Sunday, 9 October 2016

How to remove a hill - one load at a time

We paddled on down the Morvern coast past Loch a'Choire and took a short break for first luncheon on a beach of pale pink granite pebbles. 

The shoreline here drops steeply into Loch Linnhe and feels quite wild, until.........

...a corner is turned and the landscape is instantly industrial.  Glensanda quarry is, quite simply staggering. The operators, Aggregate Industries describe it as a "superquarry" and it really is that, in every sense of the term.

A few statistics:

Glensanda produces ten million tonnes of crushed granite each year.  There are estimated to be 760 million tonnes of rock still to be quarried.  The rock is quarried from the mountain 600m above the shore and the super-sized hole is masked by leaving the face intact, thus minimising visual intrusion.  A 1.8km conveyor grades and washes the quarried stones, placing them into a pile of up to half a million tonnes, where the aggregate can be washed and further graded.

Whatever your view of the environmental pros and cons, Glensanda is impressive.  Of course, having quarried all this aggregate, you need something big to put it into.....

...and this is it.  MV Yeoman Bridge at 200m long, 38m beam and drawing some 15m is a very big ship.  Her size is matched by an impressive capability - she is able to carry 97,000 tonnes of aggregate at a time and has a self-discharging capability of 6000 tonnes per hour.  The granite she carries is so hard that her holds need a very specialist coating to withstand the abrasion of loading and unloading.  In service since 2006, she's carried some 35 million tonnes of granite away from Loch Linnhe so far.

Yeoman Bridge's bow gives a hint of just how big she really is when seen close up from the water.....

....and paddling past her was like travelling alongside a red wall.

The granite from Glensanda is used across the UK and Europe - some recent projects such as motorways in Poland, ballast for a high speed rail link in southern France, the Elbe tunnel in Hamburg, the Channel Tunnel and a new port on the Thames are detailed in the quarry brochure.

Just past the heavy industrial landscape of the quarry, the ruin of the 15th century Glensanda Castle is a  more traditional use of the local granite.  A one-time MacLean stronghold, Glensanda looks out over Loch Linnhe and almost seems to have its back to the quarry.

Slowly, as the quarry receded behind us the scene returned to something more natural, and as we turned another corner....

.....the quarry and deepwater facility were no longer visible - just the view back up Loch Linnhe.  The process of removing a whole hillside one shipload at a time is never going to be either gentle or unobtrusive, but I'm guessing that few people guess the true scale of Glensanda, or even know it's there at all as little is visible from across the loch. 


  1. Love the photo of the single tree! Your story really rocks... :-)
    Safe paddling!

  2. Glensanda rocks... I really should have used that Leif! :o) That Rowan tree was a striking sight; it may have been grazed by deer to have grown into that shape

    Kind Regards

  3. Nice to see Glensanda from the water and the kayaks beside the ship really highlight the scale of operations there.

  4. Hi Bob, "supersized" on any reasonalbe scale!

    Kind Regards