NS3977 : Dalquhurn Point: eroding embankment, with clinker

taken 6 years ago, near to Renton, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

Dalquhurn Point: eroding embankment, with clinker
Dalquhurn Point: eroding embankment, with clinker
There had been little rain in the weeks before this picture was taken; the level of the River Leven was therefore particularly low, and I used this opportunity to examine some of the material that is eroding out of the embankment here on the southern side of Dalquhurn Point.

(The northern side of the Point is less affected by erosion. Altough the river curves on the approach to that side, and its current might therefore be expected to do some damage there, its effects are largely counteracted by a weir that breaks up the river's flow: NS3977 : Weir on the River Leven. In addition, there is an old but sturdy wall forming an embankment on that part of Dalquhurn Point, very similar to the one shown in NS3977 : Old embankment (detail); that section of wall is across the river from the end of Dalquhurn Point.)

Some of the material eroding from the embankment is in the form of old bricks, and these can often be dated, by their manufacturers' stamps, to the final decades of the nineteenth century, but of greater interest to me were the many pieces of NS3977 : Clinker that were also eroding from the soil here. The link just given shows one of the larger pieces that I saw in the area shown in the present picture, but there were many much smaller fragments.

(Clinker can mean several things, but more specifically, the material found eroding from the bank here is the residue from the burning of coal, rather than from the smelting of ores.)

As noted in the end-note, OS maps do not show buildings on Dalquhurn Point at any period, and it is unlikely that the clinker would have originated here.

I examined old OS maps of the area, and these revealed the real reason for the presence of clinker here: a short section of railway line is shown on the 1914 OS map as leading off from the Cordale Branch line (see the end-note) and heading along the southern side of Dalquhurn Point. The course of that line is still evident, as a path: NS3977 : Dalquhurn Point: former course of railway track / NS3977 : Dalquhurn Point: former course of railway track.

The southern edge of Dalquhurn Point is now eroding, as the picture shows, but just inland of it, where the track ran, the ground is very flat and even. To form this surface, and to make it suitable for bearing a railway track, it would have been necessary to lay down track ballast. This is material that is intended to stop the wooden sleepers on which the metal track is supported from moving around. Angular pieces of broken-up stones made good track ballast; the jagged edges would tend to interlock and reduce movement; rounded pebbles, in contrast, would not be effective.

Clinker was also sometimes used as track ballast; it was not the best material, but it was cheap (this ballast also includes some dateable artefacts in the form of whole bricks, which are likewise eroding, with the clinker, from the embankment; as already noted, those that can be dated by their stamps turn out to have been made in the late nineteenth century).

Therefore, although the material did not originate here, it nevertheless does reveal something about the human use of Dalquhurn Point in the past: although I had already been aware of the former existence of a Cordale Branch Line nearby, it was the presence of clinker here that caused me to re-examine the OS maps, and so to notice the additional section of track that used to lead across Dalquhurn Point.

Although there is no map evidence any industry carried on at Dalquhurn Point itself (the Dalquhurn Dye Works were not located on the Point, but nearby), my impression of the area is that it has the feel of a former industrial site. The laying and the removal of the tracks would have disturbed the area to some extent, but all of that took place many decades ago. It may instead be the case that the clinker underlying the surface has had a subtle and enduring effect, determining which types of plant will now grow on Dalquhurn Point. Perhaps that influence on the flora is what I sense here. As it turns out, much of Dalquhurn Point is underlain by clinker: for example, it has been used to form a raised edge all along the Point's eastern end, and it can also be seen in material that is eroding from the Point's northern edge.

It is also worth bearing in mind that there must have been a reason for going to the trouble of preparing the ground here, and then installing a length of railway track along much of the length of Dalquhurn Point; it is reasonable to suppose that there was industrial activity here, even if only limited to something like sand extraction, or the storage of materials.

The Cordale Branch Line itself led along NS3977 : The Howgate, past Dalquhurn Works (now gone see NS3977 : Construction site at Dalquhurn), and to the works (also now gone) on Cordale Point (see NS3978 : Footpath leading around Cordale Point). I wondered whether clinker might have been used as ballast elsewhere on that line.

An archaeological investigation of NS3977 : The former site of Dalquhurn House mentions clinker as being found there (see that item for the link). Dalquhurn House was near the line of the Cordale Branch, and I consider it likely that some of the material found there had been track ballast for the nearby line.

I wished to make my own investigation, although without doing any digging. One problem, though, is that the riverside route along which the Pug once ran (see the end-note) has been resurfaced many times, as has the Howgate. However, as the OS map shows, a burn runs alongside NS3977 : The Howgate. At the western end of the Howgate (there used to be a railway turntable for the Pug there), the burn flows particularly close to the path, which follows the line of the old railway track; it occurred to me that some lumps of clinker, if it had indeed been used in the trackbed there, might have eroded into the burn.

I looked there on the 23rd October (a few days after taking the present picture), and did indeed find pieces of clinker in the burn; it may have been track ballast. Another possibility is that it is part of the material that was used to infill the land just south of the burn following extensive excavations Link that were carried out there (c.1930s), probably for the purposes of sand extraction.
Dalquhurn Point

[dalˠˈhʌɾn] Large loops in the River Leven form two Points: Cordale Point Link to the north, and Dalquhurn Point. Unlike Cordale Point, Dalquhurn Point shows no buildings on OS maps of any period. However, there was a railway line ("Cordale Branch") for a small locomotive, "the Pug", that ran between the Howgate, the nearby Dalquhurn Works, and the Cordale Works; the 1914 OS map shows a branch of that line leading onto Dalquhurn Point; there must therefore have been some industrial activity on the point, even if only something like shallow quarrying or the storage of materials.

Clinker, in this case from the burning of coal, underlies much of the edge of the Point; its angular fragments could serve as a cheap form of track ballast. It is particularly noticeable on the south side of the Point, where it can be seen, in quantity, eroding out of the embankment, but it can also be found on the raised eastern tip of the Point, and in places along the north side, suggesting that it may also have been used to form the embankment, or as infill if the interior of the Point was quarried for sand, as happened in other places nearby (at the southern end of the Dalquhurn works, at Pillanflatt, and at Mains of Cardross Farm).

River Leven (Dunbartonshire)

The River Leven (Uisge Leamhna in Gaelic) is a stretch of water in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, flowing from Loch Lomond in the North to the River Clyde in the South. The total length of the river is approximately 6 miles.

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NS3977, 335 images   (more nearby search)
Photographer
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Date Taken
Tuesday, 13 October, 2015   (more nearby)
Submitted
Saturday, 24 October, 2015
Geographical Context
Rivers, Streams, Drainage  Railways  Derelict, Disused 
River (from Tags)
Leven 
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3939 7777 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:57.9596N 4:34.4863W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 3939 7777
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EAST (about 90 degrees)
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Clinker 

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