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Issue 90 - Outlander Uncovered: The Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot

Scotland Magazine Issue 90
December 2016

 

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Outlander Uncovered: The Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot

Christopher Coates visits the Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot

For our final Outlander filming location we’re visiting a truly special, and really quite unusual, location that offers visitors a glimpse of working life in Scotland’s past. It was also the setting of a somewhat tense, but also rather humorous, scene in the season one episode ‘Lallybroch,’ which fans of the TV adaption of Diana Gabaldon’s novels will surely remember.

Shortly after returning to his home estate of Lallybroch, Jamie discovers, much to his annoyance, that the castle’s kitchens are being forced to grind flour by hand, as the mill has broken down. Ignoring the protests of his family, he decides that – despite being laird – he will take the matter into his own hands and ride across the estate to the watermill, with the intent to repair the fault himself. Claire follows him and upon arrival hears Jamie’s diagnosis: something is blocking the waterwheel’s mechanism and needs to be dislodged.

Taking no heed of Claire’s thoughts on the matter, Jamie strips off and jumps into the mill pond to begin his work, but only moments later his sister arrives to warn the pair of an approaching British army patrol. Jamie, who still has a price on his head, must hide or risk capture. With no other alternative available, he dives underwater in the hope that the troops will simply pass by. However, instead the soldiers decide to speak with the ladies and, upon learning that the mill is inoperative, their leader – who was a miller’s son – offers to examine it. Just in the nick of time, the waterwheel lurches into motion with a groan and the mill’s mechanism grumbles into action. Simultaneously, Jamie’s shirt floats to the surface – seemingly the cause of the blockage. With no reason to stay, the soldiers move on and Jamie emerges safely.

The scene was filmed over the course of 10 days in June 2014, when over 150 cast members and crew descended on the Preston Mill, near East Linton in East Lothian. The site did require a little modification; modern signposts were removed and a few bushes were placed strategically to hide nearby homes, but for the most part the site already looked much as an 18th Century mill should. Indeed, the oldest parts of the site, which has been under the care of the National Trust for Scotland since 1951, date from as early as the 17th Century and it is thought that these structures were built atop the foundations of an earlier operation that was established sometime around 1599.

Despite its age, Preston Mill operated on a commercial basis – producing oatmeal – until 1959 when it became a full-time visitor attraction. Nevertheless, due to its unusual appearance, the mill has in fact been popular with travellers and, particularly, artists since the late 19th Century. As a result, it has been the subject of a number of noteworthy paintings depicting Scottish rural life.

The site has three main structures: the miller’s house (which now houses the visitor centre’s reception and an exhibition space), the kiln, and the mill proper. At least four separate stages of building have been identified, which helps to explain its somewhat ramshackle and disorganised appearance. Despite this, the late 19th-Century mechanism running the mill is carefully thought out and, powered by water drawn from the River Tyne, is able to separate and process the husks and shelled oats in order to produce both oatmeal and flour.

Of particular note is the kiln building that sports a roof shaped a little like a wizard’s battered hat. A vital part of the milling process, the kiln was used to dry the oats to prepare them for processing. Fires were lit in an oven beneath the main kiln floor, from which hot air and smoke would pass over the freshly harvested grain. Rising up past the criss-crossed beams supporting the conical roof, the dust and smoke would then be drawn out of the drying space via a cowl that was able to turn with the wind in order to promote a strong airflow and also to prevent rain from entering. Of particular note is the unusual vane that sits atop the cowl, which is shaped like a outstretched arm, and is known locally as the ‘long arm of friendship.’

Although not featured in the series, just a short walk from Preston Mill is another architectural oddity that is also under the care of the National Trust for Scotland: the Phantassie Doocot. Dating from the 16th Century, it was gifted to the trust by the Phantassie Farm in 1962. Doocots (or dovecotes) were very common throughout history – they were something of a status symbol in Roman society – and are thought to have been introduced to Britain by the Normans in the 11th Century.

Like many other doocots that can be found in Scotland, this one has enough nesting boxes to house up to 500 birds – usually pigeons – which historically were one of the few sustainable sources of meat during winter. However, the Phantassie Doocot is an oddity. Instead of the usual beehive construction seen in Scotland, it features a southern-sloping face to its roof, with a horseshoe-shaped parapet. This style of doocot was common in the South of France, which suggests that whoever built it was familiar with the area.

Visitor Information
The Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot
Preston Mill, East Linton, EH40 3DS
+44 (0) 1620 860 426
www.nts.org.uk