Brora was once an Island

While studying for a Certificate of Natural Sciences with The Open University, I learned that Scotland, the Highlands in particular, has popped up suddenly from the ocean by around 25 metres.

I’ve often marvelled at the shoreline around Brora as you can clearly see the ridge that would have marked the ancient sea levels.

The Coves, Brora

You can follow this ridge along the coast, up the River Brora past Inverbrora to Loch Brora, back down the other side, along West Clyne and then north to Helmsdale and beyond.

Brora coastline

Everyone knows that Inverbrora was once under water, but it wasn’t a fresh water loch fed by the River Brora, as many think, it was once an inlet of the sea.

While out walking today, somewhere up the River Brora, I saw something in these ridges that excited me. When I got home, I traced the 30 metre contour lines on a map and then coloured in approximately what the sea level could have been before the Highlands popped up. Brora was an Island!




Inverness Street Festival 2014

Some of these images were taken by Tina Lear

Rock Pool Archaeology

A couple of weeks back, I was standing near the tail end of the Magazine pool on the south bank of the River Brora. The East Sutherland Canoe club were in action that day, and I was waiting for them to paddle down from further upstream. While I was standing there, I noticed something remarkable and astonishing. It was astonishing because I couldn’t believe I’ve lived here for nearly 50 years and hadn’t noticed this before. I was stunned.

The trees on the bank behind the Rock Pool are planted in a perfect rectangle. As the realisation sank in, I then noticed they were all planted on an ancient wall. In these photos you can clearly see the size of this rectangular site.

*edit Jan 30* – Thanks to Nick Lindsay we now know this was the old coal mine manager’s garden.




In this photo you can see the perfectly straight line of the trees and the line of the ancient wall they were planted on top of.


How can you walk past something like this a thousand times over 50 years and not notice it? Somewhat bewildered, I began to explore the site while waiting for the canoe club to show up. There is archaeology everywhere.




Was this something to do with the Inverbrora coal shaft not far upstream from here? You can see the old coal shaft here. It’s at the end of the embankment across the river. I can remember dropping stones down the old shaft as a kid before it was filled in.


I believe the embankment carried a railway line to carry the coal from the shaft. There is evidence of an old road going up the hill in the photo below. Was this part of the railway line? Was this Rock Pool site part of the coal workings?


Here you can see a corner of the wall.


How come I’ve lived here for 50 years and have never seen this? How come no one has ever mentioned it? Whatever this is, it’s not in living memory, so it’s old, perhaps older than the coal shaft at Inverbrora.

Why would someone plant trees on top of an old wall anyway? If this site is older than living memory, then perhaps it was older than living memory a few generations ago when the trees were first planted. Perhaps someone planted these trees so the memory of this site, whatever it is, wouldn’t be forgotten.

I’ll be running my metal detector over it in the next few days, see if I can find something that can perhaps give us a clue to the date of whatever was going on there. Here’s what I found today. The Gaymers Pear cider and the 1p coin are more recent additions to the ground, but the old rivet looks as if it could have been part of the railway line.


Brora and the Snider Enfield (part 2)

I published an earlier blog on the Snider Enfield a while back, and you can catch up with the story here.

I was back down that way with my metal detector recently on the hunt for more history, but where I was searching for signs of an ancient harbour, all I found were more Snider Enfield rounds. I did find something very interesting though. One of the bullets appears to be a hollow point. Did the British army know about hollow points before WW1? The lump of lead on the right is a round that must have hit the rocks while the tide was out.

I have a friend in Australia who is a military historian of note. Here’s what he had to say.

Hollow points (HP and JHP РJacketed HP) are believed to have made their appearance in 1795, but were certainly in use by the 19th century with the British Army. In fact, the Boers reported they were fired on by British troops using HP Lee Enfield ammunition in 1899. I have no knowledge of the .577 being made into HP ammunition.  However, battlefield recoveries of ball-type ammunition from US Civil War sites have revealed Mini Ball ammunition with an X carved into them for the same reason as HP. The British opened an ammunition factory in India around 1750 near the town of Dum Dum. The arsenal was the centre of the Indian rebellion in 1857.


Helmsdale Games 2012

Many of these photos were taken by Tina Lear.


Nero, a black tea is now my favourite tea. None of that pesticide sprayed, bleached plastic tea bags shite, this is good stuff by Teekanne, a German tea company based in Dusseldorf. You can source their teas on Amazon.