I rather enjoy visiting mills – of all kinds. windmills, watermills steam mills and tide mills. I’m not sure why – but I think its that they are a reminder of old technologies and the way we used to use the power of the elements to our advantage. I also like to see how the technology changed with time – a water mill being given an electric engine, a tide mill being upgraded with a steam engine. Plus the lack of sentimentality about the mills in the past, when new technology came along – the mills were abandoned – they were working machines not buildings to grow fond of.
Each year at the beginning of May is National Mills Weekend, it’s a chance to visit mills that aren’t often open to the public. This year we went to Thorrington Tide Mill, which is on the Colchester Road just before you reach Brightlingsea on the North Essex Coast. It’s in a beautiful setting, and on a warm sunny day in early May the countryside looked glorious. The mill sits at the head of Alresford Creek, and it’s one of a very small number of tide mills remaining in the country. It’s powered not from water from a flowing river, but by water from a mill pond which is filled twice a day by the tidal creek.
The mill is now looked after by volunteers who open it for the National Mills Weekend and on the last Sunday of the month from April to September. The guide who showed me around was really enthusiastic and informative, and for once I understood how a mill works. I think that’s down to the guides explanation and the fact that the mill was restored in the 1990’s by Essex County Council and has all it’s machinery in place so you can follow the milling process all the way through. Unfortunately they can’t grind flour any more – because one of the bearings on the wheel sits in water and so the machinery can’t all be turned. Although the wheel itself does still turn (I think I’ve got that right – it got a bit complicated at that point!) From the top floor of the mill there are some great views of the creek as it winds through the fields to the coast. The tide was out when we visited, which emphasised the mills reliance on the power of the tide – no water meant no work. Which is why the Victorians modernised the mill with a steam engine.
After visiting the mill we decided to go down to Brightlingsea for some tea and cake at Batemans Cafe. If you have a look at the photo’s you can see that one of them is in fact of Batemans Tower. There’s a good walk along the front, with lots of boats of all kinds to admire, and a view over to East Mersea. Another time we may catch the foot ferry that goes between Brighlingsea, St. Osyth and East Mersea. The landscape you know so well always looks different from the sea. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours on a sunny afternoon – if you get the opportunity to visit the mill do take it it’s definitely one of the counties “hidden gems.”