No seasonal slowdown at the Heatherslaw Cornmill

Heatherslaw millstone.
Heatherslaw millstone.

Keeping a working mill in good running order is quite a task and at Heatherslaw Cornmill maintenance goes on behind the scenes throughout the year.

As the visitor season draws to a close, you might be forgiven for thinking that the miller puts his feet up on a sack of grain and takes a well-earned break, but in fact the opposite is true.

Every year in the autumn, the millstones have to be dressed, a process which involves lifting the huge stones, which weigh around half a tonne each, sweeping them clean of flour and carefully re-grinding the channels and grooves which help to produce the high quality flours for which Heatherslaw Cornmill, at the Ford and Etal Estates, is so renowned.

If this were not done, then through time the surface of the stones would become so smooth that they would no longer cut and grind the grain correctly and would eventually cease to make flour.

In addition to dressing the stones, the bearing in the bed-stone has to be cleaned and re-greased, then it is packed tightly with sheep’s wool and grease to keep everything turning smoothly for the year ahead. In days gone by, the stones were dressed by hand, the miller using a mill bill – a type of stone pick – to slowly chip the lines and grooves.

Nowadays, the process is done using an electric grinder, which not only speeds it up but also causes much less damage to the millstone and produces a better end result.

Miller Dave Harris-Jones said: “Dressing the stones is such an important part of the mill year. When they are put back together and the first flour comes out, it is as fine as talcum powder and always a time for celebration.”

The first of this flour will be available for the Ford Christmas Market on Sunday from 11am to 3.30pm. The mill is also staying open this winter on most Wednesdays and Thursdays so customers can call in to buy their flour and cereals.

The market, which takes place inside Lady Waterford Hall and outside under cover of a street marquee, grows in popularity each year. With around 50 stalls selling a huge range of goods – from artisan bread to holly wreaths, seasonal cakes and bakes to hand-made knitwear, and some ‘not available on the high street’ items too – there will be plenty from which to choose.