Sunday, 1 July 2012

Murrays on Tour - Ariundel Oak Woods & Lead Mines

Friday 22nd June,
Beinn Resipol from the lounge 06.30 – it’s dry but for how long?
After our visit to the Ariundel Centre yesterday and the little bit we’d read about the old lead mines we decided that it would be worth further exploration. The weather was dry and mild but overcast with a definite feeling of rain in the air. However there was little point in coming to the West Coast to do a bit of walking if we weren’t prepared to get our waterproofs on! There’s ample parking just beyond the Centre and we were parked and walking by half past nine. There are a few information boards at the start of the walk detailing the work being undertaken by the Forestry Commission to regenerate the woods and remove the non native species and replace them with Birch, Alder and of course Oak.
Easy start

Not all Oak trees are as old as this one since many were felled for use in the mines
The initial part of the walk follows the waymarked oak leaf trail through the woods and crossing the Strontian River twice. We had been worried that with all the dampness in the air, the trees and the riverside that we would be plagued with midges, but either we were too early or the conditions weren’t as ideal as we supposed.
Nice gentle walk along the river

View of the Oak Wood
Having crossed the river for the second time we followed a well constructed boardwalk back up to the original trail and, with the waymarked route now heading back to the car park, we went in the opposite direction further into the woods. After a steady climb we passed through a couple of deer fences, put in place to protect the regeneration, before dropping down to join the river again. We did have the option of staying on the main track since this would take us directly up to the mine workings, but the route we were following suggested better views were to be had by following the river further into the glen before climbing up to our destination. It was a good suggestion as became clear when we left the forest and walked out into the glen.
Leaving the forest behind and into open country

The views begin to open up
The weather had steadily improved while we had been in the forest and although still overcast, the clouds were well above the surrounding tops and we had a pleasant stroll along a good path with great views opening up in front of us. We stopped for a while at the point our route split from the main path up the glen for some coffee and chocolate before beginning a gentle climb up towards the mines.
Our route up to the mines

Looking back to the oak woods

The views opened up as we climbed higher

Our route now took us steeply up the side of a gully, past a great waterfall near the top, and into the area of the mine workings. There isn’t much to see of course, just spoil heaps and the remains of one or two obviously man-made structures so it takes a bit of imagination to visualise the place as the hive of activity as it must have been in its heyday.
Spoil heaps

Lone Rowan tree
Not a lot left to see
The mines were brought into commercial production by one Alexander Murray of Stanhope in the 1720’s and they were worked throughout the18th and19th centuries. At one stage mining in the area employed 500 men. From a scientific point of view the biggest claim to fame was the discovery of the metallic element Strontium, named after the village, which was isolated in 1808. The mines eventually fell into decline but they had a brief resurgence in the 1980’s when barite was supplied for use in the North Sea. We sat and ate our lunch while trying to imagine what it would have been like to work up here in this wilderness in what must have been some very difficult conditions. We also wondered how they discovered that lead was here in sufficient quantities to be mined. Who, why, when, how, all the questions we can speculate on but never answer.

How did it all come about?
We crossed the last of the spoil heaps and picked up what must have been the original access road up to the mine – itself a major construction achievement –that gave us some nice views down over our original route in by the river.

Looking down to the way we came in
From here it was an easy downhill stroll back into the forest where we picked up the oak leaf waymarked route back along the river. We stopped for a while at a seat in memory of Kenneth Williamson who was, apparently, “the pioneer of the common bird census who plotted these woods in 1971”,so well done to you Kenneth and whoever placed the seat in that particular spot made a good choice!

View from Kenneth’s seat.
From here it was quiet stroll back to the car. This wasn’t a difficult walk and we were away for around four hours although, had the weather been less kind to us, we could have been back much quicker. We sat in the sun by the car for a while until the midges drove us to the cafe at Strontian for coffee and cakes!

More Photos


  1. That was interesting, John. Many years ago, in fact I think it was 1983, I spent a few days with some friends exploring the old lead mines at Tyndrum. One day we drove up to Strontium for a tour of the working barytes mine, which one of our group had organised. But when we got there the manager said he had no knowledge of our visit being arranged – so we drove back again without seeing anything. But that's life.
    Reading your report and looking at your pictures, I'm thinking it's time I went back again sometime. Like Scott says in your last report, there's a lot of Scotland out there that's just waiting to be found.
    All the best, Alen McF

    1. Hi Alen, It's the isolation that gets me. I find myself asking "how did they know to mine there?" and "how on earth did they survive in such a wilderness - even if you ignore the midges!" I don't know, I think as human beings we must be evolving into something softer................J