Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lacey Green Windmill

Are you looking for something to do in the Chilterns? Well, you could do far worse than visit Lacey Green Windmill, which is open on Sunday and Bank Holiday afternoons (2 - 5), from the beginning of May until the end of September.

Described as England's oldest Smock Mill, the windmill has been carefully restored and preserved by members of The Chiltern Society and is staffed by volunteers. Entrance is £2 for adults and £1 for children (5 to 15).

A Smock Mill is one where the only the top bit (the "cap"), turns with the wind. The cap rotates so that the sails always face into the wind, with the fantail helping to achieve this.

Without the ability for the cap to rotate to face into the wind, the windmill could get seriously damaged in a strong gale.

The sails at Lacey Green generally only  rotate properly, with sailcloths, once a year during National Mills weekend. This year it was on 15th May and in 2012 is planned to be on on 13th May. A full description of this year's event may be found here.

The milling machinery at the Lacey Green Windmill does not work, but there is plenty of old machinery to be seen throughout the four floors of the mill.

Access to the mill is gained down three steps and then up from the ground floor to three further levels via some rather steep wooden ladders. For obvious reasons, the inside of the building is most definitely not wheelchair accessible. Indeed access will be seriously inhibited for anyone with mobility problems.

On one of the floors there is a very old workbench with some fascinating tools, adjacent to a rather cobwebbed window through which one could see fantastic views over the Northern edge of the Chiltern Hills over Buckinghamshire and on towards Oxfordshire.

I particularly liked the stack of fence sections stored on the ground floor. Clearly manufactured in a traditional manner, these are used to fence off the areas near the rotating sails on sailing days. To me, the way in which these sections of fence have been made sums up the attitude and ethos of the people that have lovingly restored and cared for this historic building over the last few decades.

The windmill is not overly commercial - the prices are refreshingly good value. There is no gaudy tea room (though there is a nice looking pub at the end of the access path) and the choice of souvenirs is rather nicely limited.

Lacey Green Windmill is about local people caring for a really rather nice piece of English heritage. Don't travel hundreds of miles to see it, but if you happen to be in the area when it is open, please do visit it - England is all the better for having fascinating buildings such as this and a short visit is thoroughly recommended.

The windmill contains a hugely informative set of displays, setting out the historical context of the building. I had never really given much thought to the location of windmills and water mills in the area. I can however guarantee that if you visit this piece of history, you will learn something.

Lacey Green is a couple of miles South of Princes Risborough. It has a reasonably good bus service and excellent travel directions are provided on the windmill's highly informative website. Recommended.

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