GAYLE Mill in Wensleydale has been reopened to the public following a £1m restoration project.

The mill, near Hawes, is one of the world's oldest working cotton mills. It narrowly escaped being converted into luxury flats after it closed in 1988. It lay derelict and abandoned for almost 20 years before volunteers and experts - including former apprentices at the mill - embarked on an ambitious five-year project to restore it.

On Tuesday, the mill welcomed its first visitors, who were shown the now fully-functioning turbine - one of the oldest of its type in the UK.

The mill, which dates from 1784, was voted one of the country's top three heritage projects when it featured on the BBC's Restoration programme four years ago. Originally a cotton mill, it was converted to a sawmill in the 1880s after it was taken over by the Alderson family, who continued to run it until its closure.

Brian Alderson, the last of five generations to own Gayle Mill, died late last year and so never saw it fully restored.

Mill manager, Paul Bisson, said Mr Alderson would have been "thrilled" to see the final results.

"The mill was a huge part of his life and family history," said Mr Bisson. "He showed true grit in resisting the developers who were desperate to buy the site for flats, and he would have been very proud to see it today."

As well as a tourist attraction, Gayle Mill is also a working enterprise and provides a range of timber and wood production services. It is also highly efficient, producing its own energy and even selling electricity to the National Grid.

Tony Routh was the last ever apprentice at Gayle Mill, and is now a director of the Gayle Mill Trust, a registered charity set up to raise funds for the restoration project and to secure the mill's future. A distant relative of brothers Thomas and Oswald Routh, who built the original mill in 1784, he spent nearly three years as an apprentice joiner there during the 1960s.

"Although I was only here for a short time, Gayle Mill made a big impression on me," he said. "I have such fond memories of the place and of the people I worked with.

"Everyone has worked really hard to restore it, and it has been worth every minute. This is a place that deserves to be preserved for future generations and I'm proud to be a part of it.

"It really does feel like coming home."

Mr Bisson added: "Gayle Mill is part of our history, and it's wonderful that people can come and see it in fully working order. When it closed down in 1988, I'm sure no-one could have imagined this.

"I think I speak for us all when I say how pleased I am that it was never converted into flats, no matter how luxurious."

Gayle Mill is open 10am-5am, five days a week (closed Mondays and Fridays, except bank holidays). Admission costs £5 for adults, £2 for children and £14.50 for families. For more details, visit