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Chapter 12. Distilling and Mining

Banffshire takes a leading place in the United Kingdom in the production of malt whisky.

In the Highlands of the county smuggling was in former times very prevalent. High taxation and the interference with cottage stills encouraged illicit distillation; and Glenlivet, celebrated for generations for the quality of its whisky, was famous as a home of the smugglers. It has been said indeed that smuggling houses were scattered on every rill all over its mountain glens. In the year 1823, when a troop of excise officers invaded Glenlivet, they found in the glen 200 "sma' stills" in active operation. The kegs were conveyed over the hills on horseback to Perth and Aberdeen; and many stories are still current of events connected with the traffic. It is on record that, when in 1824 a "legal" distillery was established in Glenlivet, such was the opposition of the smugglers that for some time the proprietor had to carry firearms for his protection. The fame of Glenlivet whisky is so great that distilleries many miles distant from the Livet attach the word "Glenlivet" to their own distinctive name if they be situated within the Glenlivet excise area. As a matter of fact the name of Glenlivet has come to be, all the world over, a synonym for the liquid product of Scotland.

The 23 distilleries in Banffshire have a yearly valuation (1920-21) of 9412. They cluster mostly around Spey and Fiddich, there being seven in the parish of Mortlach, four in Aberlour and three in Inveraven, that is, fourteen in three contiguous parishes. Some of them are of old foundation. One has been at work since 1786, and quite a number of them were founded in the second decade of the nineteenth century. One of them is the largest Highland malt whisky distillery in Scotland; its yearly valuation is 1200, and in 1898 the value of its buildings, plant, etc. was put at 496,240.

Although there is no mining industry in the county in its popularly understood sense, various native products are worked to some little extent. The burning of line is carried on at several places; and considerable quantities of the manufactured article are sent out of the county. In Kirkmichael and Glenlivet lime kilns formerly were very numerous but they are now practically all in ruins. In a recent past, limestone was quarried and burned with peats in many places, and, after slaking, the lime was spread upon the land for manure.

In the granitic areas of Upper Strathaven, crystals called Cairngorms are found in cavities in the rock and were at one time sought for among the loose debris. The Cairngorm differs from colourless quartz or rock-crystal in the presence of oxide of iron or manganese, to which it owes its colour. It is much in request as an ornamental stone. The yellow variety is not unfrequently called topaz, although quite different from the true topaz, which it resembles chiefly in colour, having neither its hardness nor its brilliancy. The topaz, however, sometimes occurs along with the Cairngorm.

Interesting minerals found in the county include magnetite, chromite, and asbestos in Fordyce; fluorite near Boharm, at Keith, and on the Aven; cyanite and chiestolite in clay-slate at Boharm. Many years ago attempts were made to work a vein of sulphuret of antimony near Keith. In the parish of Kirkmichael a vein of iron oxide (red haematite), two miles in length, occurs near the Lecht. It was worked at first for iron ore from 1736 to 1739 by the York Buildings Company. The ore was conveyed on horseback across the Aven at the Ford of Carnagaval, near TomintouI, to Abernethy, and smelted with wood at Culnakyle. In 1841 a pit was sunk 85 feet deep to ascertain whether it would be worth while extracting manganese ore, with which the iron ore was mixed. It was found in sufficient quantity and quality, and machinery was erected to crush the ore. It was conveyed to Garmouth, and thence to Newcastle to be prepared for use in bleaching, and for a time it brought L8 per ton; but after the discovery of the utility of chlorinated lime as a bleaching agent the price of manganese ore fell to J3, and the mine had to be abandoned. At Arndilly, on the shoulder of Ben Aigan, iron ore has been worked on a small and chiefly experimental scale. Near Tomintoul there is a bed of slate stone and a slate quarry has been wrought here close by the banks of the Aven, producing good gray slates and pavement slabs.

The report for 1919 of the Chief Inspector of Mines states that in Banffshire 53 quarries were at work, employing 66 persons, so that the industry is of restricted importance. Of igneous rock there were quarried that year 23,314 tons, of granite 1520 tons, and of limestone io,956 tons.

A large mass of diluvial clay forms the upper part of the Knock Head to the east of Whitehills, in Boyndie, and has long been wrought for the manufacture of bricks and tiles. At Tochineal, in the parish of Cullen, a bed of fine has clay has also been wrought for many years.

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