After seeing the Green woodpeckers a few days ago, my sister and I were treated to a fleeting glimpse of two Little owls. We were driving down a country lane near Bicker, Lincolnshire, on our way back home, when first one, then another swooped silently overhead, and off over the fields. They are just like other owls, but in miniature; typically about 22cm tall, with a wingspan of 56cm and weighing in at 180 grams. They are territorial, and usually nest in natural hollows in trees. Unlike most other owls, they can be seen during the day, and although we saw them in flight, you can sometimes spot them perched high up on posts and fences, ready to swoop down on any unsuspecting small creature or bug.
It all happened too fast to attempt a photo, but they looked something like this:
A family of Green Woodpeckers frequent my sister’s garden in Bicker Gauntlet near Boston in Lincolnshire. They are often seen feeding on the ground, digging their long beaks into ant-runs – ants of course being their favourite food. Like the other British woodpeckers, of which they are the largest, they are striking birds, with green plumage above, light green below, and yellow on the base of a stumpy tail. They have a bright red cap, and black slash across their eyes.
I’m staying with my sister in Lincolnshire again, and as we had a free morning we decided to visit Moulton Windmill, somewhere I had not been before. We started off with a very nice coffee and walnut cake in the cafe, and then had a very interesting guided tour of the mill. Tony took us through the mill, clearly explaining the history of the mill, and the stages of its restoration. The tour took about an hour, and was fascinating, and most enjoyable.
Moulton Windmill is a brick-built tower mill, and at 100ft high is considered to be the tallest windmill in the United Kingdom, and one of the tallest in the world. It was built in 1822 by Robert King, and like many Lincolnshire windmills it has white-painted ogee cap – shaped like two shallow ‘s’ curves rather like an onion, and topped with a tall pointed finial. After being damaged by a severe gale in December 1894, the sails were removed and a steam engine was installed in the adjoining granary to power the mill, with a roller milling plant for processing animal feed. There are nine storeys, and on the elevated ground floor there is a separate miller’s office. The tower at the base is 28ft 9in, which narrows to 12ft at the curb, where the cap sits on a hexagonal wooden frame built into the brickwork, with an iron track to enable the cap and sails to turn into the wind.
A local restoration campaign was begun in about 1997, and in 2003 the mill was featured on BBC’s first series of ‘Restoration’. There were many fund-raising events, and a large Heritage Lottery Fund grant was won, so there was enough money to restore and refurbish the mill’s structure, build a shop and cafe, and fit a new ogee cap. The external reefing gallery 40ft above the ground was restored, and in November 2011 four new sails were finally added. In full working order again, in April 2013 the first bag of flour for more than 100 years was produced using the power of the wind.
Moulton Windmill, is situated between Spalding and Holbeach, about 4 miles from Springfield Shopping Outlet Centre, just off A151. It is open most days from 10am to 4pm, and some days there are grinding demonstrations – do check their website for details: www.moultonwindmill.co.uk
We usually see the world from our own eye level. Children see a swathe of knees and trousers – a limited view, their eye-line often blocked. As an adult I see from a slightly more elevated level, and see faces and expressions. Go higher and our view extends even further, but the higher we get the more we tend to look down. I remember a couple of years ago looking down from the top of Old Dungeness Lighthouse in Kent, and last summer staring out across the Lincolnshire countryside from Sibsey Trader Windmill. Even with our feet firmly on the ground, we are always looking down – avoiding muddy puddles, wary of the broken paving stone that might trip us up. Consequently, unless we’re star-gazing, we rarely notice what is actually straight above us. When we do look up, what a different world we then can see; from clouds to skyscrapers, from the natural to the constructed. New perspectives, fresh patterns, surprising shapes and shadows. A new view of the familiar, and an unexpected view of the ordinary that makes it extraordinary. So take a moment to look up, and be surprised!
During my summer visit to family in Lincolnshire I visited Sibsey Trader Windmill, just off the A16, 5 miles north of Boston. Unlike the traditional image of a four sailed windmill, Sibsey Trader Mill has six impressive sails, and is one of a very few six-sailed windmills still surviving in England. It has an unusually narrow tower, and although only 74 feet 3 inches to the top of the cap, standing in the flat, wide open Lincolnshire countryside, it gives the impression of being much bigger than it actually is. It was built in 1877, replacing an earlier post mill, and has six floors, and an interesting wrought iron balcony. The mill was working until the early 1950’s, but then fell into disrepair. In the 1960’s The Ministry of Works decided it was one of twelve windmills of national importance, and during the seventies it was taken into the care of the Department of the Environment, and restoration began. Now restored, and owned by English Heritage, it is fully working, with a complete gear, six huge sails and a fantail. Standing adjacent to the windmill are the Country Tea Rooms, which serve good but basic fare of sandwiches (made with their own bread), jacket potatoes, cakes and drinks.
It was a steep narrow climb up into the windmill, but we were rewarded with excellent views across the flat Lincolnshire countryside. The sails were creaking, and the floorboards were vibrating, although no actual milling was taking place, and every surface was filmed with a white dusting of flour. The Mill Shop is situated in the base floor, and it sells plenty of souvenirs, and a wide range of organic flours and other local produce.
If you’re in the area, Sibsey Trader Windmill is certainly worth a visit, but do check the opening times on their website: http://www.sibseytraderwindmill.co.uk/
The Fenland area of Southern Lincolnshire is a land of wide open skies, and vast expanses of flat, mostly agricultural countryside. The area is very low-lying, and without artificial drainage and flood prevention, much of the area would regularly flood, especially during times of heavy and prolonged rainfall.
There are indications that show the area around Pinchbeck and Spalding was embanked and drained in Anglo-Saxon times, and by the time of the Doomsday Book in 1086, settlement in the area was well established. There were other drainage works in medieval times, but land drainage began properly during the 17th century. Wind-driven pumps were used until the 1820’s when they were replaced by coal-powered steam-engines, like the 20 horse-power rotative beam engine on display at the Pinchbeck Engine Museum, which was built in Leeds in 1833. The engine drained the Pinchbeck Marsh, and then discharged the water into the Blue Gowt, which joins the River Glen at Surfleet. The Pinchbeck Engine was replaced by an electric pump in 1952. In 1979 the Pinchbeck Engine Museum was opened and is run by the Welland and Deeping Internal Drainage Board. The Engine has been restored, and is gear-coupled to a 22 foot scoop wheel, which would have lifted the water 8 foot, and on average raised 3 million tons of water from the land every year, at a rate of 7,500 gallons per minute! Unfortunately the chimney was demolished in 1952, and no attempts were made to preserve the twin-furnace boiler which dates from the 1890’s, so the engine is now demonstrated using an electric motor. The boiler would have used 1 cwt of coal an hour, which initially came by barge but later by narrow-gauge railway line. The coal store is now the Museum of Land Drainage, and around the side of the building is the original blacksmiths shop, which looks like the blacksmith has just left it for the night!
While we were in Lincolnshire last week, we visited the Pinchbeck Engine Museum, and had a personal and very informative tour of the complex. Although it was raining, we spent a fascinating hour or so looking at the various exhibits.
If you’re in the area (near Spalding, just off the A16), it’s well worth a visit. Be aware however, that it is not open every day, so do check before you go.
Every evening they come, swooping in flocks that darken the sky, wheeling and swirling in a curious dance of ‘follow my leader’. They alight in droves on the grassy verges and the newly ploughed, furrowed earth; and then as one they take to the air and swarm along the telegraph wires. Chattering and twittering and babbling, like a huge discordant orchestra of confusion. Finally, as if a Demon Headmaster has held up his hand, there is silence – the sudden cessation of noise is almost ear-piercing in its intensity. Then in one great massed flurry of wings, they take to the air once more, and are gone, leaving the crazily swinging telegraph wires as the only evidence of their recent presence. Gradually the frenzied swaying of the high wires slow, until they are still again; and peace returns.