The most northerly coalfield in the UK is at Brora, a village on the east coast of Sutherland, five miles north-east of Golspie. The coal occurs in the Estuarine Series of rocks, which were deposited in the Jurassic period and outcrop as a narrow strip along the coast from Golspie to Helmsdale.1
Mining began in the late sixteenth century, when it was associated with saltpans which were established on the coast near the seam’s outcrop.2 The seam dips inland at 1 in 4.5 and the shallower workings continued until the late C18th, when it was probably reached a large fault and ended. In 1811, however, the Duke of Sutherland sank the 250 feet deep Ross Pit to work the seam down dip of the fault. Here, the 42 inches thick Main Seam was the only one worked, but there are a number of thin, inferior seams below it. The coal is contaminated with iron pyrites, which makes it prone to spontaneous combustion, resulting in a number of fires.
The colliery supplied mostly local needs, which included, at various times, a distillery, a woollen mill and a brick works. By the mid 1960s, however, the block of coal, defined by faults, worked by Ross Pit was nearing exhaustion. In April 1969, therefore, about 500 yards west, two new drifts, called the No.2 Pit, were begun to work another block of coal. A fire closed Ross Pit in May 1969 and the drifts reached the Main Coal in July. The new mine began production in September and output increased in line with development. No.2 Pit was dogged by poor conditions and absenteeism and closed in March 1974. Proposals to reopen it came to nought and the site was cleared in 1977.3-5
- This equates with the Inferior Oolite, or Bajocian, formed around 170 Mya, in England.
- For an 1813 plan see: http://www.shorewatch.co.uk/brora/images/FareyWEB.jpg
- Harker, R.S. “The Brora Coalfield, Sutherland” NCMRS Memoirs, No.2 (1964), pp.8-14
- Skillen, B.S. “Local Dreams: The Early Workings of the Brora Colliery” British Mining No.41 (1990), pp.68-75
- Owen, J.S. Coal Mining at Brora 1529-1974 (Inverness: Highland Libraries, 1995)