Normandy’s impenetrable hedgerows were a curse for advancing soldiers on both sides of
WWII, but today they merely tease the curious cyclist who ventures among their ranks, occasionally revealing a cultural treat like the Moulin Roupsard, the last remaining water-powered, stone-milled flour mill on Normandy’s Cotentin peninsula.
You need a good map and fair navigational nose to find the Moulin Roupsard. I’d ridden within 100 yards of its granite buildings and metal silos at least 100 times over the previous 30 years without knowing its purpose. But when you finally do stop in, the mystery dissipates in a single handshake with mill owner Xavier Roupsard, who quickly invites you in for a tour.
“Watch your head,” he says as you step through a heavy plastic curtain into the main barn where sacks of flour are stacked awaiting delivery to bakeries and retail outlets throughout the peninsula. “And now watch your step,” he shouts above a watery din emanating from a concrete staircase. Four steps down and you’re an arm’s length from a colossal water wheel splashing furiously in the currents of a near-overflowing river, La Saire. The wheel turns a panoply of gears and belts in an adjoining room, which in turn spin several stone wheels, producing four varieties of flour—wheat, rye, buckwheat and spelt—most of it grown both locally and organically.
Established by Xavier Roupsard’s great grandfather in 1912, the family-run mill is now in its fifth generation, but will the Moulin Roupsard tradition continue? It turns out none of the three Roupsard children intend to follow in their miller father’s floury footsteps, but Xavier, 50, just tilts his head and shrugs. “We’ll see,” he says with an easy smile. “I’ve still got a few years left, and you never can tell what’s coming down the river.”