There’s no denying that when you live in a place you often don’t make an effort to visit many of its attractions, probably because you think that there will always be another opportunity to do so. This was definitely the case with the Winchester City Mill, which I have passed many times en route to the various drinking and eating establishments located in that part of town, but never actually entered. Until I was given a National Trust membership card for my birthday (I’m only 31, but you’re never too young to appreciate a bit of heritage, right Mum?)
And what a lovely experience it was too.
Bread. Freshly baked bread. And butter. Is any food more primal? The smell alone is enough to make the most steadfastly ‘functional-eater’ drool with anticipation as they imagine the golden pat gently melting, dripping slowly over the soft, fluffy centre towards the brown, crusty outer. You can tell that I haven’t had dinner yet. The point being that bread has been – still is – so vital to our human history that an historic mill is a fascinating place to visit, especially when set up as well as it is in Winchester, and staffed with such enthusiastic volunteers.
On the day we went the mill was in action, the huge stones grinding the grain to make the flour that was being packed up and lugged about the place, and that really added to the atmosphere. Downstairs you can stand right by the giant wheel as it churns up the River Itchen with strong, powerful turns. You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the
mill wheel itself that controls the flow of the river, not the other way around, until you notice how strong the rapids are, moving below your feet under the metal bridge. Exhilarating.
It’s one of the oldest surviving examples of a working urban cornmill, and we are actually rather lucky to have it on our doorstep. Although nowadays the Winchester City Mill is mainly for eduction, they do produce between 15-20 tonnes of flour each year, most of which ends up in National Trust shops and restaurants, with the rest going to local businesses and bakers – you can even buy some flour for yourself (without paying the entry fee, I should add).
In short, it’s well worth a visit. If you do go, I’d urge you to see when they are baking – not only will you get some very tasty treats offered to you, but the ladies there are very knowledgeable and more than happy to share recipes and baking tips with anyone who asked – we’ve got a wicked sourdough in the pipeline. And it will all set you back less than a fiver.
At a glance