The second half of Day 2 continued our tour of historic sites. Our first stop after leaving Edinburgh was Preston Mill. I’d stumbled upon information about the mill during my online searching for things to see in Scotland and immediately fell in love with it’s unique look. When I showed it to the Hubs he was intrigued as well and agreed to add it to the list. It was the end of the tourist season in Scotland and it was literally the last day before the mill closed for the winter, so we were very glad that we had decided to come when we did.
Luckily because it was the last day, the ice cream they sell in the small gift shop was on sale, so we got a couple to enjoy as we browsed the various displays about life at the mill and how grain was processed in the mill until 1959. This sign gave an overview of the multiple steps the material went through in this particular setup. Note the little mouse at the bottom of the sign, who told guests to be on the lookout for him around the mill.
There were also displays about how the mill had been transformed into the backdrop for several scenes of my favorite show, Outlander! I hadn’t realized it when we added it to the list, but as we toured the property I could remember the scenes and recognize which areas they had used in the show.
There was maintenance being done on the grounds in preparation for the winter, and the heavy equipment in use to dredge the pond prevented us from touring the whole area, but this spot behind the mill was the first I recognized from the show. In the scene Jamie hides in the water so the British dragoons won’t find him, while Claire and Jenny sit on the edge of the grass above the water, hiding his clothes with their skirts. Obviously the area is a bit changed since filming, but it really felt like being IN the scene with the characters. The gentleman giving us a tour of the mill had been present during the filming and noted that the creek had been dammed to create a large pool in this spot to fit the scene described in the book.
The guide also showed us how the wooden water gates were used used to power the water wheel, which turned the mechanics of the mill stones inside. There was a wooden gate just below the walkway which controlled the flow of water from the pond and the board you see at an angle would divert the water away from the wheel when it needed repairs. If they wanted the wheel to go at full power they would open both gates and let the water flow toward the wheel.
The proximity to the river means the mill is always at risk of flooding, which has happened on a large scale many times in it’s history. Our guide pointed out the high water marks that had been carved on the larger stones on the side of the mill.
Now it was time to head inside the mill and learn what the wheel powered. The oddly shaped kiln section of the mill looked even more whimsical from this view point. We asked the guide why it had been built with such an asymmetrical shape. He explained that the Miller sent his son to the Netherlands to learn new methods to incorporate at the mill.
Apparently he came back from his journey with an idea to build this cylindrical style kiln and, much to his father’s surprise, a new Dutch wife! The odd shape likely came to be because the kiln was built without a formal blueprint, based on the son’s memory of the Dutch kilns. So in other words it was a DIY special which involved using locally available materials and tweaking the plan as it came together. But it’s still standing today so that is a great testament to their ingenuity.
We started the interior tour upstairs where there were an assortment of tools and random parts typical for a working agricultural site – along with a few relatives of Mr. Mouse who we had seen on the sign in the other building. The guide showed us the massive stones that would spin and grind the grain from the power of the water wheel outside. The large metal claws above them were used when they had to move or replace stones.
Then we got to go up the ramp to the kiln. This ramp was likely added later when improvements were made to the mill. Before then the Miller would have carried the bags of grain up the stone steps in the front.
There was an area to build a fire in the base of the kiln which would bake the grains that were spread across this metal floor so they were fully dry before being ground. The Miller would have to come into the smoky kiln to turn the grain on a regular schedule several times a day. The smoke would vent through the openings in the roof. This was very hazardous work, as it was usually pitch black and filled with sooty smoke. In fact it was common for Millers to develop lung problems due to this part of the process and it became known as “Millers’ Lung”. Of course this meant that most Millers didn’t live long lives, but they and their families were indispensable to the region and therefore made a good living and always had a good variety in their diet.
The baked grain would be swept into a shaft that led back into the mill where it was bagged. This was obviously a two person job and so often the Miller’s adult children would help manage the bag on this end.
It was interesting to learn that the farmers who brought in their grain would provide their own bags so that when the milled grain went to market customers could identify the various varieties from the different producers. Early advertising and branding!
From there the grain was fed through a series of sifters and blowers to be ground finer and finer. I won’t try to explain the whole process because I’m sure to get parts wrong, but it was labor intensive and yet quite efficient compared to how it would have been done by hand before the invention of a mill. This video of a similar mill will give you an idea of the process.
Having seen all we could at the mill we thanked our guides and made note of their suggestions for nearby spots for dinner before heading to our next stop, the ruins of Tantallon Castle just a short drive away.
This great stone castle was the headquarters for the notorius ‘Red Douglas‘ family. The castle itself covered a vast area at the top of the hill overlooking the water and the surrounding areas were arranged to provide and protect the stronghold. Even in it’s current state of ruin it was impressive.
Across the water you could see Bass Rock which was formed by an extinct volcano. This island has served many purposes including a lighthouse, religious retreat, and prison but today it is home to the largest northern gannet colony in the world. We could see the masses of birds flapping their wings and could hear their vocals faintly.
Inside the various towers of the castle there were areas that had been walled off to better protect the castle from invaders, so some areas weren’t accessible. One of the towers was where the soldiers would have kept watch. This sign described their daily routines and showcased artifacts left behind from these residents.
There were several stairways that connected the various sections of the castle. Retrofitted with modern lighting and daylight from open sections of the castle walls, they appear much brighter than they would have back in their heyday. This stairway led to the great hall where guests would have dined and been entertained.
Today the upper floor and back wall of this section of the castle are long gone, but you still get a sense of how grand the space would have been. There was a massive fireplace to the left and a private stairway that led to the laird’s private chambers above.
Looking back at the castle from the corner of the courtyard certainly made you feel small and insignificant. I can imagine those who were brought here through various circumstances envisioned it as very imposing.
Beyond the courtyard were cliffs that above a small rocky harbor. This was a critical asset to the castle grounds because it allowed small boats to bring in visitors, traders and supplies, including food and weapons. When the castle was under siege this area was heavily protected because it provided castle residents a means of escape or a method to bring in reinforcements even if the supply lines on land had been cut.
The castle was closing for the day so we headed out along the coast line in search of the recommendations the guides at the mill had given us. We ended up in North Berwick and stumbled upon the only eatery that was apparently still open this late in the season.
While we waited for our order to arrive I took in the nearby view. Having grown up on the eastern seaboard of the US I’m used to coastal communities along beaches like this but seeing these historic stone structures right next to sand was quite different. It was like an odd couple marriage of quaint seaside town and historic brownstone.
Soon my attention turned back to my belly, with the arrival of a simply presented but oh-so delicious clam chowder. We were quite hungry after being active all day and only having small snacks along the journey so in addition to the chowder we both also ordered the fresh lobster and chips dinner.
We savored our dinner and the view along with the nice weather as we shared our favorite parts of the sights we’d seen that day. Dinner itself was a highlight for both of us because it’s hard to beat lobster at sunset along the Scottish countryside as you look out at the sea! After dinner, the Hubs stayed at the restaurant to settle our bill and rest his knee after all the exploring we’d done throughout the day, while I wandered the spit behind the building.
It was a lovely spot to take in the sunset which is what several couples and families were doing as I made my way along the walkways. I discovered there was also a lobster hatchery next to the seabird center. I didn’t have the heart to tell the hatchery’s ambassador, Larry the lobster that his kin had made a tasty meal just moments before.
I came back toward the road where we had parked to stroll along another large sandy beach with small pools created by an old foundation of some sort. The Hubs joined me there as he made his way to the car from the restaurant.
We headed back to the main highway as the last rays of light faded and made our way back to Edinburgh where we would spend the night before heading to the highlands the next day. It had been a day of true holiday – leisurely enjoying a new environment and savoring a wonderful meal. We knew the other adventures we had planned would also be pleasant, but the feeling from this day would be tough to beat.
Check out our other Scotland adventures: