I hate to admit this, but Dolly and I have a problem with transport, and it's that when we go out in the car, Mum has a plan, so we know exactly where we are going. Or do we? Didn't we set out for Sandringham a couple of weeks ago but ended up at Hunstanton instead? It is not at all unusual for her to change her mind mid-journey, which is really quite confusing for us.
This was certainly not the case this morning as with steadfast mind, she set her sights on visiting a favourite place....Bircham Windmill. This is one of those lovely gentle places, where it is easy to relax, take a walk, and generally enjoy onself.
Set amid the rolling Norfolk countryside, this wondrous building is a working mill, still looking just as it did over 100 years ago, thanks to ongoing care and restoration. At that time there were over 300 mills, meeting Norfolk's need for horse and cattle feed, as well as flour for bread-making.
Sadly, only a few mills remain, and not all still work for their living. In fact, Bircham has the only fully working mill that is open to the public.
All visitors, be they adults, children, even dogs if they are good, can enjoy what is a great tourist treasure. If you are fit enough, you can climb up all five floors up to the fan stage, and on windy days it might even be possible to see the sails moving and the milling machinery doing it's important work. The views from the top are fantabulous, we are told. There's also a museum, with information boards and audio boxes, quizzes for the kids and even a model of the very last miller at Bircham Windmill... a fellow by the name of Billy Howard. You can even hear his stories of times gone by.
But Bircham Mill offers even more for the visitor. With resident animals, at certain times of day you might see sheep milking, and there is an enclosed play area for children.
Moving on to gastronomical matters, there is a delightful tea room, and plenty of terrace and lawn space to eat your food, or just to sit and soak up the admosphere. The delightful, friendly staff will carry your tray to your table if, like Mum, you find it a bit tricky to push a stroller, and carry your meal. Today, Mum had a fruit quiche, which was outstanding, and one of their most amazing scones. None like it in the country, Mum says.
Across the way is the bakery, where both children and adults can try their hand at breadmaking. Sometimes, on previous visits, we have seen excited children carrying their freshly made dough to the ovens for cooking, or returning triumphantly with their own super-special baked loaf.
In the adjoining area, you can buy bread from their delightful, traditional bake house. Here you will find their famous scones, brilliant and delicious tea cakes, savoury bakes, and the most scrumptious looking bread you will ever see.
Mum just loves this place, as it takes her back to her childhood, when the local bakehouse was just like this, and sometimes she was even able to put the bread on a big pallet into the huge stone oven. I digress. The bread here is baked in modern ovens, and the smell is divine!
On the other side of this area are the cakes. Ah, the cakes! Again, our human tells us this is how cakes used to be, years ago, when iced buns, hundreds and thousands topped finger buns, Vienese whirls, and doughnuts lured her to the bakery! Her description of these delights is extremely enticing, even for a dog, but sadly she brought none home, unlike the scones, teacakes, sausage rolls etc. that she sneaked into the house on our return!
This is a truly wonderful place to visit for a few hours and if they are staging one of the many demonstrations or events they host here, you might want to stay even longer.
If you fancy a few days away and are a little adventurous, you might like to stay here... in one of their shepherd's huts! It's Ok, if you want a shower, they have one in another specially adapted shepherd's hut. There's also a holiday cottage for those who would rather have a slate roof over their heads. And the best news of all is that dogs are welcome to stay here too.
You will have gathered from our glowing report, that if you are in Norfolk, it is worth taking a drive across the undulating countryside to visit this lovely mill. In our beautiful county which, contrary to popular beliefe,is not flat, we may have no mountains, few lakes, or vast moorland, but we do have some lovely countryside, historic buildings, a beautiful coastline and Bircham Windmill! Don't just sit there, come and see for yourself, let us know, and we will meet you there!
Photographs: Diana Bailey