Sarratt Mill in the Chess Valley occupies a location steeped in history, from Roman times onwards. The earliest written reference dates from 1499. Originally a corn mill, it was later converted for paper-making, before its demolition in the 1870s. The mill house remained and was used first as a fishing lodge, then a boarding school for WWII evacuees; it subsequently became a small private estate, before eventually being acquired by Angela Colman and her husband Anthony in the 1980s.
The spell it weaved over them is plain to see in this enchanting book, which Angela, an accomplished artist, has illustrated beautifully with her paintings and sketches. Regarding themselves not as 'owners', but as temporary guardians of the mill, its accompanying land and the river that ran past their door, Angela and Anthony worked hard to honour the legacy they'd inherited while at the same time creating a loving family home. Angela's text is taken from notes she made over the years, not set out chronologically, but, as she writes, 'arranged to flow across the seasons.' She describes the mill and its surroundings as 'a source of tranquillity, natural beauty and inspiration.' The book introduces us to a large cast of characters, some human, others drawn from the assorted wildlife she encounters, and she has many tales to tell. Angela's writing is vivid, affectionate, humorous and at times deeply personal. Although her anecdotes are often light-hearted, some passages are more serious and thought- provoking. Her wonderful descriptions of the river, the water meadows, the woods and the garden convey a strong sense of place, and she occasionally enhances her own words with those of other creative people, among them Voltaire and Procol Harum!
In a short section called 'Faces from the Past', where she records a visit from a descendant of the last miller, Alfred Curtis, Angela writes '... as we, the present occupants of Sarratt Mill add to its history, its past is revealed to us'. then adds a sentence which seems to sum up our comparative insignificance when set against the forces of nature: 'But meanwhile the River water continues to tumble through the sluice and over the weirs regardless of us all' I wonder how long ago she wrote this - was it before the critical condition of our chalk streams including the Chess, hastened by mankind's unwelcome interventions, was widely and properly appreciated? Whenever it was, her instinctive reaction to the threat has been to throw herself into the campaign to save these precious and rare resources, and by purchasing her highly enjoyable book you'll be contributing to the cause.