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Landscape Legacies of Coal Mining

It is not so long ago that coal had a place in everyday life in Central Scotland. At its peak in the post-war period, the industry employed around 140,000 workers and met roughly 90% of the Nation’s demand for fuel.

The local landscape of the colliery towns and villages were dominated by the bing, the headstock, colliery buildings, the railway sidings and the associated housing, clubs and bowling greens. Rapid decline from the 1960s brought closure, demolition and subsequent repurposing and/or redevelopment of the colliery sites that erased much of the industrial archaeology of one of Scotland’s foremost industries. Although often hard to discern, visible traces of coal mining remain in the landscape today, ranging from sunken hollows, patches of colliery waste and piles of building rubble through to communication networks, reclaimed bings and repurposed buildings.

About the project

  • Project overview

    The project has two distinctive but interlinked stands, the creation of the ‘coal app’, a series of co-produced and curated heritage walks, and a self-contained but underpinning research project exploring how the public experience, understand and value post-extractive landscapes.

    coal mining landscapes

    The ‘Coal App’

    Catherine Mills (history), together with post and undergraduate students from the University are collaborating with local community groups and individuals, to produce an expanding series of curated heritage walks that narrate the story of Scottish coal mining through the medium of, and active engagement with, the disappearing landscape legacies, utilising a mix of industrial archaeology, historic maps plans and images and oral testimonies. The walks are available as a free to download mobile phone app.

    You can download the ‘coal app’ for free here, or visit your mobile store and search for 'Landscape Legacies of Coal'.

    The aims of the ‘coal app’ project are to provide a dynamic record of the rapidly disappearing landscape features and industrial archaeology, and to increase local cultural understanding of mining heritage and of the social and economic significance of the coal industry.

    The initiative offers a sustainable method of community co-production that offers a new medium for individuals and community groups to express issues around their heritage, a novel method of heritage recording and preservation and the creation of artistic artefacts.

    The project was generously supported by, and owes it origins to a community heritage initiative by MacRobert Arts Centre that focused on Coal, delivered in autumn 2017. This consisted of a series of interlinked activities centred around a contemporary dance performance by Gary Clarke depicting the miners’ strike. An exhibition by Falkirk artist Philip Gurrey entitled undermined that depicted mining past present and future, community art and drama workshops and community screening of the film Still The Enemy Within.

    The coal app is dedicated to Alastair Ross who passed away suddenly and never saw the project fully accomplished.

    ‘Value, Perceptions and Understanding’

    This is a self-contained research project that parallels the ‘Coal App’ initiative and is led jointly by Catherine and Ian McIntosh (sociology).

    Academia and policy makers primarily understand post-industrial and extractive landscapes in adverse terms, often within a social and economic policy context. These environments are degraded wastelands representing loss and social dislocation, strongly associated with health inequalities and deprivation particularly within an urban setting.

    Less visible are the counter-views that suggest that these spaces offer urban wildscapes where flora and fauna can flourish, they also provide leisure and ‘play’ opportunities that are free of overt regulation and they have an affirmative role both in narrating past industrial glories and shaping communal memory, identity and place.

    These studies are generally approached from a ‘top down’ perspective and often skewed by the researcher’s individual view point. Community collaboration on the coal app offered the opportunity for a ‘bottom up’ approach and to explore how the public value these spaces.

    Traditional historical research, to create landscape biographies, combined with ethnographical approaches (on site observations, face to face interviews and an online questionnaire) captured public perception, understanding and use of these sites. Tentative analysis of the data suggests a more nuanced and complex mix of negative and positive values determined by individual site histories, notions of identity and personal memories. In terms of use, leisure pursuits were a clear component, together with space for both reflection and appreciation of nature.

    Thank you to everyone who participated in the project and once the data is fully analysed, the results will be made available via the website.

  • Coal app

    Legacies of Coal app logo

    The ‘coal app’ features information about the route, start points, parking, route distances, nature of the terrain with real time tracking, together with suitability for families, buggies, bike and wheelchairs. Also indicated are opportunities to extend or shorten the walks, mid route parking, public toilets and coffee and cake stops and you can choose between map and satellite.

    mobile phones showing coal mining app

    Downloading the ‘coal app’ will allow you to not only explore but to connect and engage with local and historic coal mining sites. Users are also encouraged to share their stories and images, discover additional features in the landscape for inclusion on the app, suggest ideas for new routes and importantly report and record landscape changes as with the Meta Bath House (below). This was demolished in September 2019 and replaced by a new agricultural building. (Thank you to Peter Howson for reporting the change and sending the image).

    meta-baths-760x470 new-meta-baths-760x470

    Download the app

    You can download the app for free on Android or Apple devices, or visit your mobile store and search for 'Landscape Legacies of Coal'.

    If you have downloaded the app and walked the routes already we would love to hear from you either use the formal feedback mechanism on the app or complete our online evaluation.

    We are also building a photographic collection of the routes on Flickr. If you would like to share your pictures of walking the routes please send the image(s) to Catherine at

  • Routes

    The route narrates the stories of the Devon, Tillicoutry and Meta pits together with the Meta brickworks through the remaining landscape features. Designed and researched by Catherine Mills with the support of local residents, Sheila Cramm, Peter and Linda Howson and the Sauchie Community Group. ‘Down the Railway Line’ featured on the walk, is written, composed and sung by Andrew Huggan.


    This walk narrates the stories of the both Millhall (Polmaise 1/2 and Fallin (Polmaise 3/4) collieries. Designed and researched by Catherine Mills with the support of the local residents Dan Tetstall and Rhiannon Spiers.

    Alloa Waggonway Walks One to Four

    These walks depict the development and decline of horse-drawn coal wagonways and guide users round some of the best-preserved sections of the routes. 

    • Walk one features the Alloa Coal Road and the first Alloa Waggonway, 1767-68.
    • Walk Two features the extension of the Alloa Waggonway north to Collyland constructed in 1772 and the short branch lines serving the Pumpeye, Fly and No. 9 pits.  
    • Walk Three focuses on the Waggonway extension to the Devon Pits and Ironworks, in the period 1806-1835.
    • Walk Four explores the waggonway extensions at Carsebridge and Closure, 1853-1924.

    Researched and designed by The Clackmannanshire Field Studies Society (CFSS).

    Gartmorn Dam

    The walk narrates the story of Scotland's oldest (and at one time largest) reservoir, its connection to coal mining, its role as a public water supply through to its present day status as a 370 acre Country Park and Nature Reserve.

    It was designed and researched by Rebekah Salem Dalgety, supported members of the CFSS as part of the MSc environment, Heritage and Policy Programme.

    East Stirlingshire Villages

    The walk (currently under development) narrates the story of Plean, Bannockburn and Carnock pits.

    It was designed and researched by Matthew Roud, supported by Dan Tetshall and Willie Lambie, as part of the MSc environment, Heritage and Policy Programme.

    Tower, Linn Mill, Kennet and Town Walk

    These four routes differ from the original focus on coal to include both the wider industrial history and cultural heritage of Clackmannan and its wider environs.

    Designed by Clackmannan Heritage Group (CHG) and researched jointly with Mills and student volunteer Kat Pruente.

    The Tower and Linn Mill routes are currently live on the app, Tower and Kennet routes are under development and all four are available in leaflet form produced by CHG.

    Dollar to Harvieston

    The walk (currently under development) focuses on the Dollar and Harvieston coal mines. Designed and research by Catherine Mills in collaboration with Royston Goodman and John Barker (retired miners) and the Dollar Museum.

    Royston's Way

    This route (currently under development) will link the collieries in the ‘Longannet Complex’ as a cycle route (tracing the route of the 5 mile underground conveyor belt, the longest in the world at the time of its construction) that brought coal to Longannet power station.

    Designed and created by retired miner, Royston Goodman who cycled the route underground to service the belt during his time as a miner, with the support of Catherine Mills.


    The walk (currently under construction) explores the post extractive landscape at the confluence of the Rivers Forth and Carron. The route examines the sites of the Grangemouth Colliery company pits and the associated Brick and tile works together with the associated mineral railway and river wharves. It is being designed and researched by project volunteers, Rachel Hook and Ian MacIntosh.

    South Bantaskine to Gardrum Moss The route (currently in the early planning stage) will begin at South Bantaskine and end at Gardrum Moss to include peat extraction (a first for the project). The proposed route will also include the site of the Policy mine and bing, Callendar brickworks, and the associated canal and railway legacies. It is being designed by project volunteer Nicola Howie.
    researchers walking in the rain walkers on the ground
    mining landscape walkers in the woods

    Take a look at the map overview of locations for the current and proposed routes

    Given the strong linkages between the production of bricks and the coal industry and drawing on support from brick collector Mark Cranston of Scottish brick we will be exploring the possibility of incorporating sites of brick manufacturing either into the existing trails or as standalone routes.

    We are also looking forward to collaborating with Great Place Falkirk, Dollar Community Development Trust, and the Brora Salt Pans Research Group/Clyne Heritage in the future.

    If you have an idea for a route, or would like to design/research a walk or would like an existing route to be included on the app please email Catherine

    If you have down loaded the app and walked the routes already we would love to hear from you either use the formal feedback mechanism on the app or complete our online evaluation.

    We are also building a photographic collection of the routes on Flickr. If you would like to share your pictures of walking the routes please send the image(s) to Catherine

    You can download the app for free on Android or Apple devices, or visit your mobile store and search for 'Landscape Legacies of Coal'.

  • Landscape and the place of the Scottish Coal Mine (Julieann McHale)

    coal mine

    Project Overview

    Coal Mining history has been explored through an economic, social, technological, labour, health, and community lens but with limited discussion of mines and miners in relation to their physical environment. Here the emphasis is on post-abandonment and issues generally relate to environmental social impacts such dereliction and the close association with deprivation.

    This project will seek to explore how miners, and those who lived and worked in mining communities, represented their landscape in poetry, song, art, fiction and oral testimony. Tracing these representations from the 18th Century to the present, this project will investigate depictions of the place of mining, the site itself and its situation within the local landscape and how it has changed over time.

    In exploring mining sites as represented by ‘their’ communities, this PhD project will unite an existing body of knowledge with the intangible heritage of memory, attachment and community experiences of mining landscapes and how these have evolved over time in response to progression and decline of the industry.

    The aim of this project is to address gaps in the knowledge of our understanding of the history of the coal industry by emphasising the mining landscape and its significance to a mining community’s collective memory and sense of place. It also presents an opportunity to demonstrate the importance and contribution of the arts and humanities in valuing Scotland’s industrial landscape legacy beyond the derelict and contaminated.

    Key research questions

    1. How did the historical communities/workers who had close engagement with coal mines view them as part of their local environment? What representational strategies did they use in describing these environments, and what do these tell us about the 'place' of Scottish mining?

    2. How do these representations develop from the eighteenth century to the present?

    3. What value does the study of historical and literary texts, and use of oral history narratives, add to landscape history approaches to mining sites?

    4. How might this research be used, both by industrial heritage museums, and in current/future reclamation projects?

    Contact Details

    Julie Ann McHale: 

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Download the Landscape Legacies of Coal app

Actively celebrate Scottish mining history. 

Through a series of curated heritage walking routes, the Landscape Legacies of Coal app promotes active engagement with the often hidden, but valuable legacy of Scottish coal mining. It highlights the story of coal and the communities that depended on it through the physical remains of the industry.

Get it on Google Play
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