Jul. 3rd, 2012

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Some more industrial  archaeology now, and...  Was this photograph REALLY taken in Scotland?????  It seems like an eternity since the weather was that good...

Now here's a question. What do you do with a disused slate quarry?  Well, in the old days, it probably would have remained an 'eyesore' (everything's relative, I suppose), despised by all and sundry, locked away from casual inspection and re-used as the local unofficial rubbish tip, too. 

Instead, it's been reinvented as a community woodland/heritage trail type thingy which is well-loved by ducks, photography and visiting archaeologists.

The scenic backdrop can't be faulted:-

And what exactly IS the depth of that pool?  I for one, wouldn't like to find out... 

I'm just glad I didn't meet any strange black horses grazing by the edge. [Remember, if you're in highland Scotland, and you see a strange black horse grazing by a body of water, always act very polite and say HELLO!  In case it's a kelpie, because they don't much like being ignored... Oh, and don't try jumping onto it, either, or it might just take you straight to a watery grave...]

The old working faces of the quarry are still visible in places.  Industrial sites like this really took off in the wake of the agricultural improvements, when farming practices became more effective and less labour was needed on the land.  In this part of the world, tenant farmers were often imported from lowland Scotland to implement the new methods in the north, rendering the existing population, who eked out a virtually subsistance lifestyle on the land and lived in dispersed settlements known as townships.

Contrary to popular belief, most reasonable landowners were reluctant to kick tenants off the land without so much as a by-your-leave and send them packing straight onto the nearest ship to America.  Many tried hard to create alternative employment, encouraging the fishing industry, developing mining and quarrying on their lands, or introducing more obscure industries like kelp-burning.  Of course, this creation of new employment opportunities had its roots in self-interest: you can't exactly find the money to build yourself a fine Georgian house when your tenants can barely scrape together enough money to pay the rent in a good year...

Men like Thomas Telford were keen to promote the advantages of these rural industries - big Tam T had more reason than most to support these schemes, as he'd benefitted from similar enterprises in his early years.  He's a classic case of a Scottish self-made man: he was brought up by his mother in a pokey little cottage in deepest, darkest Dumfriesshire: after working damned hard at school, he became an apprentice stonemason.  After running away from his first placement because of unreasonable treatment,  he worked his way up the ranks, teaching himself the principles of engineering and architecture, before eventually becoming the first president of the Institute of Civil Engineers.

A lot of these industrial enterprises remained active throughout much of the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century.  This particular quarry remained in use until the 1950s, and ghosts of its past use still survive.  This big block of slate still has evidence of plug-and-feathering - holes were hammered into the blocks of slate at regularly spaced intervals (occasionally small explosive charges helped it on its way...) until the rock split along the plane giving the neat sheets of slate that can be cut to an appropriate size for roofing tiles:-


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