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Industry & Manufacturing


One of the greatest attractions of the Highlands and Islands is that ‘away from it all’ feeling: away from the smoke, grime and noise of industry elsewhere to the peace and quiet of the hills and glens. But industry is to be found: not the ‘dark satanic mills’ of the 18th century, but the rural industries of farming, fishing and forestry.

The early days
The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century passed the Highlands by: most early industrial activity involved the mining and quarrying of local mineral deposits. Iron ore, lead, coal, slate, granite, diatomite, and even gold were extracted. However, the working life of most mines and quarries was brief, and only the slate quarries of Ballachullish and Easdale and coal mining at Brora continued production well into the 20th century.

Whisky distilling, though, went from strength to strength: the large number of distilleries throughout the Highlands today is testimony to the popularity of Scotland’s ‘water of life’.

The manufacture of woollens was and still is widespread, with some businesses cottage-based and others using water to power their mills. Both use local wool. Unable to compete with larger manufacturers in the south, producers have opted for high-quality tweeds and similar garments.

By the end of the 19th century, the expansion of the railways offered new opportunities for industry, but failed to attract it to the region, being used instead to transport local products elsewhere, such as fish and timber.

The 20th century
Heavy industry first came to the Highlands with the building of aluminium works at Kinlochleven, Fort William and Foyers. Construction workers travelled in from the Islands and from the south, and many stayed on to work in the plants.

After World War II a major programme of hydro-electric development was begun. Networks of dams, tunnels, aqueducts, power stations and power lines appeared across the Highlands. A fast-breeder nuclear reactor was also built at Dounreay.

The 1970s North Sea oil boom saw the opening of rig construction yards at Kishorn, Arnish Point, Nigg and Ardersier. Thousands were employed at the time; but the oil boom passed and all have since closed.

In recent years, industrialisation has centred on the Inner Moray Firth, where a number of light, clean industries have been introduced. Tourism too has expanded. This diversity of employment, together with an increased emphasis on quality of life, should ensure that more industrial projects make the journey north.

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Images: 20Aluminium
Images: 22Kelp
Images: 12Oil
Images: 50Textiles
Images: 27Whisky

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