Whilst travelling from the Butt of Lewis, after following the only road to Barabhas (A857), we continued on the road along the north coast (A858) with our target being the Standing Stones at Calanais (of which more to come).
After passing through the village of Siabost (Shawbost), we came across a sign to the Shawbost Norse Mill and Kiln located close to Loch na Muilne. It is be reached along a path from the nearby Loch Raoinebhat. Mills and Kilns used to be a common part of crofting life. The grain – oats and barley – were dried in the kiln prior to being ground in the mill. They remained in use into the 20th century, coming to an end in the 1930s.
The location of the mill was determined by the location of the adjacent stream – Allt nam Breac – running from Loch Raoinebhat to Loch na Muilne. Water is directed into a mill race which enters the mill below floor level where it is directed to vanes on a rotor suspended on a spindle below the grinding wheels which is rotated by the force of the water. The spindle passes through the floor and the lower grind stone to the upper rotating grind stone. Grain is fed from the hopper above and the milled product falls into the grove round the lower stone.
This mill was first restored in 1968/9 as part of a project of the Shawbost Junior Secondary School’s participation in a Crofters Commission sponsored scheme. Information was provided by the vilagers, including one who had worked in the mill. By the 1990s the mill have fallen into disrepair. As a result the Norse Mill Society was set up in 1993 with the aim to stimulate public interest in the buildings. The Society restored the kiln again in 1993/4, and now maintain the building and site.
The adjacent kiln was built in 1996 under the direction of the Norse Mill Society. Prior to the grain being milled, the kiln was used to dry the grain for around 48 hours. A fire was lit at the entrance to the channel into the kiln. A framework of slats and straw was laid over the kiln pit on which the grain was laid. The smoke from the fire dried the grain.
The mill and kiln are built in a style common on the Isle of Lewis, known as Blackhouse. The characteristic of a blackhouse is a double-wall dry stone wall with a thatched (turf, straw or reed) roof. The examples here and Garenin Na Gearrannan are reed with a net over held down by stone.
The site was easy to get to and a folder of information by the Norse Mill Society was available in the mill. Some of the information in the blog has come from this folder. The path to the site from the narby road in in good order. On the day of our visit the weather was dry, however I believe that except when torrential rain occurs the underfoot conditions would not prevent a visit. In would have been nice to see the mill being demonstrated, however I doubt that has been done for many years.