The Baker and the Water Mills, Shaftesbury

One of the nice parts about travelling is catching up with old friends along the way.  Even though many years separate visits, our countries being a day away by air, conversation resumes from where we left off, as if the intervening years are a mere second in time. This was certainly the case when we stayed with our old friend Paul Merry and his partner, who live in a small village near Shaftesbury, Dorset. It was a pleasure to find them unchanged and well, but also especially wonderful that he had done a large bread bake the day before and had a few spare loaves. At last, some good bread, though good is hardly an apt word for his long fermented sourdough made from stoneground organic flour. Paul Merry is the doyen of artisan bread making in these parts.

Which one?

I don’t need to preach to you, dear reader, about the sad and sorry state of modern commercial bread, that awful product so nutritionally empty and bland, that chemicals need to be added to make it edible. You can either eat it or you can’t. I can’t. It makes me ill. So during my travels, I mostly go without bread, with only an occasional and regrettable lapse. Munching into Paul’s sourdough cob was a moment of ecstasy. That first bite reminded me how nourishing and deeply satisfying good bread can be.

Paul at home with his sourdough cob

Paul is a master baker who runs bread making classes from his bakery, Panary, located inside an old working water-mill near Shaftesbury, Dorset. His classes have been operating from this site for more than 30 years. He also bakes a commercial batch weekly. Before moving to Britain, Paul built and then ran the famous St Andrews bakery on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. That lovely mud brick building with its antique wood fired oven was where Paul mastered his baking skills. His bread nourished our souls throughout the 1980s. His bread is even better today.

A familiar sight. Paul in baker’s uniform, attending to his craft.

Our first sourdough loaf lasted well and was still fresh and delicious after five days. Good wholesome bread, slow bread, made with nothing else but the best organic flour, water, salt, and plenty of time, Paul’s loaves are made with exceptional skill as well as passion for the craft.

Grinding stones at Cann Mills

The photos below show scenes taken around Cann Mills. Panary is located within the mill. The water-mill is still functioning and runs some days, along with other milling methods. Paul’s classes deal with a variety of techniques and many professional bakers hire Paul as a consultant. If you live nearby or are travelling in that beautiful country, not far from the Cotswolds, inquire about Paul’s one day classes. You can choose from topics including the basic beginners, British, flatbreads, French, Italian, Nordic Germanic, Patisserie/Viennoiserie, sourdough, and festive breads.( see full details here. )  Or if you love breadmaking and can’t make it across the globe to attend his classes, take a look at his blog. There’s plenty to learn.

Cann Mills, near Shaftesbury
Inside a working flour mill.
It all starts with great flour. Paul uses this one to add to his starter or levain.
Fresh flour, the staff of life.
Paul Merry at work.
Bread making classes at Panary

Panary at Cann Mills

Panary’s  location and course information.

26 thoughts on “The Baker and the Water Mills, Shaftesbury”

  1. Nothing beats a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread. It’s quite obvious Paul is passionate about his work. I had no idea about the St Andrews bakery here in Melbourne. Next time we are up that way will have to check it out. Thanks Francesca. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The St Andrews bakery is still growing strong. The current baker is dedicated to sourdough and bakes beautiful loaves and sweet things too. They also sell coffee there. Behind the bakery is another lovely mud brick building selling sourdough Pizzas ( called A Boy Named Sue). And then there’s the market on Saturday which is huge. If you don;t like hordes of people, go to a Sunday.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I never met Paul Merry, I having arrived In St. Andrews after he left ( Vic – Australia) but not a soul would comment on his craft without his dedication and enthusiasm for a wood-fired oven and his love of dough. Then along came Tony circa 1990-ish. He was also a dedicatee to his craft resulting in a continuous patronage to serve the locals well. UNTIL… he disappeared without notice or trace to where????? Watch this space because I know the outcome…….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, Francesca, what a friend to have and what a wonderful place in which to live and work. How magical. I heard someone recently describe eating commercial bread as akin to munching on a Kleenex. I thought that was pretty spot on. The nutritional quality would be about the same. I think people like your baker friend have a talent and they and their hands have a conversation with the dough. Happy travels.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wonderful to read such stories to which there is no access in ordinary media . . . how worthwhile such remeetings make ones travels . . . and we also would not have learned about man, place or interesting achievements unless we had tapped into such here . . . the bread does look moreish . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are are also one of the world’s inspirational and generous bakers Jane. Hope his blog might make nice bed time reading. Bakers love to read sourdoughy things in bed.


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