Barry Mill is an extremely rare example of a working water-powered oatmeal mill. It is powered by the water of the Barry Burn, better known for forming an obstacle on the famous Carnoustie Golf Links a short distance downstream. It can be reached from the A930 west of Carnoustie, or from the A92.
Barry Mill is well signposted. Access is from a minor road which connects to the A92 and A930: though both have been significantly upgraded in recent years so what you find on the ground may not match your map or your GPS. About half a mile north of Barry itself, which now virtually forms a western extension of Carnoustie, a track leads to the large car park. From here you descend steps or a ramp to the visitor reception, housed in what was originally the mill's stables and later became a garage.
Barry Mill is built on a slope and from the visitor reception you only see two of its three floors. You enter the mill via a tin roofed lean-to extension. This is home to the miller's office and to a series of displays about life and work in the mill Beyond is the milling or stone floor, the middle of three main floors in the mill. Steps within the mill, or a sloping path outside it, give access to the lowest of the three floors, the meal floor. Internal steps also give access to the top floor, the bin floor.
Barry Mill is fully functional and milling demonstrations take place, particularly on Sunday afternoons or for pre-booked groups. At other times the mechanism may be working though not milling and the resident miller gives guided tours. This allows visitors a real insight into a process that remained little changed for many centuries; that was essential to food production and human development; and which, at Barry Mill, continued to operate on a fully commercial basis until as recently as 1984.
The basic idea of what goes on in a mill is a simple one. Grain, in this case oats, is processed from an inedible raw material into something fit for human or animal consumption. The English author, journalist and literary critic, Samuel Johnson, visited Scotland in the 1770s and defined oats as "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." It is certainly true that oats formed a huge part of the traditional Scottish diet, with the result that oatmeal mills were much more important in Scotland than in England.
At Barry Mill the oats arrived from local farms in sacks, having already been separated from their stalks by threshing: there is an example of a traditional threshing machine on display next to the visitor reception at the mill. The oats were then dried in the kiln at the end of the mill. From the kiln they were shovelled down a chute to the basement or meal floor where they were collected in sacks. The sacks were lifted by the sack hoist right up to the top floor, or bin floor, of the mill. Here they were emptied into a hopper which fed one of the two pairs of stones on the milling floor. This pair of millstones, made of sandstone, shelled the individual grains and the output dropped down a chute into the basement where a fan separated the shelled oats, or "groats" which were wanted, from the husks, which were not.
The groats were then sacked up, and again hoisted to the top floor of the mill. Here they were placed in the hopper feeding the main milling stones on the middle floor, made of French burr stone. The resulting "meal" then descended into the basement once more, to be bagged for delivery to customers.
The operation of a mill relied on four sources of energy. Being a miller was heavy work, and a lot of manpower was put into lifting and carrying sacks of grain, groats and meal. Gravity also had its part to play, with the process requiring each grain to descend the full height of the mill twice before emerging as meal. The third source of energy was peat, used to fire the kiln to dry the oats before milling. The fourth, unsurprisingly as this is a water mill, was water.
The main source of power at Barry Mill was (and remains) the Barry Burn. A mill dam and lade divert water from the burn half a mile upstream from the mill itself. At the mill the lade carries the water over the top of the mill wheel, contained in a housing on the side of the mill. The wheel is 15ft 6in in diameter and is of the "overshot" type, meaning the weight of water forces the downstream side of the mill wheel to descend. The power the wheel generates is controlled within the basement floor of the mill by a series of levers. Within the mill sets of gears and cogs allow both sets of millstones to be powered by the waterwheel, as well as fanners to blow the husks from the groats; sieves; and the sack hoist used to lift the sacks of oats and groats from the basement to the top floor.
For over four hundred years there were two mills operating on the Barry Burn. The Nether Mill milled corn, and the Over Mill ground oats. Both were already in operation when leased to millers by their owner, Balmerino Abbey in Fife. The Over Mill was leased to William Clark and Katarina Cant for an up front payment of £100 and an annual rent of £17.13s.6d, plus 12 geese, 6 hens and acre of pasture. In 1667 the estates and the mills on them became the property of Lord Balmerino, who sold the mills to Robert Watson. In the 1680s ownership passed to Watson's son-in-law, Robert Gardyne.
In 1811 the Over Mill was destroyed by fire, a constant hazard in mills of all types. The owner, Thomas Gardyne, rebuilt the mill with the insurance money. In 1950 the Over Mill was purchased by the Gunn family, who had already leased it for a number of years. The Over Mill remained in production until 1984, though it increasingly became known simply as Barry Mill after the Nether Mill was demolished in the 1960s.
In 1984 flooding damaged the mill lade and the mill closed down. It stood empty and increasingly derelict until, in 1988, being purchased by the National Trust for Scotland with assistance from a bequest. Over the next four years Barry Mill was completely refurbished. When it opened to the public in 1992 it had largely been returned to the condition it was in when it was rebuilt after the 1811 fire.