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Historic far north mills are showcased at national conference


By Alan Hendry

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The proposals for Castletown Mill could see a £4 million investment and create 12 jobs. Image: Dunnet Bay Distillers / Organic Architects
The proposals for Castletown Mill could see a £4 million investment and create 12 jobs. Image: Dunnet Bay Distillers / Organic Architects

Two historic mills in Caithness – both of which are at the centre of ambitious redevelopment plans – featured prominently in Scotland's first national mills conference.

Representatives of Castletown Mill, owned by Dunnet Bay Distillers, and John O’Groats Mill, which is being brought back into use by John O’Groats Mill Trust, attended Milling Matters in Perth on May 7/8.

The conference was organised jointly by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, Historic Environment Scotland and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) Scotland.

It was dedicated to mills, milling and related heritage conservation topics, reflecting Scotland's rich and varied milling history, from grinding corn to spinning jute.

John O’Groats Mill Trust is seeking to create a social, educational and cultural centre. Image: Enes Pilavci for McGregor Bowes
John O’Groats Mill Trust is seeking to create a social, educational and cultural centre. Image: Enes Pilavci for McGregor Bowes

Castletown and John O’Groats were part of an exhibition based around 14 mills and organisations – underlining the importance of milling to the social and industrial heritage of Caithness.

Those attending the conference were pleased to learn that both mills are being conserved and revitalised as visitor attractions.

Joanne Howdle, interpretation and engagement manager at Dunnet Bay Distillers, said: "It was an honour to represent Castletown Mill at the first Scottish mills weekend and I was delighted to share the company's exciting plans for Castletown Mill with colleagues from the milling and milling heritage sector.

"I met lots of interesting people at the conference and learnt lots of new things that can be put into practice at Castletown Mill."

Conference delegates walking towards a historic mill on the River Ericht in Perthshire.
Conference delegates walking towards a historic mill on the River Ericht in Perthshire.

Dunnet Bay Distillers, run by husband-and-wife Martin and Claire Murray, is seeking planning permission to refurbish Castletown Mill and the surrounding land. Their proposals to create a whisky distillery and visitor centre at the disused mill could see a £4 million investment and create 12 jobs.

The company owns the award-winning Rock Rose gin and Holy Grass vodka brands.

The Murrays say they are excited about the prospect of regenerating and breathing new life into the 200-year-old building and make it a "a proud Caithness landmark".

John O’Groats Mill Trust is aiming to create a social, educational and cultural centre that will be a "must see" heritage attraction. The project is expected to cost between £1.5 million and £2m.

Conference delegates visiting Stanley Mills in Perthshire.
Conference delegates visiting Stanley Mills in Perthshire.

It was represented at the conference by Bryony Robinson, development manager, and Rognvald Brown, the trust chairman.

Mr Brown, Miss Robinson and the trust's architect, Chris Bowes, of McGregor Bowes, had presented an online lecture in the lead-up to the event and this had gone down well with the digital audience of mill enthusiasts and heritage specialists.

Mt Brown said: "The national mills conference was such a worthwhile event for the trust to attend. The speakers ranged from millers and bakers to engineers and conservation experts, and we came away having made new contacts and refreshed old ones.

"Our thanks go to the organisers and hosts, SPAB Scotland and the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust."

Proposed designs for the B-listed John O'Groats Mill were among those shortlisted in the Scottish Design Awards 2021, in the Architecture: Future Building or Project category.

Last year a new coastal path linking the mill with John O'Groats harbour was officially opened.


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