Head north east from Bellaugello to the foot hills of the Apennines. In just half an hour’s driving you reach the village of Sigillo nestling under the immense mass of Monte Cucco, the hill which gives its name to our regional park. Sigillo being the village where the road that winds its way up this slumbering giant turns off from the Via Flaminia the old Roman road.
But instead of turning right, continue a bit and then turn left, and park you car in a newly created parking space above a river spouting forth crisp clear mountain water.
The sign sponsored by the European Community did say ‘weight not to exceed 3 1/2 tons’, I would add ‘take care not to drop your car keys’. The car park is built over a section of the mountain stream that is dammed upstream of an old mill. My car was the third to sit over the river. The resulting pool can by opening a sluice give access to the old mill lade, the noise and clarity of the water cascading over the dam reminiscent of the sight and sounds I hear in the mountain streams of Alto Adige.
My destination was the old mill which was bought by Monica and Laura with the aim of not only creating a home, grow their own vegetables but where they could let out a few rooms, and get the mill back into operation so to be able to offer a service to small farmers (not necessarily only small in stature) for grinding their own corn and grains in small batches, rather as we do with our olives when we go to the frantoio. The mill was last used in 2004, that part is an electrical installation from I believe the 1950s, large, grey the room rather like an organ loft overflowing with pipes and tubes all leading to three hydraulic grind boxes. It is the stone grindwheels powered by the mill lade that the girls are principally interested in restoring.
Grain has been grown in this part of Umbria for many many centuries and there used to be many many mills in the valley, the neighbouring village – Purello, really little more than an hamlet having been home to five such mills. Progress of the big urbanisation saw water being taken from the Monte Cucco hills and piped to Perugia – incidentally on its way passing through the Bellaugello estate and serving us at Bellaugello Gay Guest House with our water. The acquedotto built in Mussolini’s time whilst giving water to some denied water to others, and lead to the closure of the flour mills and the death of the centuries old papermaking tradition in the foothills of the Apennines. Now Fabriano on the other side of the hill is the location of the only remaining paper mills, the water there belonging to the neighbouring region of Le Marche. Incidentally a beautiful town, a delightful centro storico, well worth a visit and the museum of paper a fascinating insight into the ancient process of papermaking, with a fine shop where you can purchase beautiful hand-made waterlaid paper, and only forty five minutes drive from Bellaugello. Anyway back to Sigillo and the flour mill…
Above are photos of the two mills, neither large, and both fed by hand the grain being tipped into the wooden hopper that sits above the grind stones, going through the mill the flour coming out in the large open boxes. Interestingly the upper grind stone is fixed, (or so we were told) power from the mill lade which runs below the mill, (actually below where I was standing whilst taking the photo) by means of a horizontal metal paddlewheel and a large vertical rod being given to the lower stone. Currently the paddlewheels are a bit sad looking, squiffy or skew-wiff, the drive shafts corroded and no longer properly connected to the stones.
The group I joined were at the mill to volunteer to clear the mill lade and race and help get the grind stones back in operation. Luckily we were joined by a local guy, Franco who grew up living opposite the mill so knows every nook and cranny. He too is keen to see production resumed, and was a fount of knowledge. If you have know of the functioning of a watermill and are prepared to come and give of your time then I am sure Monica will be happy to host you whilst you help realise her dream. She has a couple of delightful simple rooms available on the top floor of the mill.
If all goes according to plan within the next couple of years local farmers will be taking their grain to be milled at the is last remaining watermill sitting under the giant Monte Cucco hill, and we at Bellaugello will be making my bread from that organic flour.