. I worry that, as the national retirement age is raised, life expectancy stops its historic 200-year upward trend, and the supply of rail and other mechanical experts dwindles, we’ll be short of the good types who keep this kind of project on the road, and who are willing and able to start up new ones.

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