Shaping the Landscape: Chatelherault and the Avon Gorge

A quintessential part of the area's mining history

With a history of quarrying and mining for sandstone, sand, gravel and coal, Chatelherault and the Avon Gorge is a great location to start exploring the geological story of the Clyde and Avon Valley.

The Chatelherault Visitor Centre provides a wealth of information on the geology and mining history of the local area if you’d like to find out more, and you can follow onsite signage for ‘The Mineral Railway’, for geological exploration on foot.

Ancient river systems, with origins in the Devonian (416 – 359 million years ago) and Carboniferous ages (359 – 299 million years ago), were responsible for the area’s sandstone and coal reserves, of historic importance for the economic wealth of Central Scotland.

Panoramic view of Chatelherault Hunting Lodge with the former backscarp of the sand and gravel pit in view, where the removal of up to 10 metres of sand has formed the low area of parkland to the left

The most visible evidence of quarrying is to the front of the former Hunting Lodge, now the Visitor Centre, where a big dip in the landscape is all that remains of an early 20th century sand quarry. This particular part of the landscape is underlain with a thick deposit of sand that was left behind as the Avon Water and tributaries drained into Lake Clydesdale. It was thought to be the last major lake to form in the Clyde Valley during deglaciation around 20,000 years ago and lay approximately 6 km north-west of Chatelherault, near to modern day Blantyre.

A - Chatelherault sand and gravel pit c. 1902 (BGS Archive: P239944) B - Historic photograph of the Ferniegair sand pit c. 1921 (BCG copyright NERC. All Rights Reserved. 2015; archive number P000075

But perhaps the most poignant reminder of extensive coal mining is the absence of Hamilton Palace, once one of the grandest houses in Britain. It was demolished in 1927, due to subsidence from nearby mines. A number of grand houses in the Clyde and Avon Valley suffered the same fate. Visitors to the Hunting Lodge have sometimes been known to complain of sea-sickness as the floor gently slopes to the side – another impact of subsidence.

At Chatelherault County Park, the Avon Water runs through gorge formed of coal bearing sedimentary rocks. In places, jigsaw-like cross-bedding, which dip in the direction of fluid flow at the time they were formed, can be seen, as below. In the northern section of the gorge, you can see purple to red sandstone exposed near the Duke’s Bridge, along the Mineral Railway Path, which formerly carried coal from the Avon Valley to Hamilton. The best examples of coal bearing formations can be seen in the crags on the opposite side of the Avon Water to Hoolet Row, to the south.

Jigsaw-like cross-bedding in the bed of the Avon Water, where dips have formed in the direction of fluid flow at the time the beds were laid down

Hoolet Row itself is said to be the remains of some 19th century miners’ cottages, who would have worked locally. A few abandoned mine shafts can still be detected at Chatelherault.

The Hunting Lodge is constructed in yellow to orange sandstone that may have been sourced locally, and it’s thought that locally quarried stone, such as that from Threepwood Quarry, was used in the construction of Hamilton Palace. A decorative fireplace in the lodge is made from Cambuslang marble, which is actually limestone quarried from nearby and so called due to its capability of an extremely high polish.

Katie Whitbread, British Geological Survey Geologis, stands in front of the Cambuslang Marble fireplace in the former Hunting Lodge, now the Visitor Centre. Note how the floor slopes due to subsidence when you visit

The geological sites and features of the Clyde and Avon Valley tell a dramatic story of the development of the landscape over 400 million years, from ancient sandy streams, river deltas, swampy forests and glaciers. The rocks and rivers of this story shaped the heritage, and remain a source of power, havens for woodland and wildlife, and places of recreation and creative inspiration today.

Travel through time to reveal the hidden history in the rocks and landforms by exploring the other ‘Shaping the Landscape’ museum items below, and visiting the Shaping the Landscape Exhibition at New Lanark. Read the full report by clicking on the ‘Shaping our Landscape Trail Report’ link under ‘Find Out More’, or below. Whilst many ‘Shaping the Landscape’ sites are accessible to walkers, some sites are inaccessible, but featured as museum pieces to help demonstrate the development of the Clyde and Avon Valley.

 

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