When you leave the mountain towns you do not leave the cuteness behind… The Commune d’USCLAS D’HERAULT presents a sleepy aspect, much belying the nearby dams and dikes that encircle the village. Flooding on the plane from the large rivers is a relatively frequent occurrence and measure must be taken.
But today’s effort is not about flood prevention. Slightly outside of town there is a small track with nothing to tell you where you are, but pretty enough poppies and daisies growing wild and you can hear the stream in the distance.
OK, maybe more than just a stream. Here is the Moulin de Roquemengarde on the Hérault river. This medieval mill is so lovely. The foundations of it adorn the first publicity brochure for the EU project RESTOR Hydro. The owner is very interested to take part in the project and we are busy attempting to set up cooperatives to gather funding from local sources to fund restoring the waterpower elements of the site and return some small funds to the local region, the funders and the owner to ensure the continued survival of this and other mills just like it. On this day all is peaceful and the building stands tall and proud, as it has done for many decades. The owners, a family, who have restored the mill from generation to generation, are quite concerned about the building. It has been subject to vandalism in the past but you can see the immense potential as a water power site, although the height differential is not extreme.
The weir is in good shape, and a small hydropower station would fit well within both the historical uses and to the desires to maintain, protect and maybe even restore elements of the buildings. The building seems to be shaped almost as a ship’s prow, built to divert and to withstand the massive floods that occur on occasion, the flooding that was occurring in France during this visit was fortunately in a different province.
A light summer rainstorm breaks up the surface of the water backup beyond the weir. It is no small crises for our representative from the French Mills Federation. The French government in an attempt to mitigate human impacts to waterways and to comply with the water quality directive has ordered the destruction of unused obstructions in rivers. If such a weir was to be destroyed it would change the water patterns that have been in place now hundreds of years. This pool and low-down in the river would disappear. The trees growing on the bank would be left with a depressed water level and exposed roots. The ecosystem is well balanced and comfortable.
Even from a distance you can see the well preserved infrastructure where a wheel or even a modernized low-rpm (fish preserving) turbine could be placed. Really, with a light summer rain falling and the bright southern France sun in the distance, a slow moving stream, we so wish for a small sack picnic lunch, a small towel to sit on beside the millpond and a glass or two of the local vintner’s daily drinking fruit of the vine.
This is another concern for the poor owner: local kids, egging each other on to show bravery, have entered the mill via some method unauthorized and have climbed out an upper window (partially obscured by the tree on the left hand side of the image), crawled out on the roof of the mill and jumped into the pool. Great fun and a rite of passage for rural life teens, but also a potential hazard and the owner would really rather not have this happening …
A bit further along in the “commune” of Neffiès is an utterly charmant Moulin de Julien.
As charming a little pocket mill as one would ever want to see. “Built around 1696, this grain mill is one of the 579 water mills registered in the Imperial statistics of 1809 in Hérault”
Many years ago there was a painter in the US who styled himself ‘the painter of light’. He painted overly saccharine and treacly sweet rural scenes. He never saw this place or he would have thrown down his brushes in utter disgust and got a job washing dishes at a local restaurant.
Seriously? The cart wheels wearing their way through the stone of the bridge have still left their tracks. Something there is about a pile of rocks … cannot but put me in mind of Mr. Frost:
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls.
The local students have been here working and rebuilding the walls and the reservoir. And what a reservoir it is! The stream is but a trickle this afternoon. It would work hard to fill the millpond overnight for the next day’s grinding.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast…
… Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, ”
But in this case the purpose of the walls was clear: to keep out the damp, and the cold, the mice and the birds so the miller could ply his trade. Perhaps Mr. Frost could have added an ode about the something there that does not love a roof…
So perhaps instead of Mr. Frost, we should instead be thinking about Mr Ruskin: “John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature…” and his book(s) Stones of Venice whereby he details the architecture of her most serene, Venetia.
We wonder if such a treatment could be done with the various stones of watermills. This is not high architecture, the builders of these places built for function as well as beauty. Somehow there is a lesson here for modern architects about buildings that survive in the most adverse of conditions. Certainly someone has written a thoughtful treatise on the matter … somewhere.
Down underneath there is modern piping. The city fathers have made it possible to run the basin dry to clean it out recently. We are given to understand, a tiny pico/micro turbine could fit here easily. However, there is no-one nearby who might make use of the electricity and our stop off here was for the sheer pleasure of our eyes.
Are we sure there is not an architectural treatise on old mill houses, their attendant architecture and bridges to be made here?
But the shadows are growing longer. And a nearby round-about lets us know we are in a favored country, after all, anywhere they bring the famed bicycle race through must be favored indeed. Wonder if any of the many sightseer’s will stop off to take in a calm and sleepy watermill while they are here …
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