Felin Ganol Watermill in Wales, beautiful place with excellent flour
Two weeks ago I spent the weekend with Anne and Andy Parry and their lovely large family, at Felin Ganol. If you look over my Stone Milling category on this site you’ll see I’ve mentioned their flour often, Anne has been my miller since we met virtually last year. The Parrys are the loveliest down to earth, welcoming, genuinely good soul kind of people that you’re likely to meet. There are times in my life I feel I’m meant to meet certain people, that strange feeling the universe is somehow saying this has to happen…alright yes…I realise there’s no such certainties and it’s down to serendipity, but no matter how it happens I’m internally grateful for these magical coincidences.
I’m a better baker for having met Anne, her honest dialogue right from the beginning helped me immensely with my learning curve with fresh flours. This allowed me to experience the affect of oxidation and the power it has in strengthening the handling of low protein flours, and also because of her approach to milling pure varieties I was able to see the different characteristic a single variety can have, such as that of amaretto having a very late oven spring.
On a personal level I’m a richer person for having gained such a supportive, encouraging and truly wonderful friend like Anne. What binds us together is having the same outlook, approaching things in the same methodical way that no matter how emotional and idealistic we might feel about something, we know ultimately it comes down to facts and the importance of those discoveries.
Anne is by trade a microbiologist specialising in cereals, her PhD was studying at the microbial level infections by powdery mildew in oats. We can talk endlessly about flour with the two of us triggering off theories, research findings or thoughts on experiments I’m carrying out.
Anne held my hand when I first began reading research papers because wiki has a tendency to fail you. She would help put my ions into context or help visualise differences between amino acids/polypetides/proteins, and when the time came and I needed some biochemistry lessons she put me in the direction of her friend Jenny. I’m immensely grateful for her guidance in the last few months, I couldn’t have learnt as fast without it.
Anne and I had planned my visit at the beginning of the year when I said, “I’ll leave it until the summer when it’s warm” but somehow I managed to book a weekend in June which saw the area hit by the worst floods in years. What was suppose to be a straight forward train journey turned into a comedy sketch with passengers being asked to abandon train and out into the rain.
Felin Ganol is a picture perfect place, romantic looking, in every direction you look from inside the home you are drawn to the house’s beautiful surroundings.
Anne and Andy bought the house with a broken down mill 6 years ago because they were looking for a place with a separate living part for Anne’s mother. The mill (photo above) is attached to house by one side, and was disused but left in good preservation order by the previous owner, Anne has details of its history here on her site.
At the time Anne and Andy bought the mill they had absolutely no intent to mill flour, the extra loft space at the top of the mill was seen at the time as extra room for a studio perhaps, it wasn’t until curiosity overpowered them and they wondered if the wheel still worked?
They replaced the broken stone bearing (above) with a new one
…and the wheel turned.
They began to produce their first flour in 2009.
Now Anne wonders at times if it was all meant to be? With her lifelong passion for flour, was this broken down mill meant for them so they could repair it?
I say…yes yes yes!
The extensive grounds around the mill are a great place to have a wonder finding yourself lost in thought. How wonderful it must be to be a kid in a garden like this, it goes on and on with different sections, little hideaways and underpasses extending into a long wooded area.
And not a bad place to be if you’re a cat.
When the pond is low and if the river is full enough, the water can be let into the enclosure. This pond was grassed over when Anne and Andy bought the property.
At the end of the wooded area of the property the river turns a corner…
…it’s here in the corner where the water can be diverted through a sluice and on to a leat (ditch) when opened by Andy…
…that’s if Andy doesn’t fall in.
And the water flows again.
The dry leat quickly fills with running water..
…and the pond is full again.
When Anne is ready to mill, Andy lets the pond water go.
And the stones inside the mill are turning.
Stepping into the mill is very much like stepping into history.
For wholemeal flour the flour will be deposited down into the basement.
If the flour is to be sieved into white it will be put through this shoot (below)..
…and down through the sieve.
The first third of the sieve are the smallest size holes for the white flour, the next section of slightly larger holes are for the high extraction flour (great flour for sourdough), with the last larger holes for the semolina.
At the very end comes out the bran.
In the wooded section of the grounds Andy and Anne have planted back hedges and plants for wild life.
The original thresher.
The treehouse Andy built with his youngest son.
What is normally a very mild gentle flowing river turned into a tour de force with the floods in the area.
Next time you’re in this beautiful part of the country make a detour and visit this historical site that two amazing individuals put back to life.
There are many stoneground mills dotted all over Britain and if you’re really interested in baking something different away from the universal flour provided by large mills then go, go and find a good stoneground mill.
Adding half stoneground white flour to your normal white flour will give you a beautiful tasting loaf, one which will not need any fancy extras of sun-dried tomatoes, herbs and so on. A good stoneground flour has great flavour all of its own, even the white flour will have tiny particles of the bran and live germ in, contributing to this beautiful flavour and its darker colour crumb. Rollermill flour for the great performance it has has essentially been stripped of any flavour through its efficient process.
Not all stoneground flour is good as I’ve shown on here through this post, but there are some really good interesting mills using British grown wheat which directly supports the farmers, and my encouragement would be go and find one, find one you like.
My worry for millers like Anne and Andy is that they are not charging enough for their flour. There are stoneground mills being supported by volunteers and some even funded by local government money that distorts the market. Unfortunately these mills in an eagerness to compete with large mills won’t always charge what they should for their flour and that in turn can force mills like Felin Ganol powered only by water and milled by the owners, down to a price which in the long term I think won’t be sustainable and stay viable for future generations.
I adore the Parrys and will always support them, I love the flavour and quality of their flour and what they represent, the true sense of small business. Anne mills pure varieties which then enables me to do the mixing with other flours as I like, rather than the common approach of the miller deciding the blend on behalf of the baker.
As I’ve said above, go and find one you like and support them, it’s a great relationship to have.