Past & Present

The Mills

Perhaps it was in the early 1800s, as a result of the increased production of grain, that two small mills were built on the west side of the island to grind the dried grain into meal. A 2km-walk to the mills, across very rough ground, may seem a long way to take bags of grain but there was no alternative. This was the only water supply with a large enough flow and high enough fall to drive the mill-wheels.

Abhainn na Muilne watermill.jpgAbhainn na Muilne, watermill (Photo: Jill Harden)

The small mills were powered by water diverted from the burn flowing out of Loch Chùideamul (loch Uidemul on the OS Maps). Each drystone, thatched mill-building was constructed over an artificial channel which could be made to take water from the burn when needed, by moving a wooden sluice board.

The diverted water turned a small horizontal paddle-wheel set into the channel. The mill-wheel was connected to a pair of horizontal millstones set on the timber floor of the building above. The upper millstone rotated as the paddle turned, grinding the grain between the two stones. A skin on the floor caught the ground meal so that it could be bagged and taken away.

There are similar small horizontal mills on some of the islands in the Sound of Harris, as well as in Lewis and the north-west of Scotland. This photograph shows part of a model made by Vic Newey of the restored Norse Mill in Shawbost, Isle of Lewis, and well illustrates the design of the workings parts. 

horizontal mill.jpg 

By Jill Harden, 2013

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