The Scots are warlike – it’s in our nature. The country is strewn with battlefields and the coastline is studded with fortifications.
This massive rampart sits on the shore at Boddin Point near Lunan Bay, at the southern end of Aberdeenshire. From the sea, it looks impregnable; yet the gun loups are draw holes, the harbour landed coal rather than troops, and the fortress was actually once Scotland’s largest limeworks.
Lime was an essential step in the process of agricultural improvement. Limestone rock was crushed then burned in kilns to make quicklime: once slaked, it was spread on the fields to sweeten acid soils and make clay soils freer draining. Until then, farmers had to work with what they found, perhaps using seaweed or manure to feed the soil.
The kilns at Boddin were built during the 18th century by Robert Scott of Dunninald, who was one of the earliest Improvers. Robert and his brother Patrick came from a family of entrepreneurs. Their uncle caught salmon along the rocky coast and shipped them to Venice; another relative built up a trade in lobsters, selling 60,000 of them at Billingsgate in London – impressive going in the days before railways or refrigerated lorries.
With an eye on the latest thinking, Robert found that by enclosing his fields, spreading them with lime and cultivating them intensively, he could greatly increase the yield of his crops. Luckily, he had a source of lime on his doorstep, and in April 1697 the Earl of Southesk granted him the right to ‘win lyme-stones out of the lyme Craigs of Dunnynald’.
The outcrop’s location on the coast was a happy chance. Robert Scott began quarrying the limestone immediately, and shipped in coal from Fife to fuel his limeworks. The eastern kiln was the first to be constructed, then several more were added over the next half-century. Those remaining today are a four-draw kiln and a three-draw kiln, which are believed to have been built around 1750.
Eventually the row of kilns at Boddin became the largest limeworks in Scotland: this is what mass production looked like during the 1700s. Although Robert died before the scheme reached its full potential, Patrick Scott and his sons took over.
Initially, a small harbour was built at Boddin, and in April 1783, Archibald Scott, the third generation of the family, applied for government aid to build a new pier to handle larger ships. Before the harbour and the pier, coasters moored offshore and were beached at high tide.
The family’s fourth generation produced David Scott, who became an MP in 1790 then chairman of the all-powerful East India Company. David turned his mind to a different kind of improvement at Dunninald. He employed architects James Playfair and Sir John Soane to devise grand plans for the estate. Dunninald could have become Scotland’s Blenheim, although in the end, little was realised.
After a century and a half, the limestone at Boddin was worked out. The quarry was abandoned in the 1830s, although the kilns may have continued to burn limestone shipped in from elsewhere. By the start of the Victorian era, the kilns had fallen out of use and since then, the North Sea has encroached on Boddin Point a little more every year.
For such solid structures, the limekilns’ future is precarious. The sea has already undercut them and they’ve begun to collapse.
In time, Robert Scott’s limeworks will lose its final battle, against the inexorable power of the elements.