10.5.2 Mining and Quarrying

The varied geology of the Highlands has resulted in stone and other ores being available for industrial and building uses (Table 10.3; McMillan 2017a; 2017b). Some were the projects of local landowners, while others were ventures by outside companies.

A cluster of lead mines were located in Ardnamurchan; these were worked by the York Buildings Company in the 18th century then in the mid-20th century by John Barratt of the Strontian Mining Company, though with limited success. The mines were also briefly reopened in the 1980s (Cameron 1941Strontian Mines Map). Remains survive on a number of the sites. Remains of one of the lead smelters at Strontian have also been uncovered (MHG29303).

Coal only outcrops in a few places in the Highlands, and the only enduring works are at Brora, Sutherland (MHG19725; MHG9767). These were linked to saltworks initially, and then intermittently worked. In the early 19th century mining was renewed and infrastructure of a railway and harbour developed. The poor-quality coal provided fuel for local enterprises, including for renewed salt production, a local brick and tile works, a distillery and as fuel for the Duke of Sutherland’s innovative but ultimately unsuccessful steam ploughs used for land reclamation (Tindley and Wodehouse 2014). The colliery closed in the 1820s but was reopened in 1872, closing finally in 1974 (Harker 1964). Albertite outcrops occur at Strathpeffer, Easter Ross, and may have been mined through prehistory, with further prospecting and use in the 19th century (Morrison 1883, 308).

Iron ores were mined in a number of locations (see Table 10.3), most were small-scale productions which presumably supplied in the main local foundries. A few sites show larger production, including on Raasay, Skye (MHG6521) where production related to WWI need for iron. A number of mines and buildings relating to this enterprise survive (Draper and Draper 1990).

Mining for both copper and gold occurred in some locations, with a small gold rush in Kildonan, Sutherland in the 19th century, where prospecting was carried out mainly by panning from the burns (Saxon 1992; Pollard 2000; Callender and Reeson 2008). However, only limited quantities were obtained. The Kildonan camp has been excavated (MHG43572), providing insights into its layout and the lives of miners.

Baile an Or, the gold mining village, Strath of Kildonan,1869. ©The Highland Council

Flagstones from Caithness were quarried, cut and exported, in a large scale operation from the late 18th century (Porter 1982). Quarries were situated in a number of locations, with some still in production. A cutting yard in Castlehill (MHG698; MHG51241) operated in the 19th century with a water wheel for power; all buildings have been demolished. The location allowed easy access to export from the harbour. The flagstones were also used locally in buildings (including as roofs) and fencing, as shown by a number of surviving buildings and fences in Caithness.

A field boundary of upright Caithness flagstones near Dounreay. ©The Highland Council

At the opposite end of the Highlands, slates from the Ballachulish area, Lochaber (MHG14) were actively quarried from the late 17th century, with remains surviving of early buildings and transport infrastructure. Slates from the area were the most important source in Scotland and exported widely, especially for durable roofing (Hume 1977, 53, 156; McMillan 2017a, 11–12). In the 20th century, bricks were made from quarry waste at the Ballachulish Slate Quarry and Brick Works, but the venture was not successful. There were also several local slate quarries in the Highlands apart from Ballachulish, few of which were successful commercially. Some produced products which should be regarded as stone slates. No slate quarries are still in operation.

View of East Laroch slate quarries at Ballachulish. ©HES

In areas where limestone outcrops, particularly in Caithness, parts of Sutherland, Badenoch and Strathspey, Wester Ross and Skye, OS maps show numerous limekilns, many still surviving. Some quarries have also been identified (see Table 10.3; McMillan 2017a), but those used for small scale production would leave little trace. Lime was used for both building and agricultural fertilising. Large scale production and export occurred in a few Highland locations including Broadford on Skye (MHG5311), Shinness on Loch Shin, Sutherland (MHG13298; Hume 1977, 319) and also Ard Neakie, northwest Sutherland (MHG11917; MHG11911), where the kilns were situated in locations able to export via ships (Hume 1977, 54ff). Although medieval limekilns are known from England (Johnson 2018), no dating has been done on Highland examples to see how far back they were used. Bricks were made in Lairg, Sutherland in the 20th century, not from clay, but firstly of cement and then of lime and sand, with a poor quality result (Ketteringham 1997, 222).

Limekilns at Ard Neakie, Sutherland. ©Susan Kruse

Marble quarries were noted in the early 18th century on Skye on maps by Hermann Moll (‘In this Island is found Aggat, Chrystal, Marble, and Herrings are taken in almost all ye Bays’; maps.nls.uk). Near Broadford, remains of quarries and a railway to transport the quarried stone to the bay remain visible. There are reports of a visit in the early 19th century by Isabell Burton-MacKenzie of the Highland Home Industries who tried to reinvigorate local work (Jones 2020). During the Napoleonic War period, when supplies from Italy were cut off, marble was quarried in Assynt by a stone merchant from Gateshead; the line of the track he constructed to transport the marble blocks to the point of shipping can be traced (MHG32862).

Broadford marble quarry and spoil heap. ©Katrina Gallacher

Sandstone quarries are found in a number of localities in the Highlands mainly utilising available outcrops on the east or west coasts. Some, such as Inninmore Bay, Lochaber (MHG155) and Dornoch Links (MHG11674) reputedly operated from medieval times, though no dating has been undertaken. Others worth noting include: Isle Martin Discoveries Quarry, near Ullapool, a Torridonian sandstone quarry; Clynelish (MHG32874) and Sputie (MHG30009) near Brora; Hill of Tain (NSA). Sites on the Black Isle include Cullicudden (MHG50777; MHG50781), Tarradale (MHG29399) which continued in use until the mid-20th century for producing facing stone for hydro buildings and the Contin forestry village, and Redcastle, which provided stone for the Caledonian Canal amongst other local sites (Clark 2009, 234ff; McMillan 2017a). Easy access to the sea, often with special built piers, facilitated distribution.

There were granite quarries on both the east and west coasts, providing stone for a variety of purposes including hydro construction (McMillan 2017b). With the invention of concrete and top dressing which were needed for new roads, demand for sand and gravel increased rapidly from the 19th century, much of it being quarried in areas of glacial sand and gravel deposition on the east side of the Highlands. These quarries were crucial for some road building projects. For example, Telford re-routed his proposed route on Sleat, Skye because insufficient gravel was available (Susan Kruse pers comm).

LocationAreaMaterials MinedCommentsRef
South ErradaleWRClayLocal knowledge, for pointing housesMHG61286
Inver ToteSkyeDiatomite1886–1913; 1950–1961, initially transported by tramway.MHG37187;
Fascally, BroraSCoal16th–20th century (with gaps), originally linked to salt worksMHG19725; MHG9767
EathieERCoal19th centuryMHG19974
StrathpefferERCoal / AlbertiteDocumentary evidence of 18th century prospectingMHG61461; MHG61462
Camas Ban; Eilean TioramSkyeCoalTwo from 19th century unsuccessfully worked by Lord MacDonaldMHG5110
Rassal WoodWRCopper1700s, closing probably mid 19th century. Limited excavationMHG8264
Allt an Doire DharaichLCopper1700sMHG546
CastlehillCFlagstone19th to early 20th century Large scale worksMHG698
Mid ClythCFlagstone20th centuryMHG55803
SpittalCFlagstoneLarge quarry, still operating, with other disused pits in the areaMHG185
AchscrabsterCFlagstone18th to 20th century, now disused, but remains surviveMHG55433
WeydaleCFlagstone MHG1476
Baile an OrSGold19th century gold rush. Excavated campMHG9357
Port an AoilWRGoldCave reputedly made by gold prospectors. Not locatedMHG7934
DornieLochalshGold19th small scale undergroundMHG29340
DalmoreSGranite MHG32972
Near Loch LoyalSGranite M Bangor-Jones pers comm
MigdaleSGraniteSite of Bronze Age hoard MHG10007
Aviemore areaB&SGraniteUsed for local housebuilding. Now destroyedMHG24833
Glen NevisLGraniteFor use in Fort WilliamMcMillan 2017b
Glen SpeanLGraniteUsed in hydro constructionMcMillan 2017b
Achvarasdal, ReayCIron ore1st ed OS (disused). With windmillMHG43694; MHG51713
DunvidenSIron orePossibly 17th century, Remains not locatedMHG13331
AberchalderIIron ore19th centuryMHG52894
Upper and Lower SanachanWRIron oreShort lived enterprises early 19th centuryMHG33079; MHG24889
TornapressWRIron oreShort-lived early 19th century Kishorn Iron Co. Ltd.MHG33078
TubegNWSIron oreOSA; little remainsMHG12247
InverarishRaasay, SkyeIron oreDeveloped 1913 for WWI, dismantled 1943. Railway, scheduled site. Other mines also on islandMHG6521
AchanarrasCLeadActive in WWIMHG51712
Maol Nan CeapILeadDisused by 19th century Part of Lovat estateMHG14732; Maciver & Williamson 2016
Tom a’MheinILead, then graphite19th century. ONB describes stamping mill and water wheelMHG2588
Allt Tigh CumhaigILead19th century map evidenceMHG23972
Lurga, SunartLLeadc 1733–43 and again early 19th century.  Scheduled remainsMHG252
CorranteeLLead18th century closed 1871. Scheduled remainsMHG133
WhitesmithLLead17th century and later, with water driven pumping engineMHG323
MiddleshopeLLeadSome remainsMHG325
Fee Donald, Allt Feith DhomhnuillLLead18th & 19th century. Scheduled remains including waterwheelMHG321
LiddesdaleLLead18th century company storeMHG39299
MarkwellCLimestoneDisused quarryMHG4829
Ulbster areaCLimestoneDisused quarriesMHG48140; MHG48180; MHG48333
South ClunesILimestoneLarge limekiln with nearby quarryMHG3424
Dulnain BridgeB&SLimestoneLimekiln and extensive quarry, said to have been linked by aerial conveyer systemMHG24933
BannockburnB&SLimestoneIdentified by caversMHG51858
Laggan HillB&SLimestone18th and 19th centuryMHG32719
Glac nan SgeulachWRLimestoneThree limekilns associated with associated quarriesMHG39704
Ard NeakieNWSLimestone19th century associated with large limekilns (MHG30102)MHG11917
RosehallSManganeseReputedly constructed by landowner using Cornish miners. 19th century?MHG13151
LedbegNWSMarbleOn and off since mid-18th centuryMHG32862
KilchristSkyeMarbleWith railway to Broadford. Visible remainsMHG6578; MHG6394; MHG6236; MHG6577
Coille GaireallachSkyeMarbleOn 2nd ed mapMHG5236
Torrin, Cnoc DubhSkyeMarble/ limestone19th to 20th century; still in operation.MHG52423;
Little ScatwellERMicaWWII. Surveyed by NoSASMHG54530
Ballachulish areaLSlateIn use from the late 17th centuryMHG14; MHG518
Creag nam Meall, Glen RighLSlateDisused, probably by end of 19th centuryMHG50310
ArdintoulLochalshTalc1930s, transported to shore by aerial ropewayMHG29629; MHG30910
Black PoolCUnknownMine shaft marked on modern OS map but not 1st or 2nd edMHG18434
Table 10.3  Probable or certain mining and quarrying Highland sites, excluding sandstone

Clay was extracted on both a small and large scale for building materials. Clay mortars were used extensively in a range of buildings until they were finally ousted by lime mortars. Improved lands needed drains, and remains of small tileworks are known, for example at Allangrange, Easter Ross: MHG53903). Large scale brick and tileworks are known from Brora (MHG10877) and Culloden (MHG4374; MHG29348). Brora bricks are found on sites throughout the eastern Highlands, including wartime installations. These works were founded in the 19th century, utilising a large nearby claypit and a tramway. They closed in the 1970s and were demolished (Calder 1974, 146–9; Brora Brick and Tiles Works).

View of Brora Brickworks,1889. © Courtesy of HES (The Stanley Album)

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