There were once over 10,000 windmills in Holland, each one busy with its own important task from moving water to grinding grain to sawing boards. Now there are approximately 950 old mills standing, and only a few of these still do anything useful (you’re more likely to find one that serves as an Airbnb than one that continues to turn wheat into flour). In the province of Zeeland, in the southwest corner of the Netherlands, I saw mills in Middelburg …
… and right along the road in Moriaanshoofd:
I love the details in the windmills, like the hand painting …
… and the way the thatch lies over the door and windows:
I particularly liked this mill — but boy, was it in the middle of nowhere.
I learned all about windmills at the Molen de Valk museum in Leiden.
What I loved about this museum is that you can go inside and see how a mill owner would have worked and lived. And you can explore nearly the whole mill — eight floors of it:
See how the ladders in the picture go straight up (which reminds me of Donkey Kong)? Well, the ladders in this windmill were almost that steep. It’s a real challenge to clamber around. The only ladder you’re not allowed to climb is the one that leads to the very top, where the turning mechanism is located. But they have a model that you can study if you want to get a sense of the engineering:
The museum starts you out on the first floor, where the mill owner would have had his office, family living areas …
… and kitchen:
Then you go upstairs to learn about how windmills actually work. A short film lets you know that windmills were built throughout Holland because the country does not have enough natural streams to power water mills. But keeping grain mills up was a challenge — to catch the best wind and get the most customers, you wanted to put your mill on a hill in the center of town. That, however, would make your mill an easy target for invaders. Mills were also susceptible to fire. So this particular mill had several iterations prior to this 1743 version, when they wisely chose brick as their building material.
The de Valk mill remained a functioning grain mill until 1965. If you’d like to know how it worked, here’s my not-very-technical primer:
An actual millstone looks like this:
Some elements of the museum would benefit from better signage. For example, I would love to know what these poundy-things would have been used for:
The windmill tour isn’t all indoors; you can go out on the deck (or “stage”) to see the sails right up close:
The mill owner would have stood on rungs of this circle as he adjusted the amount of cloth on each sail:
And he would have had the best view in the village!
If you ever find yourself in Leiden, I highly recommend going to this museum — it’s fascinating and won’t take you more than an hour.
Leiden also boasts the Molen de Put, a smaller flour mill that was restored (based on archaeological findings) in the 1980s:
I stumbled on more mills when I was out walking in Warmond, a few kilometers outside of Leiden.
I don’t know anything about these mills — I had no way of crossing the water — but they offered a lovely view during my evening stroll.