Each morning Michael heads up to the millpond about three hundred metres from his house to turn the sluice gate to release the water. It runs down a purpose-built narrow stream and speeds past hens and cockerels either side before hitting the paddles at the top of the wooden wheel. The momentum kicks the old wheel into life and its motion powers the mill.
The Victorian stone mill sits in a valley below the road which passes above it in Golspie, Scotland. The building fell into disrepair in the 1950s but was lovingly restored in the 90s by its previous owners. It is set over three floors and sitting proudly on one side of the building is the workhorse of the business, the traditional wooden wheel which powers the mill every day. We stand speaking to Michael on the second floor. Flour dust is dancing in the air, whipped up by our movement and caught by the light coming through the single-paned windows. At the end of the room, a number of huge mechanical cogs turn, powered by the outside wheel, driving the huge stone grinders inside. He says, “I’ll get about three or four hours of power before the pond runs out and needs refilling.” In those three hours, Michael will grind a variety of flour and peasmeal, the latter being a high protein pea flour that has become a speciality of the mill. Once the power runs out upstairs, Michael will move downstairs and spend the afternoon packing to send out to suppliers.
“I was enjoying my life in Scotland so kept putting off moving on. Now, fifteen years later, I’m married, have two beautiful kids and a sustainable business that provides a fantastic way of life for me and my family.”
This way of life is a world away from his nomadic past. Michael is originally from New Zealand; his accent is still strong although he assures us it has mellowed a little. He used to spend his time travelling the world shearing sheep: three months in the States, three months in Scotland, and the remainder back in Western Australia and New Zealand. It was a circuit he did for years. During his first year in Scotland, he met Becky (now his wife) and they continued to meet up every year until he finally settled in Scotland, “I’d never planned on staying long, but a friend of Becky’s introduced me to a chap called Fergus.” Fergus had run the mill for many years and had no-one to take over the business. The opportunity seemed too good for Michael to miss. He followed Fergus’ lead for a number of months before deciding to take over. He said “There are three main variables to get the hang of… you have to balance the water going over the wheel, get the correct the pressure on the stones and control the feed as it goes in. Once you’ve perfected those, you’re away!”
It was early 2000 when Michael took over and soon after got the hang of the milling process. He said, “I was enjoying my life in Scotland so kept putting off moving on. Now, fifteen years later, I’m married, have two beautiful kids and a sustainable business that provides a fantastic way of life for me and my family.” The flour is packaged by hand, which is ground by stones that are powered by water; the simplicity is brilliant, a ‘no plugs needed’ business.
We leave the mill and head twenty yards away to Michael’s house; he puts on the kettle and places a selection of shortbreads on the table. This is the latest product to come out of Golspie Mill, a variety of award-winning shortbread biscuits. Michael says, “We love the idea of taking our primary product and using it to create a whole new product.” The shortbreads are just one of a number of award-winning products to come out of the mill and proof that traditional production techniques can be as successful as any modern-day process.