Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Kilchoan Mill

The foundations of Kilchoan's mill building are still visible on today's Google map image - it's ringed.  The mill is on Tigh an Uilt croft, near the Sanna turn.  It was a water mill, using the appropriately named Mill Burn which is seen on the image running just to the west of it.

Looking back into the mill's history has been a fascinating exercise.  The earliest map which might show it is Roy's map, a military map drawn up in the years between 1747 and 1751 following the '45 rebellion.  The building which is arrowed is in the right location, allowing that Roy's maps were not entirely accurate.

The mill is clearly marked on William Bald's map, drawn for the Ardnamurchan Estate.  It was dated 1806, but this picture is from a very faithful copy held at the Estate.  The mill race, which brought the water from the Mill Burn into the mill house, is clearly marked.

While Bald's main purpose was to record the size of the fields held by each tenant, and their use, Alexander Low's survey, carried out shortly after, added a little more detail.   His entry is difficult to read, but it records the 'Kilhoan Mill and Change-House' as belonging to Donald Connel who held 7.6 acres of arable land with a rent in 1806 of £13.5.-, and in 1807 of £20.-.-, the total value of the property being £20.-.-.  He also states that, "Besides this land, the Miller has grazings on the Farm of Kilhoan valued with that Farm".

A 'change-house' is a place where workers come for a wash and to change their clothes, though there may be another meaning here.

The mill is marked on the first OS map, dated 1856.  Bald's map shows several buildings to the immediate east of the mill, but these have been reduced to one in 1856, which is probably the existing croft house.

The 1872 OS map shows a dam across the Mill Burn and marks a sluice.  These were, presumably, designed to raise the water level for the mill's use.  The mill is labelled a 'Corn Mill'.  Tigh an Uilt croft house is marked as much larger than it is today, and at least two buildings have 'reappeared' to the east: one of them may be the house presently called Ben Talla.

We know that the mill was leased for five years to John MacPhail in 1892 by the then owner of Ardnamurchan Estate, John Jamie Dalgleish.  The lease included 'Kilchoan Meal and Carding Mill and the Machinery therein', the 'mill lead and troughs for bringing on the water to the Water Wheel', the arable land and hill grazing attached, the 'whole of the Upper Flat consisting of two rooms, and the easternmost lower room of the Old Inn at Kilchoan', these rooms to be used as a dwelling house, and the westernmost room which was a 'shop or store' - all for an annual rent of £18.  The lease was renewed in 1897 for a further five years.

This enquiry was precipitated by the Diary being lent a copy of the 1899 6" OS map of Kilchoan by Alasdair Thornton, from which this extract is taken.  It shows that, despite the recent renewal of the lease, the mill race appears to have fallen out of use: it labels an 'Old Sluice', and refers to the building as the 'Old Corn Mill'.  Further, the miller's house, Tigh an Uilt, has had the western end demolished, so it's down to the size it is today.

On both this and the previous map the public track from Kilchoan to Ormsaigbeg passes immediately in front of Tigh an Uilt croft house, and follows the line of the present drive to a foot bridge which crosses the Mill Burn.  The footbridge is on the site of the present bridge, while the old track crossed the Mill Burn near its mouth.

A lease between CD Rudd, owner of Ardnamurchan Estate, and a Mrs MacPhail, dated 1902, includes reference to "House, Shop, Byre, Land, and Grazings at Kilchoan". This confirms that the Mill was not functioning then. The mill was certainly out of use by 1915, when the land court fixed the annual rent for a Mrs Mary MacPhail at £9:10/-.  By 1938 there was still a 'store' on the croft, and Tigh an Uilt continues to be known as The Store up to the present day.

The building was used for other purposes, for example for housing cattle, sheep, and hay, and a serious attempt was made to completely refurbish it and turn it into a bistro, but the costs were high and grants unavailable.  The mill building was in a state of decay by the time this aerial photo was taken in 1991.

Many thanks to John Burgess for these two photographs of the mill, which were taken towards the end of its life.

The building was finally demolished in 2001, leaving a large iron cog wheel standing on the site, and one of three grinding wheels leaning up against the gable end of the croft house.

Many thanks to Pat MacPhail for all her help with this post,
and to Alasdair Thornton and John Burgess.
Tigh an Uilt croft house has a spacious first-floor apartment to let.
To book, contact Pat MacPhail on 01972 510 371 or email

1 comment:

  1. From Fiona MacDonald:

    In Scotland a 'change house' usually means a place where travellers can rest and take refreshment and (sometimes) hire fresh horses (ie 'change' their horses). In other
    words, a sort of primitive inn.

    There are still the remains of some in the Great Glen (indeed, my ancestors ran one at Whitebridge) close to the early 18th century military roads and perhaps to the older drove roads, also. See, for example,

    See also Merriam-Webster's online dictionary: