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Silica Sand Mine Lochaline

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Beach on Loch Aline walking towards Sand Mine, 2007
Lochaline silica sand mine
© peter bond

A silica sand mine was located near the village of Lochaline, on the Morvern peninsula, and lay on the eastern shore of the inlet to Loch Aline, a sea loch.

The mine was operated by Tarmac Ltd until the latter part of 2008, when it was finally closed. The mine had provides supplies of some of the purest silica sand found in the UK, used in the production of high quality glasses, such as crystal and optical glass, silicon carbide, domestic ovenware and chemically resistant glasses.

The mine succumbed to the existence of cheaper material imported from overseas, with the loss of eleven local jobs, reported to be 20% of the area's working population.[1]

The Lochaline mine was unique in that it was the only silica sand mine in the UK:

  • where the sand was mined rather than extracted by opencast methods
  • with sea access

The entire output of the mine was transported by sea to destinations in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Norway by ship.


The mine began operation during the 1940s, which agrees with reports that its origins were based in World War II, and need to satisfy a demand for high quality glass for use in optical instrumentation and sighting systems as used by the armed forces, in aircraft, and in naval vessels. The photographs provided by RCAHMS come from the mine's own archive, and show it in operation during 1945.


Access to the mine is by an adit, located on the loch side. The adit provides a near horizontal access shaft to the mine workings, allowing the mined sandstone to be loaded onto dump trucks for transport to the processing plant on the loch side. Mining is carried out using pillar and stall methods, with drill and blast techniques being used to extract the sandstone, and current (2007) working faces extend about 900 metres into the hillside. Developed in coal mines, in pillar and stall workings, miners would first create a passageway straight into the heart of the coal seam. Once the seam was accessed, they would create rooms by removing coal from a sizeable underground area (leading to the method also being referred to as room and pillar), but would be careful to leave large tracks of coal behind, allowing the untouched coal to act as pillars which supported the roof and prevented cave-ins as they cut deeper into the seam. Although the sandstone is up 12 metres thick, only the central five metre section of purer white sandstone is extracted for processing. A hard sandstone band, together with the basalt lavas above, provides a stable roof. The mine contains some 30 miles (48 km) of underground tunnels, descending about 150 metres through basaltic lava in which volcanic rocks and fossils can be found, and have been dated to 90 million years, placing them in the Cretaceous period. Many of the tunnels have been closed, either being exhausted, or to ensure that sufficient support is left for the roof.


Washed sand ready for loading, 2002
Washed sand ready for loading
© David Hogg

Annual production in 2007 was reported at some 100,000 tonnes per year. Conveyor belts fed the processed material to ships at the loch side. A typical load would consists of around 2,200 tonnes, and take between five and six hours to transfer.

Health & Safety

In common with all businesses in the UK, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) visited the mine, and in 2004, found that two of the three dump trucks operating there were subjecting their (three) drivers to excessive levels of vibration, which arose from the condition of the tunnel floors, which were found to be soft, wet, and badly rutted. Although the drivers' seating was fitted with dampers, it was ineffective as the problem arose from the side-to-side component of the vibration, rather than vertical part, which was caused by the deep rutting, with the dampers even amplifying it in some instances. The level was so high that it exceeded limits due to be introduced in the UK in 2005, and HSE recommended improving the road in order to meet the forthcoming Vibration Directive.

Plans to re-open mine 2011

The 12th October 2011 edition of the Lochaber News carried the story of a planned re-opening of the mine inspring 2012 by new owners Lochaline Quartz Sand Ltd.. The sand will be transported by boat to Pilkington's plant at St.Helens on Merseyside where it will be used for specialist solar glass production.

Lochaline Silica Sand Mine


1 Mine closes with loss of 11 jobs - Lochaber News, November 20, 2008.


External links

Related Canmore/RCAHMS and ScotlandsPlaces (SP) entries:-



Aerial views



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