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Glenbuchat Heritage

83 Corriemore or Balloch Quarry
The Glenbuchat Image Library
83 Corriemore or Balloch Quarry

Balloch Quarry

See map of area in 1850


Photo and information supplied by Ken Cruickshank in his book ‘The Lime Kilns of Upper Donside.’

The above photograph by Ken Cruickshank shows the Balloch quarry in 1983 just as the Forestry Commission were preparing the ground for planting.

The photo shows in the upper half, horizontal lines of hand dug excavations and spoil heaps from the 18th and 19th centuries which can be seen following the line of the lime stone seam. The lower half of the photo shows the road running through the Balloch Pass and to the left 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.

Corriemore quarry was made of more than 20 individual, small quarries with each tenant or small group of tenants working their own part of the outcrop, similar to the organisation of peat mosses, where each farm or croft had their own designated peat bank.

Available estate records for Glenbuchat show that lime burning was practiced from the 1750’s, and very probably decades before that time. Small outcrops of limestone were easily accessible and were quarried by farmers in the Corgarff district, lower Strathdon and at the Balloch in Glenbuchat. Just as important, was the abundant supply of local peat for fuel to ‘burn’ the limestone? All that was required was an efficient technology to exploit these were sources to produce ‘burnt’ lime.

At the head of the glen, at 'The Balloch', there was an outcrop of limestone, and on the moss above Upperton there was a plentiful supply of peat. Kilns were built throughout the glen in which the stone was baked into quicklime which, spread on the acid soil, substantially increased the yield. Each farm had its own kiln, built by the farmers with loose stones (and some still standing after 250 years), all different in detail though on a common pattern, open to the top with a large draw hole at the foot on one side. Other neighbouring glens had no limestone, and the Glenbuchat farmers made some money on the side by selling their lime. (There is a record from the early 1760s of an attempt by Earl Fife to prohibit the sale of lime, which he saw as part of his own monetary rights.)

Further down the Don valley below Glenbuchat, the parishes of Towie and Kildrummy had a few 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 lime from Strathdon, Glenbuchat and the Cabrach. Such was the demand that these kilns could not meet their needs.

From 'The Limekilns of Upper Donside – A Forgotten Heritage, by Ken Cruickshank, John Nisbet and Moira Greig'

The use of lime for agricultural purposes was known to the Romans, and there are records of burnt lime systematically being used on farms in the Borders and Lothians from the early 17th century onwards. Upper Donside was fortunate in having access to part of the seam of limestone which runs from Upper Deeside and the whole length of the former county of Banffshire (now part of Aberdeenshire). Available estate records for Glenbuchat show that lime burning was practiced from the 1750’s, and very probably decades before that time. Small outcrops of limestone were easily accessible and were quarried by farmers in the Corgarff district, lower Strathdon and at the Balloch in Glenbuchat. Just as important, was the abundant supply of local peat for fuel to ‘burn’ the limestone? All that was required was an efficient technology to exploit these resources to produce ‘burnt’ lime.

Early kilns (termed clump, clamp or sow kilns) were simple pits or mounds of alternate layers of shattered limestone and peat covered with turf, sited next to the small limestone quarries and diggings. The big step forward in lime production in Upper Donside came with the introduction in the late 18th century of ‘draw kilns’, the remains of which we see throughout the area today. These permanent, circular stone structures were often set into a natural bank, next to the fields where the lime was to be used and gave a huge advance in terms of lime production. Enormous quantities of lime were required for improving the fertility of the areas farm land and for land reclamation. The improving lairds of the area sought to increase the cultivated land of their estates by encouraging tenants to expand their farms, by taking in adjoining waste ground or by establishing new holdings on more marginal ground higher up the Glens’ sides. Lime’s action of improving the fertility of the land by neutralising the acid soils and releasing nutrients bound up in the organic matter made this possible.

The minister of Strathdon reported for the New Statistical Account in 1843:
‘Within the last twenty years, very great and rapid progress has been made in agricultural improvement. By trenching, and drainage. etc, many of the tenants have made considerable additions of the arable land of their farms. The facility in the command of lime is of material benefit in this respect.’ (NSA, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, 1843, Vol. 12, pp. 551, 552.)

Lime burning gradually died out in the latter part of the 19th century, with only a few limekilns in operation in the remoter parts of Corgarff by the turn of the 20th century. Improved transport communications with the outside world and in particular the coming of the Donside and Deeside railways after the 1860’s made lime and artificial fertilizers from commercial suppliers available for the larger farms. The slump in farming from the 1870’s up to outbreak of the First World War, with the resulting reduction in income to tenants and lairds meant that they cut back on the expenditure of liming and the huge input of labour required in cutting and carting peats and quarrying and burning limestone.

One indication of the extent of the neglect of liming the land and the concern felt by many in the agricultural industry around that time comes from the pages of the Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland of 1916. James Hendrick, Professor of Agriculture at Aberdeen University and his colleague James M. Smith were asked by ‘The Society’ to re-educate farmers on how lime should be applied to the land. They gave a brief review of the situation in the introduction to their article – ‘Methods of Applying Lime’:
‘Liming a good old Practice. – In the past fifty years a great change has taken place in the practice of liming, and far less lime is now used than formerly. In many parts of Scotland the use of lime, whether in the burnt or the mild form (mechanically ground limestone), has been practically given up for many years, and in travelling about Scotland an observant person cannot but be struck by the large number of disused limekilns which are seen in various parts of the country, many of which were supplying lime for agricultural use until quite recent times. In consequence, many practices which were at one time common and familiar to farmers have been forgotten or almost forgotten.
An illustration of this can be seen in the inquiry columns of the agricultural papers, where questions as to the use of lime are of constant occurrence.’ (Hendrick, James and Smith, James, M., Methods
Of Applying Lime, in Transactions of the Highland Agriculture Society of Scotland, Vol. XXVIII, pp.145 – 157,1916.)

By the 1930s a national soil survey, involving the Macaulay Soil Research Institute in Aberdeen for the N. E. of Scotland, indicated that, with soil pH levels falling, much of the nation’s agricultural land was seriously deficient in lime. The Government recognised that the general neglect of liming the land was the biggest factor limiting the production of arable crops and the fertility of permanent grassland in Britain. With the spur of looming war and threatened shortage of supplies of food from abroad, it took action to reverse the situation, and boost home production. The 1937
Land Fertility Scheme subsidised the price of lime ‘at the farm gate’ to the tune of half the cost to the farmer, thus making it cheap to buy and transport costs negligible - important for remote areas such as Upper Donside. By the outbreak of War farmers had become much more lime-conscious, and British agriculture immediately before and after the War years was directed towards a massive revival of liming the land. However, this supply of lime came in the form of mechanically ground limestone from commercial quarries and suppliers. The days of local self-sufficiency with a farmer quarrying limestone and burning it in his farm limekiln had passed into history.




Picture added on 01 September 2010 at 20:59
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