Cachopo Windmill

From wind to the production of flour – The Cachopo windmill – Cachopo moinhos de vento

Windmill in Cachopo

On Sunday 7th February a group of about twenty people visited the reconstructed windmill in Cachopo. Jim and I were among the twenty, mostly foreigners who joined the adventure. We left the Tavira bus station at 9:30am, in a coach organised by Tavira Camara and the Tavira Museum. The architect and social historian, Marta Santos led the group. She is an expert in traditional architecture based at the Museu Municipal de Tavira / Palácio da Galeria. The road from Tavira, twists and turns and winds all the way up hill to Cachopo, passing beehives nestling next to valley rivers. The views on the way are stunning.

Arriving at Cachopo at about 10:45am we were met by local residents and men who had worked at the flour mill untill its close. The windmill is located on the left, just before the petrol station as you enter Cachopo from Tavira. Climbing the hill to the windmill, there is very little sense that 30 years before there were fields full of grain in the surrounding countryside. The landscape is somewhat barren, except for scrub, carob and olive trees.

For thousands of years grain has been ground for flour by wind energy in windmills.
Windmills have been variously defined as: “a device for tapping the energy of the wind by means of sails mounted on a rotating shaft. The sails are mounted at an angle or are given a slight twist so that the force of wind against them is divided into two components, one of which, in the plane of the sails, imparts rotation.”

They have been seen as fearful objects in literature such as in the episode in Don Quixote by Cervantes in which the hero attacks windmills under the illusion that they are giants : an imaginary wrong, evil, or opponent, usually used in the phrase to tilt at windmills. 

This technology revolutionised agriculture. Windmills of this kind in the region of Tavira harness the wind to turn sails which in turn moves the wheels within the structure.

Mechanism inside windmill

The Cachopo wind mill has a fixed tower made of schist masonry. The sails move once the rope rigging is released from where it is tethered on the ground. Covered with a coat of cement and whitewash (lime based) the mill was used for grinding wheat and corn for human consumption. This can be contrasted with the stone masonry mills used for grinding barley, rye and oat flour for animal consumption. This particular mill was working up until the late 1970’s and has four sails. The majority of windmills have four sails. An increase in the number of sails means that an increase in power could be obtained, at the expense of an increase in the weight of the sail assembly. If a four sail windmill suffers a damaged sail, the one opposite can be removed and the mill will work with two sails, generating about 60% of the power that it would with all four sails. 

Cachopo in the 1970’s had a population of 600 people, but now is home to just 150 people, mostly elderly. The village first received electricity in 1979.  Life was sustained from local crops, with farmers from the surrounding area regularly bringing grain, to be ground in this mill. The mill can be seen for miles around and farmers were able to see that the mill was free to grind new grain by the position of the sails. If the sail was not visible at the top then the mill had sufficient grain to grind, but if the sail was left in the visible position then grain could be brought to the mill to be turned into flour. The windmill fell into disuse until 2006. At that time Tavira Camara began a project of restoration under the Pro-Algarve programme.

Windmill workers and Marta Santos

The mills reconstruction is based upon the recollection of the men who worked in the mill and the design of Gtaa Sotavento.  It took about 8-9 months to restore the windmill. Three now elderly men, who had worked at the mill from the age of 15, explained to us about their daily lives. The miller, Custódio Campos, led the conversation explaining the types of grain used, wheat and corn for human concumption and how the mill operated. During the periods of the year when the wind was low they worked at local watermills, next to rivers. Marta Santos the excellent guide from the museum opened the door of the mill and in the confined space; we were able to see the mechanisms and the large grinding wheel, originally from France, which survived the fall into decay. The grinding wheel was found behind the ruined mill. Stones steps take you up to the area of the large wooden feeder and the pulley system. After the visit to the windmill (and after a good lunch at the local café) we all watched a film about the reconstruction of the mill. The film showed the mill workers directing and helping with the rebuilding whilst simultaneously safety helmets balanced on their caps. Tavira Museum is planning an exhibition of rural life, with more visits and workshops, starting in late May. I will be writing about the exhibition and the dependencies of social and economic life in the Tavira region which has produced a slow changing culture.  My next article will be about watermills. I would like to thank Marta Santos at the Tavira Musuem for her help with the details for this article.

Watermill article – The tide waits for no miller

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