Salt: Scotland’s Newest Oldest Industry launches at Blackthorn Salt, Ayr

  25 Sep '23   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Despite its long history and importance, the Scottish sea-salt industry is little known. Authors Christopher Whatley and Joanna Hambly have sought to shine a light on this industry with the publication in their new book, Salt: Scotland’s Newest Oldest Industry.

The book has a rich mix of enthusiastic contributors including historians, archaeologists and modern-day salt entrepreneurs. There are also a number of fascinating locations featured in the book, which showcase the best surviving artefacts from salt manufacturing, as well as Scotland’s finest contemporary salt producers.

The Ayrshire coast is full of relics from Scotland’s bygone salt manufacturing, with the country’s best preserved steam powered panhouse and numerous remains of panhouse ventilation shafts. To celebrate the launch of the Salt, Joanna and Chris led a group of 40 local academics, history enthusiasts, journalists and salt producers on a walk from Prestwick to Ayr, stopping off at 6 significant sites in a short 2 mile walk.

The impact of salt upon the area is apparent in the street names and geography of the area. With direction from Joanna, the group were also able to identify small marks and remnants of salt manufacturing along the coastline that would otherwise go unnoticed to the untrained eye. As well as sharing their research into Scotland’s long, multi-faceted salt production, Joanna and Chris invited attendees to share their thoughts and reflections. Remarkably, many of the local attendees were able to provide personal insights into the industry that neither author had discovered previously. The day was truly testimony to how embedded the history of salt is with Scotland’s communities and how much is still to be discovered about our history producing this vital commodity.

While the first half of this launch event focused on the deep historical roots salt has in the Ayrshire area, the latter half of the celebrated the rebirth of the industry. Scotland’s salt is now a high-prestige, green product that is winning awards and attracting interest across the UK. Attendees at the launch were fortunate enough to be hosted by one of the gems of Scotland’s contemporary salt industry, Blackthorn Salt. In their purpose built thorn torn, Scottish West Coast sea water is slowly trickled through the country’s only graduation thorn tower whilst being evaporated by the exhilarating West Coast winds. As well as a stunning feature in Ayr’s skyline, the thorn tower is completely natural and environmentally sensitive, unlike most northern European salt making processes.

Over lunch and a salt tasting, the former and current owners of the Isle of Sky Sea Salt company shared their thoughts on sustainable salt making practices for the future and the benefits of supporting local producers. It was truly remarkable to see how far Scotland’s salt manufacturing has come, from once a coal fired polluter to a now pioneering eco-industry.

Salt: Scotland’s Newest Oldest Industry is available now.

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