The Click Mill, Dounby, stands a couple of hundred yards off the B9057, a little over two miles from the village of Dounby on Orkney's West Mainland. There is room to pull your car off the road close to the start of a track, which you follow before crossing a field to the mill itself. From a distance it's easy to think you should be walking to what turns out to be a derelict farmstead. With its turf-covered flagstone roof and a setting that is sunk into the surrounding landscape, the mill itself is far from obvious.
The Click Mill is a rectangular dry-stone building measuring some 4.5m by 2m that stands beside a stream. The mill was intended to process oats and bere, a kind of barley, and would have been a huge help in relieving a group of local families of their "daily grind", the need to mill grain by hand. The mill was built in the early 1820s by a local man, John Spence. When originally built, there would have been a mill pond created by a dam, a little upstream from the mill. Water was supplied from this to the mill by means of a stone mill lade.
The mill is recorded as having been still working in the mid 1880s, but some time later it went out of use. In the early 1930s, conservation work was undertaken by the Orkney Antiquarian Society. The result was to restore the mill itself to working condition, though the mill dam and pond had been lost to quarrying and water was instead supplied by pipe. Dounby Click Mill was placed in state care in 1933. (Continues below images...)
The interior of the mill is shown in a number of photographs on this page. Working out what actually happens takes a little imagination. Water flows in via the lade (or the pipe that replaced it) from the front of the building. It then flows under the millstones, where it turns a horizontally-set waterwheel, which holds two sets of six wooden paddles, one placed above the other. When these are turned by the flow of water they in turn rotate the upper of the two millstones.
Grain is fed into the millstones via a hole in the centre of the upper stone, from a wooden hopper suspended above it, which is itself fed by hand from sacks of grain. As the upper stone rotates, the grain is milled, and passes to the outside of the stones, where it is collected and fed into a lower level meal box, from where it can be bagged up.
The name "click mill" (which in some areas is called a "clack mill") comes from the noise made by a wooden peg set into the top surface of the upper millstone. Each time this rotates it knocks the grain-spout on the bottom of the hopper, causing a steady stream of grain to flow down into the entry hole.
The Click Mill marks the end of a line of development that can be dated back to Norse mills in the early medieval period. It is the only working horizontal watermill in Orkney and one of few to survive in Scotland with its machinery still intact.