Janis Linford
Janis Linford
Janis Linford

Fun facts about Seaweed Cutting!

Seaweed has formed part of the diet of Scottish coastal dwellers for over 4000 years. Dulse, a red seaweed was traditionally eaten with oatmeal in a thick broth or served boiled and tossed in butter.

Between 1790-1820, seaweed supplemented the diets of the poor who were often forced towards the coast by wealthy landowners who preferred to gain a greater profit by grazing sheep.

Kelp and other seaweeds were also used as fertilizers for vegetable cultivation. After a storm, they were collected from the shore and dug directly into the soil. The cutting season only lasted four months during the summer, and the kelp was all collected by hand. It was loaded into horse-drawn carts and brought up from the shore by way of special paths known as “wrack roads”.

Seaweed could also be burnt to produce an alkaline ash, containing soda and potash. The weed was burnt in round, shore kilns and there were many all along the coast of Scotland. During the Napoleonic wars, the price of the ash rose substantially as Spanish ash, known as “Barilla Soda”, wasn’t available. The ash was used for soap-making and glass-making and many merchants made their fortunes from a number of factories, primarily in Glasgow. Once the Battle of Waterloo was over in 1815,  minerals were once again imported from other countries and so the price of ash fell again. Thereafter, seaweed manufacture died off, creating more poverty for the factory workers.

In my novel, An Unwilling Spy, I gave Adeline the ability to collect seaweed from seaweed beds located in Cornwall. The southern coast wasn’t the industry it was in Scotland, but people still collected it for their own use, particularly as a fertilizer and fuel source.

Categories: Research & Writing