Blair Atholl Watermill keeps traditional milling alive in Scotland
Blair Atholl Watermill is celebrating four centuries since its original charter
One of the few working examples of its type in Scotland, Blair Atholl Watermill is celebrating four centuries since its original charter. Malcolm Jack meets the resident miller and baker
Save for a period of disrepair and disuse between 1929 and the mill’s restoration in 1976, the stonegrinding of wheat and oats has been a process carried out regularly at Blair Atholl’s Watermill since at least the early seventeenth century. The restoration was undertaken by enterprising local John Ridley, with help from a man who had worked there in his youth and was able to sketch the original mechanism.
Perthshire native Kirsty Cohen and her Israeli husband Rami took over the business, which also includes a bakery and tearoom, from her parents in 2001. It was a rather significant switch from their previous life. ‘We had a cattle farm in Israel,’ Kirsty explains. ‘My parents were ill: we came for one year to help out, then stayed.’
Something of a natural in the rural arts, Rami quickly learned stonegrinding – a process which helps retain the nutritional benefits of grains as well as producing a distinctive nutty flavour – through age-old knowledge passed down to him from Kirsty’s father and other mill owners.
Combined with Rami’s flair for baking – his specialities include bagels, carrot cake and a hallah Jewish loaf made every Friday (all made with their own flour, naturally), it’s seen the watermill enjoy a steadily flourishing trade.
Baking classes are also proving popular, servicing a growing trend among consumers. ‘More and more people are interested in what they’re buying,’ says Kirsty. ‘They’re wary of supermarket bread with all its preservatives and additives. People want to know how to bake their own bread from scratch.’
An upgraded online shop is planned to expand their flour and oatmeal sales, the bulk of which is currently done at farmers’ markets nearby. Among their current regular clientele are a famous couple with very particular dietary requirements. ‘We grind the grain for the panda cakes at Edinburgh Zoo,’ explains Kirsty. ‘The zoo found it hard to find someone able to do it the right way, so they approached us. We thought it was a joke at first.’