We went round to the level crossing the other day and stopped to look over the fence at the beck. Just here he’s running down a staircase as he climbs down from one side of the road to the other, so he’s quite vocal. We stopped to chat. It turns out that he didn’t always come this way. He used to cross the road higher up the hill and sit around in a mill pool. He says it was quite hard work turning the mill wheel so he doesn’t miss it all that much. He’s been retired for a good few years now and he’s grown used to having more time to himself.
It wasn’t a bad job, he tells me, and there was something very satisfying about regular work. He ground corn mostly, he says, but the saw mill wasn’t idle and had reasonably regular business. They used more timber in those days. There was talk of building a canal from Carlisle to Newcastle but nothing ever came of it. It wasn’t going to come past here anyway, but for a time he did think it might be nice to flow east down the Tyne into the North Sea instead of the Eden into the Irish. Then the railways came and that was the end of his international travel aspirations.
Still, as he says, he’s retired now and his times his own.
It was a nice day on Sunday so we went down to The Little Salkeld Water Mill. We went there before looking for Long Meg and her daughters – I did mention it. We didn’t want Long Meg to think that, now we knew the way, we could drop in unannounced at any time, so we stopped at the Watermill, ate fruit loaf and drank coffee and Earl Grey tea. We are constantly conscious of the responsibilities we took on when we moved up here, you’ll notice.
The mill was working, so we went round to have a look at the water sloshing over the wheel. Mill wheels come in different shapes and sizes. Just over two thousand years ago, the Greeks started to take the idea seriously, and then the Romans had a go, then the rest of us chimed in and it wasn’t until the steam engine came along, water wheels had any real competition. Over this time, we had worked out that you can turn the wheel in three different ways. You can dip the bottom of the wheel in the river – cheap and cheerful, but not for serious work. You can raise the water so that it hits the wheel in the middle, that’s more expensive, more technical, but not too bad. Or you can raise the water even more and to pour it on at the top of the wheel.
This is high-tech stuff, as the taller the wheel, the more horse power it produces.