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Glenbuchat Heritage

3 Kilns Part 2
The Glenbuchat Image Library
3 Kilns Part 2

Pictures above:
1. Map of NE Limestone deposits
2&3. Pictures of Corriemore Quarry

Click for the Introduction page

Limestone Deposits and Quarries

The use of lime for building work, and to improve and maintain the fertility of agricultural soil, was known to the Romans. There are reports from the first century AD of burnt limestone (calx) being used to enrich the farm lands of the Empire, including Britain. In the Middle Ages, limestone burning was again taken up for agricultural use in parts of Western Europe including Southern England.
Large tracts of exposed limestone are rare in Scotland, but small, localised seams outcrop in many areas, and the benefits of burning it for improving agricultural land were known and practised by at least the early 17th century. Parish reports from the 1620: show that burnt lime was systematically being used on farms in the Lothians, the Borders and in Fife. Coastal areas had access to sea shells, often transported by boat and burned in kilns, but inland districts were at a disadvantage unless they had local deposits of limestone, and fuel – wood, coal or peat to burn it. (The limestone rock does not actually burn. but is heated to a high temperature and chemically converted to ‘burnt lime’ or ‘quick lime'.)

A national geological survey of the limestone resources in Scotland, carried out in 1939 with a view to reopening local quarries for the war effort when national supplies could be disrupted, produced a report on the main accessible limestone deposits in Upper Donside (see footnote): (Picture 1 above)

‘In the North East Highland and Moray Firth areas, the limestone’s of the Sandend group (metamorphic rocks belonging to the Dalradian series) form a well defined zone, yielding high quality stone along most of its long outcrop. The group runs from Tomintoul right through Banffshire via Keith to the Portsoy neighbourhood passing on its way through parts of Aberdeenshire, north-west of Huntly.’

Footnote ('In the Corgarff and Glenbuchat districts of Upper Donside, limestones of moderate purity occur, of which the most important is probably at Glenbuchat. There are several disused quarries near a small school (the Balloch School), 3 miles NW of Glenbuchat. The stone varies from medium grained grey type to fine hard, somewhat less pure type. An analysis is not available, but token as o whole the stone is of moderate purity. Probably the best quarry for reopening is that situated immediately east of the road, 200 yards south of the school. The limestone beds are vertical and strike N. 200W. The total width is 60ft. The height of the face is 30ft but could be readily increased to 50ft. Over burden is absent. The limestone could be worked to the north for 100 yards where there is another disused quarry showing much the same section as that described. Other openings in the some land occur near the north of the school. Further east another band is exposed in a large opening termed the Balloch Quarry. This working is however much less accessible than those or the roadside as it is 200 ft. up a rough hillside.'

'Corgarff Disused quarries at Luib, Dykehead and Tornahaish. The opening at Tornahaish appears to be the most promising, should exploration of limestone in the district be considered. The stone is of a grey, medium grained type, massive in some pieces, in others broken, it is at least 10ft thick and has a general dip to the E. at 400. Overburden is practicality absent. The reserves are plentiful, as the lime could be worked along the strike for at least 100 yards, either north or south.’

The report concluded with the familiar problem for many commercial enterprises in the area:
‘However distance from markets was the main factor against reopening these quarries.’)

In North East Scotland the county of Aberdeenshire is generally poor in limestone deposits, with only a few isolated outcrops appearing in widely dispersed parts. Accessible seams of variable quality were worked along the Dee Valley, south of Banchory and around Aboyne, Ballater and Braemar, and the remains of numerous limekilns are found on the farms of that district today. The other main areas in Aberdeenshire with available limestone were those parishes in the north-west which bordered on the county of Banffshire, Strathdon, Glenbuchat, Glass and Carnie {illustration 3). Banffshire was particularly well endowed with beds of high-quality limestone running along the whole county, from the mountainous region of the south-west to the undulating Buchan plain and coastal region of the north east Records show that limestone burning was common there by the mid |7th century and it is probable that the practice gradually spread to other areas of the North East with accessible deposits after this time. For example, a report in 1724 from the upland Aberdeenshire parish of Glass, less than 20 miles ‘as the crow flies’ from Upper Donside, shows that a thriving local industry was established at least by the early 18th century:

‘In this parish are a great many lime quarries from which the country about are supplied with lime, there being much moss (peat) there for burning of it’

(The Gaelic place name Glas, meaning green, often indicates a grassy area due to the presence of limestone near the surface of the ground, for example Glas Thom (green hill) in Corgarff, where the limestone outcrops were once quarried)
In other areas of the eastern Highlands, the use of burnt limestone makes its first appearance in the records around the mid-18th century. For instance, over the hills from Donside, on the vast estates of James Grant of Grant on Strathspey, his tenants did not generally take up liming the land until he imposed improvements through his factors in 1763:

‘You are to aquaint the tennants that l am extremely desirous they all should begin to improve at least some parts of their grounds with lime’

and later.

‘Let me know what progress liming has made in your collection (district) and what methods you would propose to make it universal, for l am determined to introduce it in every part of my estate, both Highland and Lowland.’

Further south in the Rannoch area of Perthshire, on the forfeited Strowan Estate, a petition to its administrators on behalf of a Hugh McDonald in 1772 states that he began to burn lime in 1754. He was a full time, self-employed lime worker, who was allowed a boll* of meal from the estate for every 30 bolls of lime made and sold to the estate tenants, on condition that he sold it at the subsidised rate of 2d (pennies) per boll. When he began work:

‘No lime was used in the country, but (except) what he mode, but some people have now got kilns of their awn, but he has to direct them how to break the stones and fill the kilns’

The earliest references found so far for limestone burning on Upper Donside comes from the late 1750s, in letters from the Reverend Patrick Duff to Lord Fife, the proprietor of Glenbuchat Estate (Appendix Part l}. Undoubtedly however, it was practised before this time and future study of estate records may give an earlier date.
In Glenbuchat limestone outcrops break through the ground at the top of the Glen, next to the road that runs through the Balloch (pass) and into Glen Nochty. Several small quarries were worked along this roadside, the remains of which can be seen today, for example at National Grid map references (NJ 3358 1768 and NJ 3359 1844).The main quarry was at Corriemore (NJ 337 175) approximately 200 meters up the west-facing slopes of Ladylea Hill from the road (illustration 4).,
According to one writer in 1875, several local outcrops were worked on a smaller scale lower down the Glen:
‘The lower parts of the parish are peculiarly rich in primary limestone, large masses of it is recognisable everywhere in the central part where the veins have been laid open for working and where it has been quarried and burnt to meet agricultural demands.‘

In Strathdon, the parish minister reported in 1839: ‘There are eight or ten quarries of limestone which are regularly worked for the supply of the parish, "and to meet a considerable demand from Kildrummy and Towie. The quality of the lime is excellent being port of the some great bed of limestone wrought near Keith and Ardonald. It is a singular fact, that all the limestone racks lie on the north side of the Don, with the exception of one near Boilhandy. Generally each farm has its own limekiln from which limestone is drawn during the summer to be burned the ensuing spring and laid hot upon the land.’

(*A boll was a measure of dry volume which varied from district to district and is difficult to quantify. In Glenbuchat in the mid-18th century a boll of meal was equivalent to approximately 9 stones (57 kilos) and in Strathdon it was 10 stones (64 kilos). At Ardonald lime works in Carnie parish, Aberdeenshire in the early 19th century a farm box cart held 5 bolls of lime shells (lumps).)
(Picture 2 above)

In the upper half of the photograph, the horizontal lines of hand dug excavations and spoil heaps from the 18th and 19th centuries can be made out following the line of the limestone seam. The lower hall of the photograph (right) shows the road running through the Balloch pass and (left) the more recent mechanical excavations of the quarries for road stone. The diagonal lines from bottom right to top left are newly ploughed furrows for tree planting by the Forestry Commission, which now hide the quarries from the road. Corriermore Quarry was In fact made up of approximately 20 individual small quarries with each tenant or small group of tenants working their own part of the outcrop similar to the organisation of the peat mosses, where each farm or croft had its own designated peat bank.

Easily worked outcrops at the Luib (NJ 269 092), on the slopes of Clais Meirleach at Colnabaichan (NJ 294 087), at the Hill of Allargue (NJ 254 105), and later in the 19th century at the Hill Tornahaish (NJ 286 080), on the south side of the River Don, provided limestone for the farms and crofts of the Corgarff district and those lower down Strathdon parish. The large excavations and areas of grass-covered spoil heaps of the Luib Quarry can be made out extending across the southern slopes of Glas Thom. Above the farm of Dykehead, on the south facing slopes of Carn lain (NJ 275 088), there are several small quarries, partially filled in and covered with grass today. In Glen Ernan, one of the side glens running west to the main strath, the outlines of the abandoned hand-dug excavations extending for approximately 150 metres, high up on Sron Aonghais hillside (NJ 304 123) can be identified by the change in vegetation from heather-covered moor to lush juniper bushes with grassy areas. On the Hill of Allargue, immediately on the opposite side of the A939 road from Clachan Lochan, exposed limestone outcrops have been worked in the past. There is a series of diggings and small quarries following the seam down the hill. Abandoned peat banks adjacent to the limestone workings indicate peat was cut on the site, perhaps signifying limestone burning activity at the quarry. The demand for lime in the 19th century was such that nearly every accessible outcrop of limestone has been worked at some time, and there are numerous small quarries, shallow quarry pits and test diggings dispersed throughout the area, often Identified on the hillsides by clumps of lime-loving juniper.
Further down the Don valley below Glenbuchat, the parishes of Towie and Kildrummy had a few small outcrops of limestone, but they were of poor quality and there was a lack of convenient local peat to burn it.

In 1840 the minister for Towie parish reported that farmers had to transport burnt lime from Strathdon, Glenbuchat and the Cabrach. Such was the demand however, that these farm kilns could not meet their needs, and it was also expensively carted long distance (up to 30 miles) from the commercial lime works at Grange near Keith in Banffshire and Ardonald in the Parish of Cairnie, north west of Huntly.

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Picture added on 06 August 2015 at 17:42
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23 Lime Kiln at Ryntaing Glenbuchat c 19809 Part 8 Kilns: Appendices9 Part 8 Kilns: The Survey8. Part 7 Kilns: The Decline of Lime Burning7 Part 6 Kilns: Limekilns and Lime Burning 6 Pasrt 5 Kilns: Estate Reorganisation4 Kilns Part 4  New Holdings4 Kilns: The Peat Mosses 2 Kilns: Introduction1 Limekilns of Upper Donside