The Valley of the Mills
Hydraulic power has existed in Europe since ancient times and here in Brittany, it really developed in the Middle Ages, when the region had at least 5,000 watermills. They were used to grind barley, rye, buckwheat, and – much later – wheat. Right up to the industrial age, the techniques hardly changed at all, but in the 1800s, traditional watermills started to be replaced by much bigger flour mills whose industrial equipment vastly increased production. The small, rural watermills that served local needs slowly disappeared.
THE MILLS OF SAINT-JEAN-DU-DOIGT
Long ago, watermills lined the banks of the Donan, each with living quarters for the miller, a stable and sometimes a barn space or cellar. They were located near agricultural areas that would supply the grain, and they were generally linked to a nearby manor.
The Watermill Circuit
As you leave the town centre and walk the valley, you will come across:
- The site of Trégodalen Mill, which was completely destroyed by fire on 3rd October
The buildings of other mills – or what remains – are visible along the walking path for around 2km:
- Traon Ar Run Mill, whose house has been restored, is the only one to have kept the original mechanism; it continued as a working mill until 1962;
- Goris Mill, which was part of the Manoir de Kericuff; the mill mechanism is no longer there but the buildings still stand;
- Now in ruins, we know very little about Hérel Mill; it apparently had two pairs of millstones and two millers working either side of the building, using the central room as living quarters;
- Kervoaziou Mill belonged to the manor of the same name; restoration began here in the early
There were many others in the area that have since disappeared: heritage research tells us that there were once at least twelve watermills and six windmills.
How watermills work
Running water passes through and over the blades of the big waterwheel. Through a series of cogs, this turning wheel then powers the millstone, which crushes the grain to make flour. When a mill is built further back from the riverbank, the water is brought to the wheel via a small channel called a millrace.