Burn Anne
"The Burn Anne" near Galston from the air in 2010

 

Northeast of Ayr and near the town of Kilmarnock the Old Red Sandstone lavas outcrop once again with deposits running north eastwards towards Edinburgh. Although some of these are agate-bearing many are not. The deposit of most interest is found near the source of the Burn Anne just south of the town of Galston. Although this is a small site it has provided some of the most colourful agates ever to be found in Scotland.

The Burn Anne is a small stream running northwest and draining into the River Irvine. It has provided a large quantity of beautiful coloured fortification and jasp-agate over the years and many examples of the stones collected from this site can still be seen in museums and private collections. The stone was also widely used in Scottish “Pebble” jewellery. In the past, and particularly in the nineteenth century, the burn was the site of substantial workings that comprised one of the only commercial operations ever set up to extract Scottish agates. Evidence of these old excavations can still be seen along the banks of the burn and in the surrounding fields.
It is also said that the area was extensively “mined” for agate by the local coal miners during the depression in the 1920s. The agate they found would mainly have been sold on to lapidaries in Glasgow and Edinburgh although some was sent as far afield as Cornwall. It have even been said that the earliest times agate was extracted from here was in Roman times but this has not been verified.

Burn Anne material mainly occurs as veins or “lenses”. The beautiful vein agate is found as brick-sized blocks of material within the soft, almost clay like, pale-green “rotted” lava. Occasionally specimens can be found that show a brecciated structure that has been re-cemented with the mineral Calcite. In many cases the most beautiful patterns and colours occur towards the edges of the agate. Matthew F. Heddle described the Burn Anne agate as being “altogether unrivalled in beauty”. The colour of the fortification agates includes red, orange, yellow and white and is associated with grey and pale purple chalcedony. Some of the most desirable material shows a white and yellow banding, and this is the classic “type” from this locality. The jasp-agate locally described as “moss” comprises beautiful patterned greens, greys, yellows and browns and it was this material that was widely used in Scottish Pebble Jewellery.

Because the agate veins mainly lie several feet below ground level finding any agates ay the Burn Anne is not easy and usually requires a lot of hard work. Only a few dedicated collectors have, in recent years, been lucky enough to find any worthwhile material from this locality. Two of the most persistent and successful of these in recent times were the Gorrie brothers, Jackie and Bobbie. With the permission of the local landowners these individuals collected agate by hand digging at a number of sites around the burn over a thirty-year period from the 1960s and amassed probably the most spectacular collections of the Burn Anne agates in Scotland, superior to those in the National Museum of Scotland or the Dick Institute in Kilmarnock.

Sadly Jackie died in 2008 but is fondly remembered by his many friends. Jackie wrote a poem about the agates which reflected his love of the Burn Anneā€¦I have reproduced it here. I have also reproduced it as an audio file spoken by Jackie’s brother Bobbie.

Between 1999 and to date we have been lucky enough to be able to obtain permission from the landowner to use a mechanical excavator to carry out a series of digs at a number of different locations along the banks of the Burn Anne. As a result of these digs large quantities of many different types of agate were extracted. I have inserted some photographs illustrating these excavations at various times since 1999 that demonstrate what is involved. These digs have been very successful and enjoyable. The thrill of digging up beautifully coloured and banded material straight from the ground and to be the first human being to see it is a priceless experience!

Although the coloured vein agate is the main find at the Burn Anne, occasionally nodular fortification agates can also be found in the burn, surrounding fields and other locations around Galston. These are quite unlike the material describes earlier and generally more closely resemble agates from Dunure. These exhibit fine banding and vibrant colours and provide contrasting and unusual finds.

 

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