The Archaeology of Irish Salt – Trip to Britain [part 3 – Scotland]

Across the Solway in Cumbria we could clearly see the hills and shore of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland and this was to be our next destination. At Salt Pans Rock in southern Galloway there was no trace of any works however various pools or clefts in the rocks had been claimed as ‘bucket pots’ for collecting sea water. The enormous tidal range on the Solway would certainly have necessitated these, had the salt makers wanted a ready supply of sea water at all times. None of the rock pools in the area were well finished, and one that has been claimed and photographed as a bucket pot appeared too high on the shore relative to mean high water mark to make it effective. A few roughly hewn contenders appear about mid-tide in this area, one of which appears to have a made opening seaward, however the depth of these features would need tested for their effectiveness.

The pool in the foreground is the claimed bucket pot

The pool in the foreground is the claimed bucket pot.

Further north and into Ayrshire we stopped at Prestwick to visit the most complete surviving remains of salt-making buildings in Scotland. The Preswick burgh records first mention a ‘salt pan hous’ in 1480, however the extant buildings date to around 1760. Sited above the shore on the edge of a golf course, a pair of parallel two-storey gabled buildings are linked by a late wall. The rectangular buildings display a number of similarities including a wide opening (likely reworked) toward the shore on the ground floor of their west gable; no windows on the ground floor and dwellings above with slate roofs. The upper floors were accessed via steps on the exterior of the buildings and these floors had windows. Unfortunately the interiors of the buildings were not available for inspection. The shoreline (now partially obscured by the promenade) was visited and although some quarrying had occurred, no features relating to salt production were conclusively identified.

The twin salt houses at Prestwick.

The twin salt houses at Prestwick.

Our final Scottish site was Galdenoch on the outer Rhinns of Galloway. Sited on Salt Pans Bay, these are probably the remains of the salt pan and works established by Alexander Osborne for Uchtred Agnew in 1640. By 1791 they comprised ‘two dwelling houses and a saltpan’. The two long rectangular buildings (likely the dwellings) are now reduced to rubble, and one largely obscured by vegetation. A further smaller structure can be discerned above the shore and this may well have been the pan house. Its clear that the inhabitants did not occupy themselves with salt-making alone as the site also features enclosures, cultivation ridges and a kiln.

The remains of the long house at Galdenoch, a further smaller structure can be seen beyond.

The remains of the long house at Galdenoch, a further smaller structure can be seen beyond.

Our British trip has been useful for getting a look at sites with Irish connections, even if the archaeological expression differs somewhat. Its also been great to get a look at sites where potential exists in Ireland for similar field signatures and some of the more modern sites have also produced insights on material we excavated at Ballycastle. All in all, a brief but productive experience.

At Galdenoch the distant shore of Antrim could just be seen, and with the visit concluded all that was left was the short trip to the ferry at Cairnryan and home!

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