The Priory Tunnel, a Theory

You may have read or heard about the possibility of a Tunnel that used to run below the Blantyre Priory and Bothwell Castle. We eluded to this previously in our article where a Victorian Account detailed that a tunnel in the form of a vaulted passageway used to exist, but would suggest that even in Victorian times it had been lost.

I’ve long been skeptical of such a thing existing and on more than one occasion found myself at the Priory searching for it. Sometimes, treading dangerously over clifftops, i come to my senses and abandon the search for fear of actually falling in to the Clyde! However, i cannot ignore the numerous people, mostly elderly who have told stories of playing in the tunnel when they were kids. I always believed them but i was left thinking, it must have been a culvert , something to do with drainage or even a fissure in the rock itself. One of two people commented to me that the passage was vaulted and lined with stone, similar to sandstone. There is no current evidence to suggest this existed.

Another theory worth exploration is the fact that on the Blantyre side adjacent to the Priory were two large collieries. These towered over the local area in the 1880s and coal was mined extensively right up the Clyde itself. I’ve read online with interest of some similar enthusiastic people suggesting the tunnel may have been a walkway or passage for the miners themselves, perhaps to assist crossing to and fro to Bothwell. The Colliery immediately adjacent to the Priory was the Bothwell Castle Colliery. Miners would have to cross the river at the suspension bridge, way back upstream at the Blantyre Mill works at David Livingstone’s birthplace. There was then a long walk along a small path adjacent to the railway, then down on to the colliery. Then home again in the evening. The creation of a tunnel or shaft to make crossing the river easier, could have happened in the 1860’s onwards but again, no evidence of this being documented exists.

I’m left always returning to the numerous accounts that the tunnel did exist. Stories of people playing in the tunnel in the 1940s or 30s. Then, recently as i was researching something else, i stumbled upon an astonishing aerial photograph of 1944Blantyre Priory and Bothwell Castle, taken in 1944. That wartime photo is held in the National Library of Scotland and i managed to get a screen grab. Incredibly, and unknown to me previously, the colliery bing massively collapsed that year into the River Clyde. So great was the collapse, that it halved the passage of the river and had to be immediately excavated out for fear of blocking and flooding the adjacent banks. Whilst this is interesting enough, to my absolute amazement, the collapse appears to be in the exact region where those old accounts of a tunnel were. To the South of the Priory, upstream of it and directly opposite Bothwell Castle! Now, if this were the case, and something existed, perhaps the collapsed earthworks at the Priory itself covered or blocked all trace of it!? That’s certainly something to think about, but the existence of a tunnel is only going to be proved, when somebody goes to the time and cost expense of doing a sonar search on that stretch of the river.

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  1. My grandad showed me where some of the holes for this tunnel was he said he played there as a boy and there was deep pits running down the side of the donjon.he said they used to fling stones in them n would eventually hear the plop. After the war he went to germany in the occupying forces, comin back 11 years later to fund they had been filled with cement. He always maintained there was two possible exits. One ofcouse was the priory, the other a small cave directly across from the castle, that had a stone seat in it where monks probably sheltered, at the end, which has been blocked off there is a deep shalf.

    We went the constantly for years and built up a friendship with the people at the castle passing on what he knew to them

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