Monday, 28 September 2015

A visit to Heatherslaw Mill

During the summer break from Bread of Heron, the Heron Corn Mill's community bread group, I was starting to suffer from mill-withdrawal symptoms, so when we took a trip to Northumberland, I was on the look out for a mill to visit. We found one about 10 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Heatherslaw Mill sits on the river Till at a picturesque spot half way between the villages of Ford and Etal, Both villages show signs of serious historical wealth - like castles.

You can see a bit about the area, including some footage of the mill's waterwheel in action in this short video. Visiting Ford and Etal was a little like stepping into an episode of Midsomer Murders. I kept expecting to bump into a mad vicar on the village green.

The river Till feeds into the river Tweed and runs at a fairly relaxed pace. The mill doesn't have the benefit of a great drop in the height of the river like the Heron Corn Mill has. And unlike the river Bela which has lots of other streams feeding into it, the river Till picks up hardly any extra water on its way. So the mill has to make the most of the water it has, and the power it supplies.

But it may be a mistake to think of the river as a bit of a meandering stream. There are some frightening flood level marks in the ground floor of the mill, dating from 1948 and 1992. And the Mill pamphlet contains this poem -

Tweed said to Till:
'What makes you run so still?'
Till said to Tweed:
'Tho' ye run with speed
and I run slaw,
Yet where you drown ae man
I drown twa'.

Presumably that is where the "slaw" in Heatherslaw comes from - nothing to do with cabbage after all!

The waterwheel at Heatherslaw is undershot, with the bottom of the waterwheel being the only part that makes contact with the flowing water. This is the same arrangement as at Woodbridge Tide Mill. You can see the shape of the flat paddles on the Woodbridge wheel here -

I tried to catch the Heatherslaw wheel, but without much success -

The flat paddles are a sure sign that the wheel is undershot. Wheels other than undershot wheels have buckets rather than paddles. Examples of wheels with buckets -

  • Heron Corn Mill - breastshot wheel (these are the old buckets)

  • Redbournbury Mill - overshot wheel

  • Little Salkeld - pitchback wheel (like a reverse breastshot)

Although an undershot wheel is not efficient way of working, Heatherslaw Mill has 3 pairs of stones, and a barley polisher, all driven by water. The barley polisher runs with the stones in an upright position, unlike the Heron Corn Mill's stones, which lie flat. The idea is not to crush the grains, but to remove the outer cover.

The stones are much smaller and do not have grooves.

In fact the miller has a clock that tells him when the barley has been polished enough. When the bell rings he has to stop polishing the barley. The clock doesn't tell the time, it counts the revolutions of the stones.

A second water wheel was added at Heatherslaw in 1770 and is still in place, although no longer working. When it was fully operational, each of the two wheels was fed by its own mill race.

The miller is a very approachable and chatty lady who is clearly well used to sharing her knowledge about the mill with the public. She told me that the waterwheels were originally external, and the building was later enlarged, enclosing the waterwheels. This sounds like the Heron Corn Mill, where Stuart says the wall on the inside of the waterwheel was originally the outside wall of the building, which was subsequently enlarged.

Much of the mill workings at Heatherslaw can be controlled from the working floor of the mill, like the sluice gate -

Some of the machinery at Heatherslaw is similar to that at the Heron Mill, like this sieve suspended on moving belts -

You can see the central shaft going up from the main gears on the bottom floor to the top of the mill. and the flour to be sieved is coming down into the sieve from the top of the mill.

We have something very similar to this at the Heron Corn Mill -

There has been at least one mill at Heatherslaw since 1300, and a document of 1376 talks about a "new water-mill". Like the Heron Corn Mill, Heatherslaw has long had another mill facing it on the opposite side of the river. About the same time as the second waterwheel was installed in the corn mill, a forge mill was built on the other side of the river, to produce farm implements.

The forge mill is long gone, and in recent times a narrow gauge railway has grown up on the other side of the river. This is very good for the mill, as it brings in lots of visitors who get two attractions for the price of one as it were. We took a very pleasant return trip to Etal village on the train before visiting the mill. At times it felt like the train could hardly make it up the hill, but it got there in the end. The gentle pace gave us plenty of time to take in the delightful countryside, and watch a heron on the river. There is nothing to beat the smell of smoke on a nice summer's day!

This chap seems to have played a role like Bob's at the Heron Corn Mill

We could do with one of these donations boxes - very natty!

At the Heron Corn Mill, one of the most dangerous jobs is disconnecting the stone by putting a horseshoe between the stone nut and the shaft it sits on. This is Stuart lifting the stone nut up so he can put the horseshoe under it -

At Heatherslaw the same effect is achieved with a jack. Much safer!

Heatherslaw Mill processed oats, like Heron Corn Mill, and had a kiln to dry the grain. But the Heatherslaw kiln is much smaller and altogether different from the Heron's. The oats sat over a small fire, and were turned by a rotating blade, driven from above.

We had a nice day when we went to Heatherslaw. One of the best things was that we were able to take some flour home with us. I would recommend it to you if you are visiting Northumberland.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

On the road at Dent and High Bentham

The Heron Corn Mill's "On the Road" project visited Dent and High Bentham recently. We have taken the mill out to some really nice places throughout the summer and let people all over the local area know what we do and where we are. We provided honest to goodness lunches wherever we went, and had a good chin wag on milling and food topics at every destination. We've also met plenty of interesting people at the six venues along the way - Arnside, Grange, Ingleton, Kirkby Lonsdale, Dent and High Bentham.


The trip to Dent happened while our Palestinian friend Bouran was still with us, so the baking had an international flavour. First there were a couple of olive sourdoughs -

Look at this blistery crust!

Then there were some very impressive knotted rolls - a sort of distant relation of the croissant. The trick here was to roll the sweet dough out so that it was thinner at the ends than in the middle. That way, tying the thin ends together results in a regular thickness all the way round, as well as holding the shape.

The building we were in at Dent was originally a school - and one of our number is an ex-pupil.

A bit of quality control in the kitchen: miller's perks.

Anxious moments before the lunch time rush.

In the main room the younger generation were getting stuck in.

Swapping some baking tips. But who with?

The youngsters at Dent were really adventurous. We had several takers who were keen to have a go at baking. There was a young lad who was on a secret mission involving delivering something in his wheelbarrow. There were several sightings of him round the village during the day, coming and going. I got the impression there was an interesting story somewhere - maybe he was being a private detective or smashing an international spy network! Anyway, he wasn't too busy to keep coming back to the hall at regular intervals - working his dough, shaping it, putting it in the oven. At the end of the afternoon he proudly took his baking home to his dad, carefully wrapped up as a present. What fun!

Here he is getting a bit of help with shaping.

Then there were the swan makers.

Who would have thought a swan started off circular?

After lunch we had a really interesting talk about spinning. There is a great deal to this, from the three different sets of sheep involved in producing a lamb suitable for the dinner table, to the properties of different wools and the different techniques involved in spinning and using the wool.

What used to be a highly prized natural material has over time become pretty well a waste product, worth less than the cost of shearing. The EU has even designated fleeces as hazardous waste, which surely says more about the EU bureaucracy than it says about wool.

Faced with the problem of what to do with a product that nobody wants to buy, producers have had to find innovative ways of adding value. This has resulted in a number of niche markets like house insulation that can capitalise on the eco-green aspect of natural wool.

There's a lot of skilled work to be done to the wool before it's in a state to spin, and it's not even spinning at all unless you are combining at least three separate strands.

This demo makes it look easy, but the lady who was doing it said that she is doing several things at once, all of which have to be learned and mastered, as well as being very skilfully done at the same time. It all seemed a bit like keeping several plates in the air at once, any of which could bring the whole thing crashing round your ears.

Dent is a really lovely place, and well worth another visit. The church is very old and full of fascinating details, like the family box pews, several with carvings in the woodwork dating back to the early 17th century. Just think - the pulpit (1614) was built 9 years before the First Folio of Shakespeare was printed! And there is a lovely walk by the river. I was unlucky with the brewery tap, which was not serving food the day I went, because of a large party, but at least I have an excuse to go again now.

High Bentham

The very last "On the Road" date was at High Bentham. I toyed with the idea of a £10-30 day return on the train from Arnside. But in the end I drove, which turned out to be a good choice because there are several lovely old villages between High Bentham and Carnforth, which is the route the SatNav took me on the way home.

It was a busy day in High Bentham when we were there. Not only did a lot of people turn out to see us, but there was a Saturday market across the road, and a beer festival, with its own beer bus taking people to any pub along the line. And a day ticket was only £1!

Apparently the recipe for this loaf said "tie a knot in it". A slip knot maybe. I think it looks like an ampersand, but other opinions were expressed.

Nell produced a superb pecan loaf (at the back) and a Heron spelt (at the front).

We had a demonstration of the reverse-Bertinet kneading method, with pike. Don't try this at home.

Funny how there always seems to be a crowd round the cake counter.

Karen had a helper on the hand-quern. You're never too young to learn.

Stella was torn between sampling the bread and setting up the screen for her after-lunch talk.

The fillings for the home made rolls arrived nice and cool thanks to a snazzy new Booth's cool bag.

First out of the oven on the day were the scones - always a popular item at the cafe counter, and this time expertly glazed over by our youngest volunteer.

They were soon joined by a good selection of established favourites in the cake line.

Audrey was a wizard on the scales, weighing the rolls to an accuracy of within 1%. Experience has shown that the dream weight for a roll is 100g, so the arithmetic was not too hard this time. Simply multiply by 9 over 5 and take away the square root of 800.

We sold some Heron Corn Mill flour, and signed up a couple more people who were interested in Bread of Heron, the mill's community bread group.

One lady turned up  in her camper van. She's on a mission to visit as many water and wind mills as she can, and bake with their flours. Now that is what I call ambition! She'd come from Ilkley to Beetham for the event, only to find that there was nobody at home - we were all in High Bentham for the day. Anyway, she found us in the end. I'm hoping we will get to read about her adventures, which may eventually find their way into a blog.

Stella's talk about the tramping banner and the SEWN project had an end of term feel to it. This project has been a long time in the making, and it's a source of real satisfaction to the people involved that their intricate and detailed work all came together and the project has achieved its many ambitious targets, most notably getting people working towards common goals as a team.

No end of term party would be complete without pizzas, which is what we had, with all the trimmings. And so ended the "On the Road" project which has been great fun throughout the summer. Now what's next?