From Lewsiana, by W Anderson Smith (1874, 1896).
During the autumn and winter the grain is prepared at leisure as potatoes are first consumed, or nearly so, before the meal is much run upon. When in urgent need of meal, the grain is sometimes dried in an iron pot on the fire, and then taken to the quern or hand mill, where, however, a great quantity is necessarily lost, from the difficulty of collecting it as it issues from between the stones. This meal is called “gratanach,” is much liked by some people who could not well digest the common meal, and is the ancient way of preparing it. In old times, also, the barley heads were taken, and the grain switched out of them, as is done occasionally in some parts even now, and kiln-dried in the husks.
To-day, however, the most usual way is by the flail, when the grain is winnowed in the breeze that is always ready for it, and then taken to the kiln. Every six or eight crofters join together and build one of these little huts for their mutual benefit. A hole is dug in the centre, with a trench leading to it. This is covered over so as to support a quantity of straw, on which the grain is laid. The heat from a peat fire is led under the straw along the trench, and the grain thus dried. After this the grain is taken to one of the little mills, also erected by the joint efforts of a portion of the crofters.
Follow one of the narrow mill-lades from some stream, and you arrive at a little Esquimaux-looking hut. Crawl into this, and you find two good granite stones; suspended over the centre is a stout bag of woven rushes; through one corner of this the grain trickles into a wooden shoe. As the stone revolves, a projecting stick strikes this shoe and tilts the contents into the hole in the stone, the shoe being refilled by the next revolution. The grain is deposited in a hole in the stonework on which the mill-stones rest, the hut itself being in most cases built of turf. The stones are cut with great labour and patience out of the granite rock by the village mason or blacksmith; and a granite cliff near Dalbeg, on the road from Carloway to Barvas, is often occupied at the base by an industrious millstone hewer.
[A half-hewn millstone can be seen, still attached to its source, at Gannstotl near Geshader; pictured here.]
Here and there modern mills have been erected by the proprietor, and let to tenants; all the crofters within a certain district arc obliged to send their grain thither, or pay the miller the same as if they did. This is rather a high-handed mode of introducing civilisation. For instance, the people of Uig have to forward their grain to Callanish Mill, either going upwards of twenty miles by road or crossing Loch Roag by boat, when, on arrival, the mill may be full of work, or the weather too stormy to return. Such eventualities often occur.
In this way several days are always, and many days often, spent away from home, while the families arc awaiting the meal they might have had ground at their doors. A great many people prefer paying the penalty and grinding at their own little mills, and all complain of the great tax thus imposed on them to enable the worthy miller to pay his rent. The meal once ground, they have provided themselves with sieves through which to take off the rough. These, are made of sheepskins, stretched over strong wooden hoops until they are tight as a drum; the perforations are made with a small awl made of a straightened cod-hook with the barb chipped off: this is stuck in a handle of tangle stem, which enables the hand to grasp it readily when heated in the fire. These simple and useful little instruments are in universal use in the Lews for this and similar purposes.