WHEN COPPER WAS MINED AT KAIM DAM
by DEREK PARKER
THE entrance to Renfrewshire's largest copper mine occupies a dramatic setting in a deep glen in the hills above Lochwinnoch.
It's marked by a black hole gouged from a wooded hillside overlooking the Kaim Burn. The sepulchral spot is wild and gloomy with a claustrophobic atmosphere darkened by the raging of a cascading waterfall at the head of a wooded ravine.
Inside the tunnel there's an overwhelming aura of melancholy. The walls are four feet wide and the arched roof looms just a few inches above head height. The stone floor oozes with muddy water which squelches beneath one's feet. The passage extends for about 100 yards into the tree-mantled hillside far below the ground.
The Kaim Mine was functional between 1848 and 1878 when it shut down following the collapse of the City of Glasgow Banking Company. Its maximum tonnage was around 800 in 1861.
Much of the copper was transported to Swansea in South Wales where it was sold for between £5.30 and £9.50 per ton. The main vein extended for 600 yards and was worked by two companies – Lochwinnoch Consols at East Kaim and the West Kaim Copper Mining Company at West Kaim.
In addition to the hillside tunnel – known as an adit – there were several deep shafts about 200 feet deep, which dropped dizzily into the mine from the ground above.
All have now been sealed shut but the remains of a 19th century furnace can still be seen among the trees where copper metal was separated from the mineral ore. Large heaps of black shiny rock thrown up by the workings still litter the site of the sylvan smelter.
The Victorian miners were not the first to quarry copper at the Kaim. Around 500BC, copper deposits were being excavated by the Bronze Age inhabitants of the neighbourhood. They alloyed the copper with tin to manufacture bronze items like weapons, agricultural implements and domestic tools.
These new utensils marked a huge step in human history in the Lochwinnoch area and heralded the arrival of the Bronze Age in Renfrewshire.
Deep within the mine, one experiences a mystic aura of peace and tranquillity. It's a rocky reminder that sages and mystics of earlier ages spent several days sealed up alone in deep caverns in the quest for self-knowledge.
The ritual entombment was regarded as the return of the candidate for the prehistoric priesthood into the womb of the Earth who was his Mother.
There, in the awesome stillness and silence, communing with his own thoughts and feelings, he died so his old existence was born anew.
His emergence from the tenebrous tomb after the stipulated time was his second birth. If he survived spiritually enriched and enlightened, he was accepted into the priesthood of the Mother Goddess.
It's likely that the copper mine at Kaim Burn was used for this purpose – especially as there's archaeological evidence of Bronze Age presence at burial mounds as well as homesteads and hut circles in the countryside around the melancholic mine.
Today the Kaim Mines lie abandoned in their woodland glen – but they are stony reminders of brave men who toiled there with picks and shovels more than 100 years ago to feed, clothe and house their families.
And for modern mystics searching for their higher selves and a deeper meaning to their lives in a materialistic world, the centuries-old mines remind us that, when our goals are attained, we shall emerge from spiritual darkness into light and self-knowledge.
NOTE: Old mines like the workings at Kaim are dangerous and MUST not be entered. Although the writer of this article explored the mines 25 years ago, he was equipped with specialised protection gear and working under the guidance of a highly-qualified mining engineer and pot-holer.
Derek Parker worked as a countryside ranger at Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park, Lochwinnoch, from 1985 to 1999.