Usan and Lunan Bay

About half a mile south of Scurdie Ness lies the village of Usan. This is an old fishing settlement that dates from at least the thirteenth century and probably much earlier. Usan lies within the parish of Craig and has a long history of collecting dating back to at least the eighteenth century. The andesitic rocks here, comprising numerous lava flows, outcrop into the sea and a length of the local coastline to the south is a prolific source, although pressure of collecting over the years has inevitably reduced the more easily accessible examples. It is said that in the late nineteenth century a solitary collector, or hermit, occupied a small cottage immediately above the high water mark on the Usan foreshore, making a living from extracting and selling stones to visitors. The ruins of this house can still be seen today. Other parts of Usan also retain a rather dilapidated feel, with many other buildings abandoned as a result of rural depopulation, but the village still attracts dedicated enthusiasts to its shores.

 

Usan

 

Usan is also the site of the famous “Blue Hole” which is or was the most famous agate locality in the British Isles. At the end of the nineteenth century a large number of wonderful specimens were extracted from this small site. Matthew Forster Heddle collected extensively from the Blue Hole, reputedly with the assistance of explosives, and he and others, including the hermit mentioned earlier, found specimens of onyx, fortification and other types of agate of a quality previously unequalled in Scottish material, comprising stones up to about 250mm across with deep inky blue coloration. It would be nearly one hundred years before deposits of a similar, or arguably better, quality were discovered at Ardownie and Ethiebeaton quarries near Dundee. Every Scottish agate collector has his own theory as to where the Blue Hole was. There are certainly two possible sites that could lay claim to the title having produced examples of similar type to those collected in the nineteenth century. However due to their location it is unlikely that collecting from these sites will ever be possible again in the future?

 

Some examples of agates from the "Blue Hole" originally collected by Matthew F. Heddle and now in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
By permission of the Trustees of the National Museum of Scotland

 

Further down the coast from Usan, past the aptly named “Elephant Rock”, another well known landmark is Boddin Point, until recently the site of extensive beach deposits of large boldly coloured and marked Jasper nodules, released from the rock as a by-product of nineteenth century lime production nearby. Generations of lapidaries were aware of Boddin as a reliable source of quality material. In recent years despite the quantities of nodules involved wholesale collecting by commercial interests, probably mainly for ornamental garden features, has led to virtually all of these deposits being removed. It is probably because of this type of activity that most collectors are not prepared to divulge the precise location of their most productive sites.

 

South of Boddin lie the windswept shores of Lunan Bay, guarded at the northern end by the ruins of Red Castle, originally built in the twelfth century by King William the First of Scotland to deter Viking raiders. In summer the shores of the bay usually comprise extensive reaches of golden sand, occasionally interspersed with small patches of shingle and on calm days these provide a wonderful beach location. With wind however, the fine sand grains rise into the air in a stinging assault. In winter storms often remove some of the sand cover and reveal more extensive shingle beds. Within these beds, very water worn agates can occasionally be found, suggesting a long history of tumbling along the sandy seabed after release from an undersea source.

 

 

Lunan Bay