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Scotland Norse or Click Mills in the Scottish Islands

Once common across the Northern and Western Isles, these were used to grind corn from Viking Times to the beginning of the C20th. Water from a local stream was diverted through the mill building, turning a set of wooden paddles connected to the millstone above. The mills might be owned by an individual or shared by several families. They were in use until replaced by larger more centrally placed mills. The remains of the small mills can still be found scattered across the landscape.


They are horizontal mills as the water wheels are set horizontally rather than vertically. They are often called either Norse Mills or Click Mills from the sound made by the rotating millstone knocking a stick which ensured an even flow of grain from the hopper onto the millstones. Several families might share a single mill.

SHAWBOST NORSE MILL AND KILN, ISLE OF LEWIS - The only working Norse mill in the Western Isles


The drying kiln and small mill were in use until the 1930s and have been carefully reconstructed. They have dry stone walls and a traditionally thatched roof which is roped down around the twin crowsticks at either end of the building. Stones help hold everything in place.


Drying grain for milling was always a problem in the damp climate of the Western Isles. Many crofts had a small drying kiln attached to the Barn. Here it is a separate building. Inside is a raised stone platform with a central stone lined pit which contained a slow burning fire to dry the grain. The grain was laid on a wooden platform suspended across the pit. Three large bags of grain could be dried in 6-8 hours and had to be turned regularly by hand to prevent it burning and to make sure it dried evenly.


Below is the mill. Water from the nearby burn was brought by a lade to the mill and channelled down a shute onto the horizontal water wheel.


The paddles are slightly angled to give a smooth flow of water.


This turned the upper millstone. As the stone turned, a peg knocked the hopper which trickled grain into a hole in the centre of the millstone. The flour was pushed out of the sides of the stones and collected in the groove around the two stones.


The two buildings are open 24 hours are set below the A858, to the west of the village. There is a small car park by Loch Roinavat and paved track down to the buildings. Map here.

DOUNBY CLICK MILL, ORKNEY - The last surviving example of a horizontal water mill on Orkney.

Dounby Click Mill has been carefully restored to working order. It was built around 1823 and was in use until the 1880s. It is a small dry stone building with a turf covered roof and entered through single doorway.


Water was brought along a stone slab channel into the base of the mill.



This mill is unusual as it had a double paddle.


This rotated the upper millstone in the meal house. Grain was fed through a hopper which was jiggled by a clapper which was struck each time the millstone rotated, producing the characteristic clicking noise. The ground flour was collected in a wooden chest.


The mill is just off the B9057 between Dounby and Evie and open all hours. Map Here


The Croft House Museum is a typical Shetland croft with dwelling house, barn and byre.

Croft 001.jpg

On a small stream below the croft is a restored Norse mill. This is a typical example of the mills found across the Scottish Islands which were in use from Norse times until the C19th when they were replaced by larger water mills. It is a small stone building with thatched roof.


Croft 002.jpg

A dam with two outlets controls the flow of water to the small horizontal wooden paddle.


There is a small door into the upper chamber with a small millstone fed by a wooden hopper.


The museum is on an unclassified road to the east of the A970, to the south of Dunrossness. Map here.

HUXTER NORSE MILLS, WEST MAINLAND, SHETLAND - A group of three small norse mills

This is a group of three small mills built along a steeply flowing burn before it falls into the sea. Each mill is built across the burn which had sluice gates which could divert the flow of water when the mill was not in use. The last mill was in use until the 1940s. Each mill was looked after by three families and could also be used to grind flour for other people. It is estimated a mill could grind a bushel of grain an hour, which is probably the equivalent of 45lb of flour.


The mills had dry stone walls with heather thatch over wooden beams.



The mills were worked by horizontal paddles with nine blades. The paddle could be raised or lowered using a metal rod or ‘lifting tree’ to alter the height of the upper millstone. After passing through the paddles, the water runs out of the mill to rejoin the watercourse and the next mill. 


The meal chamber was entered through a doorway in the gable end. The small window above is thought to be a later addition, to give more light.
The millstones survive, but not the grain hopper


The mills are reached from the end of the unclassified road from Melby to Huxter, where there is some parking. Map here.

Pictures have been scanned from prints hence the poor quality.
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