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13 May 2019

An update on Preston Mill

Written by Christina Morrison
Two men work on the water wheel, surrounded by wooden boards.
Work has begun to get Preston Mill’s water wheel turning again.
Work has begun to get Preston Mill’s water wheel turning again.

Nestled within an idyllic location in the beautiful East Lothian region, Preston Mill is an iconic and memorable sight.

Made famous by its use as Lallybroch in Outlander, when you first see Preston Mill you might think you’ve taken a step back in time. With its curious Dutch-style conical roof, the mill is an architectural oddity that enchants visitors as much as it delights painters and photographers.

However, in winter 2018 the water wheel fused, and we held a successful crowdfunder to raise the funds needed to fix the wheel.

The wheel sits upon an outside masonry pillar, which is topped by a timber bearing and a metal bush. This metal bush houses the end of the wheel’s axle and holds it in place, allowing the wheel to turn. However, over time, the heat from the friction of the turning axle has distorted the bush and this has caused the wheel to jam in a fixed position.

Now that the weather has taken a turn for the better, we’ve started work to get it turning once again.

Wooden boards surround the water wheel at Preston Mill while conservation work takes place.
Wooden boards surround the water wheel at Preston Mill while conservation work takes place.

We’ve dammed the adjoining lade by placing sandbags across the sluice gate; without the water, engineers are now able to access the wheel. The empty lade will also allow us to examine the stone cobbles that line the floor under the wheel, so we can repair any that are eroded or damaged.

Next, we propped the wheel, lifting its axle clear of the metal bushes that hold the wheel in place, allowing access to the sleeper and metal bushes.

A close-up of the wheel propped in place and supported by a metal structure. Various tools lie in the foreground.
The propped wheel

With the wheel weighing over 4 tonnes, engineers had to figure out a way to lift it a few inches out of position. Due to the weight and age of the wheel, it was a tricky job – one incorrect calculation could have scuppered the whole operation!

Those few inches made all the difference. Now we can reach the sleeper and bushes, we’ve taken their measurements and have started fabricating replacements. Once they’re ready, we’ll begin on the next phase of work – installing the new parts and repairing the timber paddles.

This work has been made possible by everyone who donated to our Preston Mill crowdfunder. Without support from people like you, we wouldn’t be able to care for Scotland’s special places. Thank you! Visit beautiful Preston Mill and see the work we’ve been able to achieve as a result of your donations. 

You can help us protect some of Scotland’s most loved places by donating today. Find out more about our current appeals.

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