See all stories
6 Jul 2022

Why we love Preston Mill

Why we love Preston Mill


Two voices: Fraser McDonald and Gordon Stewart

My name is Fraser McDonald.
I'm the Visitor Services Supervisor at Preston Mill.
Preston Mill was donated to the National Trust for Scotland by the Gray family in 1950, and we've been caring for the mill ever since.

It was the first industrial property that the Trust took into its portfolio and so it was a bit of a sea change when they started caring for buildings like this.
But it was important because the building, the mill is completely unique.

Preston Mill is unusual because it's a working meal mill.
We no longer grind oatmeal but the machinery and the water wheel turn and operate.
It was the last working water mill in the Lothians.
It stopped grinding oatmeal at the time that George Denham, who was the last miller to work here, passed away but he had been working here since the 1930s.

In 1948 there was quite a catastrophic flood, which flooded most of the building.
And it was shortly after that that the mill was donated to the Trust.
The flood preserved the building in many ways.
If it had been left as a working mill, it probably would have gone into a decline, would have closed and been allowed to fall into disrepair, but the Trust conserved the building in 1950.
We continue to operate and it's still working now.

The mill has developed organically over hundreds of years.
Additions have been added, alterations have been made and it makes the building look incredibly quirky.
Its kiln originally stood straight.
Early in the 16th century it started to topple over.
Buttresses were added in order to stabilise it.
It now looks like something out of a Lord of the Rings movie, but quite by accident it ended up being one of the most picturesque buildings in the Lothians, I think.

Typically a lot of visitors visit the mill because of its associations with the TV show Outlander.
It was used as a filming location but I think most people that come in just looking to see the wheel where Jamie Fraser got into the water get pleasantly surprised.
It's a really interesting place.
It tells you a lot about our social history and the working life of a miller, which was fascinating.
He was an engineer, he was a farmer, he was a meteorologist and was also a salesman.
There was so much that the miller had to do as part of his job.

George Denham, who was the last miller to work here in the 50s, couldn't understand why mills like this were closing down because they served their local community.
And he described the water source that powered the mill as free energy, and 70 years later he sounds remarkably on trend.

A few years ago, the weir was restored because it was starting to decay, and it was rebuilt and we added a fish ladder.
And that controls the flow of water into our mill lade and keeps the wheels turning at the mill.

I'm Gordon Stewart.
I’m the Operations Manager for the Borders.
I didn't really know what to think the first time I came to Preston Mill as I’d never been before.
It's like a step back in time.

You've got the conical of the kiln roof and it's just really got a bespoke, individual character that really draws you into the history and you really want to learn more about the property.

Why I love Preston Mill is I think it's a picture-perfect example of the unique places that the Trust has to offer everyone, and I think it's just a fantastic example of the character and the industrial heritage that the Trust has in its vast portfolio.

Although the casual visitor might imagine that the mill hasn't changed much in centuries, during its whole working life it was constantly being altered, improved and repaired.
And even now we are constantly providing maintenance for the mill.

Last year, the mill lade was beginning to silt up and it had to be dredged clear; the silt was blocking the flow of water.
This year, we are doing repairs on the roof -- replacing the lime mortar, reinstating broken tiles.
These need to be replaced to keep the building weatherproof and here for generations to come.

I love that the building is completely unique, not just that it looks unusual but the fact that at one time there were hundreds of mills on the rivers in Scotland and there are a handful of them left.
And it really is a privilege to be involved in keeping it running.

Two members of the team at Preston Mill share some of the reasons why they love this East Lothian mill, not only for its unique and quirky appearance but also for the important stories it tells of Scotland’s social and industrial heritage.

Plan your visit

Please note that permission for drone flying was granted by the National Trust for Scotland. Please contact for recreational and commercial drone filming enquiries.

Become a member

Join today