• Michael Smith, Mythical Britain

Chasing windmills on the Cambridgeshire borders


When the moment is right, and the will permits, there is no greater pleasure than pottering along ancient lanes on an old motorcycle - especially one like Gringolet, my 1958 Francis Barnett Falcon 81.

And where better to go than head for the roads and lanes that meander through the untouched villages and farmsteads which populate that strange triangle of England between the counties of Cambridge, Hertford and Essex?

Last summer, with tools packed and petroil mixed, we headed north through the Hadhams and the Pelhams and onto the wind-blown ridge where once the Romans farmed and earlier people built their barrows.

To get here, we take the road from Clavering to Arkesden as it climbs past the ancient church and up onto the delightfully-named Quicksie Hill where we are greeted by spectacular views over the flat lands of Cambridgeshire as they stretch away to distant haze of the unseen north.

Towards the coaching roads...

Now, with Gringolet in low gear (its brakes being of limited capability in terms of motive retardation), we descend to the old road which heads west from Wendens Ambo and along up to Barley, where it joins the coaching road between Braughing and Cambridge.

It has to be acknowledged that a gearbox with only three speeds (slow, mildly quicker and notionally progressive) is an asset to be appreciated only with calm reflection. Life is very much in the slow lane yet here, on these winding tracks laid down with labyrinthine nonchalance hundreds of years ago, Gringolet is in its element.

The road, initially forgiving, eventually pushes us up again towards the top of the ridge as is moves towards Great Chishill. Second gear is required if Gringolet's single Villiers-powered lung can gasp enough air to permit the gradual climb but soon we pass through the village where now the road sweeps down with high abandon.

One of only five trestle post mills left in the country

It is here we meet the subject of our trip, the wonderful post mill at Great Chishill, one of only five such trestle post mills left in the entire kingdom.

Rebuilt in the early nineteenth century and apparently still grinding corn until after the last war, the mill has in recent times been restored although today it needs support once more to make it strong again for another hundred years.

Though its sails no longer turn, Great Chishill's mill is impressive on its ridge and it is easy to see why it was sited here; the winds here are an instant source of power. More, it features a fan tail, a device invented in the eighteenth century which enabled the mill to be turned on its post much faster than moving it by hand.

Efficient and practical in its day, it still stands as testament to the ingenuity of our ancestors and, when viewed from afar on the fading light of a summer's evening, transport the visitor further back to simpler times when life was less complex and warm beer soothed the mind.

And in such gentle contemplation, my foot upon the kick start presses, and off we speed down the ridge once more.

Third gear, it seems, finds extra legs when Gringolet goes down hills and fifty per is reached...

More Information

For more information on Great Chishill Post Mill, see the following links:

www.greatchishillwindmill.com

Mills Archive - Great Chishill

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© 2020, Michael Smith, all rights reserved

Original linocut prints, books  and greetings cards featuring a range of mediaeval themes including: the Battle of Agincourt; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; King Arthur;;Stonehenge; Viking art; Saxon art; the Sutton Hoo helmet; medieval animals; castles; medieval myths and legends; historic monuments and so much more!

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