Demesnes Mill: A 15th Century Haven|
by Barbara Ballard
The sensuous sounds of the rushing River Tees relax and refresh me as I sit in the cheery sunroom of 15th century Demesnes Mill enjoying tea and fresh baked scones slathered with homemade strawberry jam. I luxuriate in this tranquil haven, a former crumbling ruin, now restored and converted into a luxury bed and breakfast retreat. Coming to explore the castle ruins in the town of Barnard Castle, and in need of a place to stay for the night, the local tourist board pointed me towards the mill.
The historic corn mill is perched beside the River Tees just on the edge of the market town of Barnard Castle, County Durham, England. The absence of the noise of civilization, the thick woods across the river and the dead end dirt road leading to the mill give me a sense of isolation, yet I am only a ten minute walk away from this town, 270 miles north of London.
I look forward to the evening when the soothing sound of the river will lull me to sleep in a huge, beautifully decorated and appointed bedroom. This room truly has everything including its own stereo system, TV, refreshment bar, lounge chairs and antique desk. I plan to soak in the tub in the comfortable bathroom supplied with large fluffy towels. There's a separate shower stall for those who prefer it. A few steps from the mill is the formerbarn which has been converted into a brand new hideaway cottage, complete with sitting room, kitchenette, fully equipped bath and sumptuous bedroom. A perfect honeymoon retreat.
Owners Joan and Bob Young from Brampton, Ontario were on a trip to their homeland in England when they stumbled upon Demesnes Mill. They fell in love with the derelict mill even though there was a "Danger No Trespassing" sign posted on the building.
Restoring the mill was a true labor of love lasting several years. The mill had no electricity or plumbing, and the roof was open to the sky. Walls and floors had given way and glass had long fallen from the windows. Machinery rusted away in the basement. "We hadn't any intention of living full time in the mill when we purchased it, but the mill has a pull of its own", says Joan. Many years and much hard work later the resourceful and imaginative couple's passion for the mill has brought it back to life.
There has probably always been a mill on this spot where a natural weir flows through rich arable land. Once manors, farms and villages dotted the Teesdale landscape. The Barnard Castle town charter of 1410 required the people of the area to take their corn to Demesnes Mill to be ground, giving 1/16 of its value to the estate owners. The original path leading to the front door of the mill remains. Its two courses of long paving stones and worn cobblestones echo the sounds of ancient cartwheels. "The place is magical", Joan says.
The original millstones, now restored, take pride of place in the lounge. Bob and Joan take me on a tour of the mill's machinery below ground. "It's the heart of Demesnes Mill", said Joan, admiring the large mill wheel sitting silently in the underground room. "The mill will be truly be alive when the wheel is turning again."
In the small space between the river and the hillside lies the old miller's house with the date 1825 carved in stone over the door. Joan points out the trail by the mill leading along the river to the romantic 12th century ruins of Egglestone Abbey. Tomorrow I'll visit the town of Barnard Castle with its antique shops and the substantial remains of the medieval castle standing on the rugged escarpment overlooking the river. Today I've reveled in the splendor of Barnard Castle's Bowes Museum, a former great home built in the late 1800's, now housing magnificent English decorative arts. The famous animated sterling silver swan designed in 1773 is the highlight.
It's evening now, and I watch the last light of day display its dazzling color palette over the river. I wend my way towards the stairs and bed, anticipating tomorrow's breakfast as I glance at the dining area just off the kitchen. Breakfast will start with homemade muffins, a huge platter of fresh fruit and yogurt, then move on to a full English breakfast of bacon and eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes, if I can still fit it in. Climbing into my bed, I think about Joan's vision of a glass floor in the lounge to view the water wheel turn again. And, enchanted by this peaceful place, I fall asleep to the rhythmic music of the river.
Bob and Joan Young, Demesnes Mill, Barnard Castle, England, DL 12 8PE; Phone/Fax: 01833 637929--callers from North American leave off initial 0 and dial 011-44 instead or Email.
I double ensuite, 1 twin ensuite (50 British pounds, two people sharing, 40 British pounds, single occupancy), breakfast included; The Barn (80 British pounds) self contained building with large bedroom, sitting room, kitchen, bath, balcony.
Egglestone Abbey (managed by English Heritage)
Open year round daylight hours; admission free; 1 mile south of the town of Barnard Castle
Barnard Castle (managed by English Heritage)
Ppen year round daily from 10 to 6 April through October, Wednesday through Sunday 10-4 November to end March; closed 1-2 pm; entry charge; in the town of Barnard Castle.
Barnard Castle is about 270 miles north of London and 65 miles northwest of York, about 45 minutes by motorway from York.