History of Lochaline Mine
Lochaline was first mentioned as a potential source of silica sand in 1895, when a vast deposit of white Cretaceous sandstone running inland from the Lochaline shore in an 18ft seam was reported. Later, in 1923, the Edinburgh Geological Survey did an analysis of a Lochaline sand sample. It proved to be one of the purest deposits in the world, largely free from iron and therefore ideal for the production of high quality glass. But at that time imported silica sand was quite cheap and Lochaline’s remoteness made the overall cost of extraction uneconomic. It was not until World War 2 when other sources of silica sand were cut off, that opening Lochaline mine was seriously considered.
The mine was opened in 1940 at a time when pure silica was needed for the production of high quality glass for periscope lenses and gun sights. Staff, tools and equipment came from the slate quarries at Ballachulish. When the site was originally opened sand was not processed on site and the unprocessed sand was shipped out by ‘puffer’ from the Old Pier in Lochaline. Initially they tried to use horses to haul out the sand underground but this proved unsuccessful and in the early forties they started using diesel locomotives. The West Pier loading and processing facilities were built along with the necessary railway line. Large pieces of sandstone were transported to the West Pier to be washed and crushed and then loaded onto ships via chute. This not very efficient method had a bonus for Lochaline as quite an amount of sand spilled over into the water resulting in the lovely small beach of white sand close to Lochaline Hotel. The West Pier loading and processing plant closed in 1974 and moved to its current site. The locomotives were used until 1963. Nowadays the sand gets transported to the plant by articulated dump trucks.
The South and North East side of the mine were worked in the 1940s and 1950s. The North West side of the mine were worked in from the 1960s till today. The mine has currently 12 adits – entrances to the mine that are more or less horizontal. Some are used for removing silica sand and some are for ventilation.
By 1945 the annual production of the mine was approximately 35,000
tonnes of sand. By 1948 the production had increased to 52,000 tonnes and by
1962 it had reached 61,000 tonnes. In later years the annual production reached
100,000 tonnes. In 1940, 35 men were employed on site and by 1950s up to 65 men
worked on site both above and below ground. In 2008 the owners of the mine at
the time decided to close the mine with the loss of 11 jobs. In June 2011 Lochaline Quartz Sand Ltd, a
joint venture between Minerali Industriali and NSG/Pilkington, was registered
and on Friday the 14th of September 2012 Lochaline Sand Mine was
officially re-opened by MSP Dave Thompson. Just before the official re-opening a short film about the history of the mine was made, which can be watched here.
Re-opening of Lochaline Sand Mine
14 September 2012
(L-R) Rachael McCormack, Strengthening Communities Director HIE, Matt Buckley, Managing director Pilkington U.K, Dave Thompson MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Daniele Trogolo Got, Project manager Lochaline Quartz Sand Ltd., Sabrina Bozzola, Director of Minerali Industriali and Dirk Franke, Procurement Manager NSG Pilkington
Photo by Kenny Ferguson / HIE
Owners over the years:
1940-1972 Charles Tennants & Co
2012-present Lochaline Quartz Sand Ltd.