Forest of Galtres Society

Tailraces and dog-paddling

August 20, 2008

In August 2008, the River Derwent at Howsham Bridge was flowing at a good rate as we stood on the stone path on the bridge, looking down at the dark waters below. Chris Fawdington, our guide, told us of the often very rapid changes in river level which they have become used to, as they work to restore Howsham Mill.

The Forest of Galtres Society’s visit was made on a mild Sunday morning, when sixteen members and guests gathered to take the short walk north along the riverbank to reach the watermill, situated on an island at the weir on the river. There was no sign of the extensive mudbanks we had seen the week before when we watched people who were swimming in the river, often with whole families taking part. Our visit was to be strictly dry and aquatic exertions were not expected, only the chance to see the progress of restoration and the site where the Renewable Heritage Trust are intending to generate electric power to sell to the National Grid. Volunteers were busy with barrows and shovels and wire sieves, seeking out every little bit of archaeological evidence they could salvage. The little stone building, designed by John Carr, the York architect, as a working cornmill and an eyecatcher for nearby Howsham Hall, has suffered considerably in the sixty years since it ceased grinding corn. Most of the walls appear somewhat fragile, with window-arch-supporting wooden frames, and dislodged pieces of stone and brick perched atop roofless walls. The potential is great, for this project which was the runner-up in the Restoration tv series. But whilst the situation is idyllic, the vandals are not, and they have made three visits recently, causing wanton and sometimes costly damage.

The ‘volunteer’ dogs, a golden Labrador and a black and white spaniel, trotted about carrying pieces of wood, and bouncing into the flowing river water. The sluice gate was raised to allow water to turn the undershot waterwheel. The dogs swam happily in the fuming tailrace waters and our members watched from the rebuilt wall to see the force generated by the swiftly flowing water. There is certainly great power generating potential here. The red tape is never-ending, and the official bodies numerous, but with their enthusiastic and happy volunteers, the Renewable Heritage Trust should achieve their objective with the great success it so much deserves.

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