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.
Industry in 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. 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 spread throughout the Highlands today is testimony to the popularity of Scotland's 'water of life'.
The manufacture of woollens was and still is widespread, some cottage-based others using water to power the mills. Both processed local wool. Unable to compete with larger manufacturers in the south, woollen producers opted for high quality tweeds and garments.
By the end of the 19th century, the expansion of the railways offered new opportunities for industrialists. They failed, however, to attract industry in; rather the railways transported local products out, e.g. fish, timber.
The coming of industry in 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. Many stayed on to work in the plants.
After World War II a major programme of hydro 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.
Today's industrial scene
In recent years, industrialisation has centred on the Inner Moray Firth. A number of 'light', 'clean' industries have been introduced. Tourism too has expanded. This gives diversity of employment opportunities and, added to an increased emphasis on quality of life, should ensure further industrial projects come north.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
History of the Scottish Slate Industry
Business History, 19, 1977
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