Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk

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Brora Links (11942)

Current Priority
Site Type

Eroding mortared walls possibly relating to early phases of Brora salt pans. Currently being monitored and investigated by Clyne Heritage Society. Walls c. 1 m high and 0.7 m wide. Mortared. Possible feature on inside of wall. Boulders of building are clearly lying on the beach having been eroded out.

Condition and current recommendations:

Test pitting

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Record 240 on map 10 in East Sutherland Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, 2010

Other records:



1 ShoreUpdate accepted and 0 pending.

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8th December, 2014 by training1
Survey Information
Dec. 8, 2014
Tidal state:
Site located?:
Condition Information
Proximity to coast edge:
coast edge
Coastally eroding?:
active sea erosion; has eroded in the past
Is there a coastal defence?:

The SCAPE Trust and the Clyne Heritage Society totally excavated this site in 2010 and 2011.

Documentary evidence records that Lady Jane Gordon, Countess of Sutherland, established a salt pan here in 1598. In 1618, there is a reference to the iron of the pans being sold following the death of her son John the 12th Earl in 1616.

The site of the Old Salt House is marked on John Farey’s 1813 Mineral Map of the Coal Field at and near Brora. For some years a ruinous wall, a flagstone floor and quantities of stonework and burnt material has been eroding from the dune face in the immediate vicinity of Farey’s Old Salt House.

The 2010 and 2011 excavations uncovered the remainder of a well-preserved rectangular building, measuring 17m long x 5.8m wide. Walls survived to a height of over 2m and were constructed of roughly hewn beach boulders bonded with a hard, white, shelly and sandy lime mortar. A dividing wall separated the building into 2 rooms. Two doorways, on either side of the wall gave access to each room. The larger eastern room had internal dimensions of 11.2m x 4.6m. It was paved with bituminous shale slabs. There was evidence of a partition to form an internal porch-like or hallway area in front of the door, but the room was otherwise devoid of internal features. The smaller western room had internal dimensions of 3.6m x 4.6m. A chimney and fireplace was built into the dividing wall and heated the smaller room. A substantial stone built buttress, subsequently modified to form a platform, possibly carrying an external staircase, was revealed abutting the outside of the west gable end of the building. This indicates an upper storey.

Outside surfaces of the building were composed of quantities of industrial fuel ash and fuel slag, which formed continuous layers extending westwards from the building and terminating at the site of a former substantial wall previously recorded at beach level by Clyne Heritage Society. The building at beach level was almost certainly the pan house, now completely eroded. The layers of fuel ash show that the two buildings were contemporary and that the waste from the pan hearths was used to create a substantial surface or track way between them.

The excavations recovered 16th/17th century window glass; pottery hinting at hitherto unknown local pottery production from this period; a wide range of animal bone, including whale bone, sea bird and thousands of fish bone and a range of iron objects.

A number of graffiti-like letters and symbols carved into the fireplace lintel and door jambs may be merchants’ marks or masons marks.

The excavation of the Old Salt House site confirms a high status building, probably offices and a store, related to the earliest industrial salt making venture by the Sutherland Estate. The building revealed many ‘firsts’ for our knowledge of construction methods, materials and the material culture of its builders and users in the northeast Highlands of the late 16th and early 17th century.

The surviving walls of the building were completely destroyed in winter storms between Christmas and New Year 2011/12. The fireplace and inscribed stones were saved as they were removed from the site during the excavations.

Although this building has been destroyed, continued monitoring of this stretch of coast is likely to identify further archaeological deposits and structures.

Management Information
How visible are the remains? (above ground):
not visible
How visible are the remains? (in section):
not visible
How accessibile is the site?:
easily accessible- no restrictions
The site is:
is well known; has local associations/history
Comments and recommendations

DSR reports are available for all seasons of the Brora salt pans excavations. Publication of the site is intended.


Regular monitoring of the coastline. Priority 2