When the Wind Blows: A Visit to Le Clos Galerne, 2022
“Meet me at the Moulin Brûlé”, said Cédric Bourez.
The name was immediately familiar. The Moulin Brûlé – the ‘burnt windmill’ – sits surrounded by vines, on a slope looking down upon the valley of the Layon. During the Middle Ages the peaks above both the Layon and Aubance rivers were dotted with windmills just like this one, the land serving two agricultural purposes; vines were planted on the craggy soils of the slopes, while the richer land of the plateau was planted to wheat and other arable crops. The mills were built to grind the grain, but as the vine began to dominate the landscape they fell into disuse. Today, while a handful have been restored or rebuilt, most are mere ruins, the upper wooden sections having long rotted away, leaving just the stone base (as pictured below).
The fate of the Moulin Brûlé, as the name might suggest, was somewhat more dramatic. Having been operational since at least 1503, the sails were still turning at the end of the 18th century when war came to the region.
The war in question was the Guerre de la Vendée, a pro-royalist uprising which came in response to the Revolution. Vendéens of noble blood, still loyal to the deposed crown, were facing incursions into their territory from pro-Republican columns. In September 1793 the Vendéens fought a series of battles, taking on these columns one-by-one. One of the most significant, on September 20th, was centred around the Pont Barré, the bridge over the Layon just below the windmill. Initially the Vendéens were on the back foot, but the arrival of reinforcements meant that they won the day, despite being outnumbered two-to-one. There were many casualties of course, of which one still stands; the burnt ruins of the Moulin Brûlé.