One of the most interesting things I’ve done in 2015, was to head off in a proper search for the fabled Priory Tunnel, a long standing myth that Bothwell Castle once used to be connected to Blantyre Priory.
I’ve previously written about my theory that the 1947 collapse of the Priory Colliery Bing into the Clyde, which may have covered up a culvert or tunnel, that allegedly the aged population of Blantyre used to play in before that date.
However, speculation turned into real excitement and adventure in August 2015 when I was contacted by 77 year old Patrick McAleenan, an ex Blantyre man living in South Africa. Patrick was on holiday in Blantyre and offered to take me to the exact spot of the tunnel. An offer I couldn’t refuse! When I said, “are you sure?” knowing how difficult it would be to get through the Priory woods, Patrick answered, “I’ve already been down there twice since coming back to Blantyre this month!“
Assured it was in a location away from the Priory (which is listed building) and knowing the dig would cause no disruption to our most ancient site, I absolutely agreed to go with Patrick and see if we could jointly rediscover the tunnel. So, armed with a shovel, Patrick, myself and friend Alex Rochead set off at the end of August 2015 down to the Priory plantations. Patrick recalled that in the 1940’s, miners had allegedly put a large stone slab over the entrance to the tunnel, to prevent children playing in it as the story goes, it was flooded. It all sounded too good to be true.
My fitness was put to the test and shamed as I watched Patrick jump over fallen trees, traverse ravines and head to the spot he remembered from this youth. “There!“, he said. “It’s behind all that soil!” To my dismay and horror, he pointed to a large mound of soil that I knew immediately would take weeks to dig out. And so our Indiana Jones type quest had started, for it did indeed take weeks and several visits back to the site.
Pictured is Alex and I taking turns to dig the mound of soil near the side of the Clyde. Patrick did some “supervision” and told us more about his theories of the tunnel. Our first visit turned up nothing even after several hours of digging. A couple of weeks later, by the time Patrick headed home to Africa, we had still only dug into the soil a few feet in. Each visit, the dig was hard. Backbreaking work, in roots and heavy soil. With Patrick away again, both Alex and I began to have doubts if anything was there at all, but we continued knowing how confident Patrick had been. After all, this was memory from 70 years ago! Later in September, with the weather getting colder and another weekend of digging, we hit something hard and our shovels and picks frantically scraped the surface soil off a tall, sloping stone.
There, in the exact spot pointed out to us, after we’d dug all the soil away, we had hit a heavy stone slab!! Approx. 1.5m high, by 800mm wide. Th exciting discovery needed another visit.
To be continued in part 2.
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