Back to the watermill

Blossom by the watermill

I needed the medium-sized stepladder to reach the swallow nest. A roll of masking tape was left over from painting and I used this in strips to make a kind of basket suspended from the ceiling – sticky side inwards – that covered the entire nest without touching it. All this because the barn swallows, which until last week we’d never before seen around here, chased the red-rumped swallows away and took over the nest. I wasn’t having that. It was sad so see the red-rumped swallows flee, a day after arriving. (Why are they so fey and always give in so easily?) So the barn swallows must learn, just as the sparrows have done, that they can nest wherever they like, just not outside our front door. That space, along with what is left of the nest, belongs to the red-rumped swallows. Should they reappear, I will remove the masking tape. Here’s hoping, however faintly, that they do.

I am, I know, a little obsessed with the nest and its rightful occupants. I am also obsessed with the ruined watermill at the foot of the path to the river, which equally deserves rightful occupants. My fascination comes and goes. It depends how much spare time I’ve got, and whether I can interest anyone else in it. Luckily this week we had two friends visiting us whose interest was piqued. They arrived in blissful weather which lasted their whole stay, and once we’d finished exploring the permaculture project and opened the swimming pool for the first time this year, we visited the mill.

Previous nosing about had established that the impeller wheel would have been underground, positioned horizontally, while a sluice gate in a rear room released the water from the reservoir at the back to flow through, under the building, and drive the wheel and its various gears and shafts. Broken millstones lie about in the main room amid shattered tiles and cane from the fallen ceiling. A cut-out circle can be seen in the centre of the floor, where the millstones would have been, and in the middle of this space is a small square opening that leads down into the underground chamber. This is as far as the explorations had got, but then Neil, combining slender hips with an adventurous spirit, dropped himself down through the square, a tight fit, to land on his feet in the silt below. His head soon disappeared as well, but his voice echoed back.

No equipment remained underground except for a rusty pickaxe head, but the shape of the underground chamber revealed itself: a dome. The inlet for the water is set at an angle to encourage centrifugal force. The whole device is a turbine. The outlet would presumably have led back to the river, perhaps running underground until it got there. Mill water could, I imagine, be diverted for irrigation, but this is an isolated mill on a bend of the river and the water must surely have ended up back in the stream. The wheel was likely to have been wood, long since rotted away, which would explain its absence. It might be possible to dig some remains out of the silt. That’s for another day.

Neil made his way out of chamber again, having taken photographs on my camera for later inspection.

It’s an overlooked thing, this mill. It’s still up for sale as a tourist project with no requirement whatsoever to protect the Portuguese heritage it represents.

Rollie, my Renault 4, my own little bit of heritage, is doing rather well. He’s been running smoothly for many months now. In April he needs his annual service and inspection, and I began to think of getting in touch with Costa, even though it had been a while since I’d spoken to or seen him, to ask if he would take care of this as he has done the previous two years. On Monday I drove to Tavira. I planned to call Costa on my mobile while I was out and could get a signal but I was rather busy and didn’t. Almost back at home, at the top of our dirt track, I remembered. I pulled into one of the passing places and took out my phone.

I’d missed a call from Costa by minutes.

I swear, when it comes to the Renault 4, we have a perfect, telepathic understanding. We’re going to meet up later in the week.

Underneath the mill. The water inlet

The water outlet. Here you can clearly see the dome shape

A millstone in the grounds


  1. Pauline

    You should buy the mill to protect it, like the red rumped swallows nest, also it would give you a water front 🙂

  2. Hazel

    How would you preserve the heritage of the mill? Would you have to rebuild as a mill? I’ve always been somewhat lacking in imagination in such projects! On telepathy: doing a book on cats at the moment and have learnt that cats are great telepathisisers (great new word, no?!). . . but so are cars. If ever D or I remarks to the other on how little trouble the current car has been (we avoid doing so) it packs up immediately. Fingers now tightly crossed in leafy London for Rollie’s continued good health. xx

    1. Edith (Post author)

      Oh, you’re right! But then I so often tempt fate with what goes into the blog. xx

  3. Patricia Roberts

    What a difference to your piece of land ,it must be so pleased the land l mean,l love how you are changing the area,what a couple you are,loved by all except the sparrows! Ingenious are you winning?xx.

  4. Lionel

    Oh dear! Competition! But I am quite happy to demur to the slim-hipped, non-claustrophobic Neil! Hope it comes to something? But, I am with Pauline – you NEED river frontage – and what potential….
    Poor sparrows, its going to be survival of the fittest on the swales, why not on the verandah?

  5. fatma

    So there were barn swallows!!!! The thing is Edith, was the nest not there when you arrived at your Portugal Idyll? How do you know who the creators of it were? Perhaps it was the humble sparrow? And all this while, thwarted from reclaiming its rightful ancestral home? Or indeed the barn swallow? Perhaps your insistence that the residence within a residence be occupied by the favoured few, is merely a nepotistic conceit? Messing with the proper natural order of things? Or are you the defender of the under, in this case, red rumped swallow? Protector of the small and unassuming? A valiant role rather than an assisting colonising one? Perhaps history alone will serve to either vindicate or censure the current ongoing battle for Home Rule!

    ps. Very interesting blog re watermill. Another question: was it a successful watermill do you think? Given the seasonal fullness and paucity of the river flow? :-))

    1. Edith (Post author)

      Hello Fatma! Interesting questions. First of all, the mud nest we found when we moved in was made by the red-rumped swallow. It’s a distinctive shape; utterly definitive. Plus the next year we saw them build a replica. It’s totally different even from the barn swallows’ mud nests. Sparrows never build mud nests. And there’s room for all of them to nest around here. I just think the red-rumps deserve to keep the one they made. It was hard work! 2. Watermill: wouldn’t have been built if it wasn’t needed but I suspect its end was heralded when people stopped growing cereals, esp wheat, around here. I’m sure its falling into disuse is more about that than about the river flow; they had a reservoir to store water to get round that problem. More to find out though! x

  6. lionel

    Not in quarantine…wow…miss the questionable company!?

    How long will the sparrows vs. swallows battle last? Just cos they don’t swoop so endearingly! Who will win? A bit remainers vs leavers, populists vs. er …., somewheres vs. anywheres?

    Sorry, too much wine on a magical evening? And OUR swallows are swooping over the pool!

    Blog on.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: