Our summer outdoor excursions programme took us to the Forest of Birse near Finzean for a look at the water powered 19th century mills. I’d visited these circa 7 years ago as part of the photography course at Grays, and knew it would be good if we could arrange access to the buildings. Guy Haslam, the chairperson of the Birse Community Trust was extremely helpful and arranged to meet us at 7pm outside the mill. The mill is still in operation on a part time basis and manufactures fence posts, brooms and wooden kitchen implements like spurtles and dough rollers. In the past it used to make wooden stoppers for herring barrels.
Further along the river is the bucket mill, which we did not visit on this occasion. The following a bit more info from the Historic Scotland website: “The Finzean Sawmill and Turning Mill, on the N bank of the River Feugh, is a remarkable survival in full working order. The sawmill, and the site of the Bucket Mill were established in the early 19th century to exploit the Glen Ferrick pine woods. From the 1830s to 1871, the sawmill was occupied by a range of different timber contractors who were harvesting timber on Finzean Estate. During this period the sawmiller was Charles Young. In 1871 the operation of the Sawmill passed to Alexander Duncan, who had built the Finzean Turning Mill in the 1830s on the outflow from the sawmill. The Sawmill and Turning Mill is still operated by a member of the Duncan family. In 1999, the ownership of the mills passed from Finzean Estate to Birse Community Trust. Extensive restoration work has been carried out on the mills using local timber milled at the sawmill.”
After a brief intro he took us upstream to the weir that had just been restored after serious damage by storm Frank in December 2015.
We then walked back to the main saw mill with the water wheel. It is here I first noticed the annoying midges that started to attack if you stood still for any length of time. Fortunately we soon moved to the inside of the saw mill, with some fearsome looking circular saws. Here the logs get rolled in from outside and sawn into planks.
The wheel is cast iron with wooden paddles held together with wooden pegs and can’t be allowed to dry out too much as it would fall apart.
A good evening out enjoyed by your editor and those present judging from the comments on Facebook. Many thanks to Guy Haslam for treating us to the full tour of the mills.