Location: Skye
gaelic language and placenames

Skye's diatomite industry

Loch Cuithir is on the east side of Trotternish near the crofting village of Lealt. The loch is situated on the moorland under Sgùrr a’ Mhadaidh Ruaidh. Today this area is very peaceful and quiet but it wasn’t always like that. The diatomite industry started here in the final year of the 19th Century.

A diatom is a tiny plant that lives in water. The diatomite came from the shells of diatoms that were living millions of years ago. Through time, they form a soft white stone that is full of silica. This was used, for example, to absorb water and for heat insulation. The diatomite was below the peat and pumps had to be used to remove water.

A railway was built on three miles of moorland to take the diatomite between Loch Cuithir and the shore. The diatomite was dried in a building near the shore and ground into a powder. Up to fifty people worked at Lealt itself. On certain days the diatomite was then taken out to a ship in small boats. On those days up to eighty people were employed, between the diatomite workers and the shipping staff.

The industry stopped at the start of the First World War. But it started anew in the fifties. A road was built to the loch. A new factory was built in Uig, on the other side of Trotternish. Lorries were taking wet diatomite between Loch Cuithir and Uig. That wasn’t particularly successful. And the industry completely ceased at the start of the sixties.

More information on visiting the area can be found here.