Re­gional & Sea­sonal: Blair Atholl Mill and Bak­ery

Landscape (UK) - - Contents -

on one of the few ar­eas of flat­land in the midst of the heather-cov­ered Grampian Moun­tains sits Blair Atholl, a small town in Perthshire. Visi­tors are drawn here through­out the year, with the prom­ise of beau­ti­ful walks along rivers and through wood­land. The cas­tle, with its tall white tur­rets, proves a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion. Set in this pic­turesque land­scape, with sheep graz­ing idly on hills, and lo­cated over the rail­way, away from the bus­tle of the main tourist area, is Blair Atholl Water­mill and Bak­ery. The burr stone water­mill is one of only 11 still op­er­a­tional in Scot­land and wa­ter has been turn­ing through its wheel since the 1590s. The mill worked un­til 1929, but was forced to cease production with the ar­rival of new in­dus­trial mills. It was used as stor­age un­til 1977, when John Ri­d­ley, an en­ter­pris­ing lo­cal man, be­gan restor­ing it. He en­listed the help of Mr W S Sharp, a for­mer miller’s as­sis­tant, who had served his ap­pren­tice­ship at Blair Atholl mill 50 years ear­lier and was able to sketch the orig­i­nal mech­a­nism from mem­ory. John worked the mill un­til 1993, then passed it on to James and Mary Bruce, par­ents of Kirsty Co­hen, now one of the cur­rent own­ers. For Kirsty and her hus­band, Rami, it was a sig­nif­i­cant shift from their pre­vi­ous life. “We had a cat­tle farm in Is­rael and were set­tled there,” ex­plains Rami. “Then Kirsty’s dad be­came ill, and we came home to help, ini­tially only for a year. This turned into two, and we both en­joyed it so much, we de­cided to stay.” The water­mill also has a small tea room, which is sit­u­ated on the old kiln dry­ing floor. A tea garden, mod­elled in a cot­tage garden style, of­fers a place to en­joy the out­doors and re­lax next to the lade, the chan­nel that car­ries the mill wa­ter, where dip­pers gather. Ini­tially, the tea­room fare fo­cused on cakes and scones. To­day, it also of­fers light lunches cre­ated from lo­cal in­gre­di­ents. “The tea room has al­ways been busy, but we are con­stantly ask­ing for feed­back to make sure we of­fer what the cus­tomers want,” says Rami. “We would be asked if we baked bread, and when we said ‘no’, I could tell we were dis­ap­point­ing peo­ple.” So, 12 years ago, with no ex­pe­ri­ence, Rami turned his hand to mak­ing bread, at­tend­ing a course, but mainly teach­ing him­self. He now bakes seven days a week. “We of­fer dozens of va­ri­eties, in­clud­ing con­ven­tional white bread with olive oil, plain and flavoured sour­dough, oat­meal, malted, spelt, seeded rye, poppy seed and whole­meal. “More and more peo­ple are turn­ing away from su­per­mar­ket

breads, with all the ad­di­tives and preser­va­tives, to sam­ple bread made the old way.” Rami quickly learned stone grind­ing from his father-in-law, who was taught by John Ri­d­ley. A tra­di­tional form of milling, it helps re­tain the nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits of grains as well as giv­ing a nutty flavour. The wheat used in the flour is or­ganic and sourced from a farmer in Fife. The mill pro­duces coarse whole­meal, whole­meal and bread flour, pin­head, which is the rough­est oat­meal apart from whole­grain, and also coarse, medium and fine oat­meal. “We sell the flour in the mill, on­line and at lo­cal farm­ers’ mar­kets. The bread is avail­able from the tea room too. In­creas­ing our flour sales is the area of the busi­ness I’m con­cen­trat­ing on this year,” ex­plains Rami. If the water­mill is fully func­tional, it can mill 250kg of grain a day. “If the river is low, then we can’t mill,” he says. “I ac­cept this, as I like to work with na­ture. Usu­ally if we wait a day or two, it will rain again, and we’ll be up and run­ning.” The mill is main­tained by Rami, a task that he finds a chal­lenge, but an in­ter­est­ing one. He does much of the milling him­self, but there are ad­di­tional staff for when he is busy bak­ing. An­other mem­ber of staff helps to bake, and Kirsty

The loaves at Blair Atholl Mill and Bak­ery are made from grain ground by hand the tra­di­tional way

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