The Kishorn Mines – A Brief History
The four mines (two copper, though one non-productive, and two iron) all occur in the Durness Limestone (Ordovician in age – 490 million years old) which outcrops in the Kishorn area. Unfortunately, there are no known records as to the yields of any of the mines, or for that matter, where the ore was taken for smelting or for what it may have been used. Furthermore, they all appear to have been fairly low key and short lived operations for one reason or another. Taking them in chronological order, they are:-
Rassal Copper Mine
The ore (Bornite) was in a vertical rake vein running at or near the surface, and extends for some 50 metres like a cut in the hillside above Rassal wood. It may have been worked on a small scale in historic times, but was certainly being mined before 1762 and when Williams visited around 1810 he stated: “The copper at Kissern [Kishorn] is of the best quality, perhaps, of any ore of that metal found in Britain”.
It is likely that the vein was exhausted and operations ceased by the mid 19th century but was definitely reported as abandoned by G.V. Wilson in 1921. Small amounts of Malachite and Brochantite can also be found.
Lower Sanachan Copper Mine
The exploratory horizontal shaft seems to have begun around 1903 and from 1904 to March 1906 was being run by a Liverpool company. Exploration costs for labour and materials in 1904 alone being £787-15s-3d.After March 1906, Mrs Stuart, the landowner, employed Mr. Jackson, Mr. Myres and a Lochcarron man to continue the search under the watchful eye of her factor, Mr. John Maclennan. This seems to have carried on for some time as various references are made in letters from the Factor, for example in February 1907 he wrote: “The copper mine is quite as far advanced as it was four years ago. Mrs. Stuart … has three local hands blasting away. She was in a great state of excitement the time of the big snow storm, the tunnel got frozen up as hard as iron and was afraid the snow would never melt again.”
However, eventually with the main lode not found and money exhausted the shaft was finally abandoned.
Tornapress Iron Mine
Here the Haematite ore is deposited in a series of veins and strings. The 1913 List of Mines gives the owner as the Kishorn Iron Ore Co., the secretary as William Clark and the chief agent as William Hogg. The mine shaft was driven into the side of Allt Mor Gorge above Tornapress and with six men working underground several hundred tons of iron ore were brought up. It was left in a pile by the stream at the bottom of the gorge prior to being winched up out of the gorge with a pulley and bucket system lowered down from the rim. From here it would be taken away by horse and cart. Unfortunately, however, one one occasion the entire pile was washed away by a flash flood before it could be uplifted.
As a result of this misfortune and the irregular nature of the veins, mining stopped in 1914 and never resumed.
Upper Sanachan Iron Mine
This mine, just over the hill from the Allt Mor gorge, was in operation at the same time as Tornapress and in all likelihood being run by the same company. Again the haematite ore was of variable quality and in small pockets. As a result mining was not very profitable and hence short lived, ceasing around the same time as the Tornapress mine.
by Paul Swan
(photographs by Paul Swan )