The “Island” is the land that accompanies Lethenty Mill. It stretches from its widest part at the Mill to
its narrowest about half a mile up the Lochter Burn. It used to be very important to the Mill; water was collected in a long narrow channel leading to a dam near the Mill, and it could be released into a variety of channels under and around the Mill which were arranged to feed the water to the two water wheels or back into the water course (the Lochter) if the system was full and liable to overflow.
Several pages of the title deeds of 1886 spell out the mill-owner’s responsibility to open the sluices when flooding was imminent and there was a risk of neighbouring fields being inundated.
It must have been impressive when the system was in operation – the dam water surging into the channel, the mill wheels creaking into life, the grinding wheels rumbling in the ground floor and the various augers clattering away as grain was moved around the building.
The swans on the dam would make for dry land and the mill cats would ready themselves for attack as mice appeared from the most unlikely places. Most of the doors in the mill had holes in them to allow the cats complete access to all the floors.
It’s said that you never completely get rid of the grain in an old mill and it’s true, there are still pockets of oats and barley despite your best efforts at getting rid of them. When I bought the Mill in 1983 the mill wheels were long gone, the water channels had been removed or filled up and the dam and its channel had been filled with hundreds of tons of builder’s rubble and debris. The Victorian system for providing water power was unrecognisable and the swans and cats had moved on long ago.
Changes had been made in the century after 1886 – I suppose the Mill became busier and the dependence on water power from the Lochter became more critical. A large steam engine was installed in a new granite building either to back up or replace the main mill wheel, and a chimney towered over this extension. All this is gone now as well.
Then electricity was brought in and an enormous Ransome’s grain drier installed in the 1950s. All this was silent and rusting when I took over the derelict buildings in 1983 and I made a deal with a local scrap merchant – “ Could you remove it and we’ll call it quits”
We moved from our previous workshops in the Old Brewery, Oldmeldrum and gradually restored the Mill, installing woodworking machinery, continuing to make and sell furniture and a few years later converting one corner into a house on 4 floors.
The “island” or “the site” as we call it has stayed much the same; the trees providing perches and homes for the growing families of birds, from tree creepers to Sparrow Hawks. Robins and Pheasants come within talking distance and it’s still a surprise to see a heron languidly lifting its great sails into the skies.
Now and again deer graze in the rough grass and this is a great privilege, as is the presence of badgers in the river bank even though they undermine the willows which hold the bank together. I saw a black otter slide out of the river one afternoon a few weeks ago and troutlike it sneaked along the bank to disappear. Moles, water rats, frogs and of course rabbits live here and all are welcome except the last ones.
Then there are moths, dragonflies and butterflies in the warmer weather and worms and beetles etc etc. We don’t use chemicals on the ground and I have always felt that this “island” was a safe haven for local creatures of all kind ( except rabbits which help themselves to the garden) I have built a frame to keep the birds away from our fruit and veg – there are wild cherries (geans) and raspberries for them ! The garden is situated between the Mill and the Blue Shed and, unlike the Pitcairners, we are grateful for one crop a year.
-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture, http://www.lethenty-mill.com