|Courtesy of Geograph and Ordnance Survey|
Parking in the village, we walked over the stone bridge that crosses the burn and spotted a short tarmac track that led eastward toward the mill. This soon petered out, but a kissing gate in a nearby fence gave us hope. However, this was short-lived as we discovered that it was barbed-wired shut. Mind you, the track that was shown on the map was fairly visible in the topography, so we climbed over the gate and set off across the narrow field that bordered the burn.
My hunch had been correct, the habitat was fantastic, as the burn meandered over a small flood plain covered in flag irises, Meadowsweet and Magellan ragwort. There were insects about, tucked into sheltered spots amongst the vegetation, but nothing obvious that was odonatological.
At the other end of the field, the fence did not contain a gate of any sort, so we picked the lowest strand of barbed wire and stepped over it. This brought us to a slightly more overgrown area, but one where the track was more obvious, delineated by a dry stone wall (dyke) and the bank of the burn.
By the time we reached the mill, it was starting to rain, so we took the opportunity to nip inside. My guide, S, introduced me to the other volunteer staff and then took me around the three floors of the mill. I was allowed to 'switch it on', my words for operating the contraption which allows water to flow to the overshot wheel and so set all the shafts, gears and belts in motion. The mill specialises in grinding bere, an ancient form of barley, and I was amazed by all the chutes, ropes and pulleys required for transporting the grain up, down and through the building as it is turned into bere meal by three separate pairs of millstones.
S took great delight in pointing out one particular metal shaft, connected to one pair of stones, which is called a 'damsel'. It turned out to be the only one we'd see all day. The shaft is called a 'damsel' because its operation produces a continuous chattering noise (I have not made this up, see here).
Adjacent to the current Victorian mill are two even older ones, both breast shot and sadly now derelict.
Once the rain had ceased, we wandered back outside to look at the pond upstream of the mill. No odes, but a family of young Swallows were perching cutely on a sluice mechanism.
We retraced our steps back to the village, in bright sunshine this time, but with the same negative results, so I decided that tea and scones at Birsay Bay tea room was a viable option to raise our spirits. It seemed the least I could do, as I hadn't kept up my side of the bargain.