Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see 'About Listed Buildings' below for more information. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

Brora Harbour, Harbour Road, BroraLB52609

Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Date Added
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NC 90800 3900
290800, 903900


Dating from 1813-14 and designed by William Hughes, Brora Harbour is a compact tidal harbour at the mouth of the River Brora in Sutherland. It has two quays on the south shore of the river and the roughly rectangular basin is enclosed to the north by an artificial bank, connecting the shore to a small island, with vegetation growing on top.

The south and west harbour walls are constructed in coursed and dressed stone blocks and there are steps cut into the harbour wall at the western and eastern ends. The dockside quay is approximately 10 courses high and gradually decreases in height as the harbour wall curves around the western extent of the basin. The harbour walls are slightly battered. There are some iron mooring rings and remnants of timber posts set in concrete and set back from the harbour edge. Galvanised metal mooring rails and ladders, dating from the 20th and 21st century, are bolted into the top of the harbour walls. The landward side of the harbour is a tarmacked public road. There is a launching slip to the west of the artificial island, dating from the early to mid-20th century (it is first shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1970).

Historical development

Coal mining and salt panning began in Brora in the late 1500s but were abandoned by 1630. These industries resumed in the mid to late-18th century and by the early-19th century improvement schemes were rolled out across the Sutherland estates by Elizabeth, Countess (later Duchess-Countess) of Sutherland (1765-1839) and her husband, the Marquis of Stafford (later the Duke of Sutherland) (Gifford, p.559).

The Statistical Account of Scotland of 1794 describes an earlier harbour at Brora as "a tolerable harbour for boats and small ships" at the mouth of the river Brora which imported goods from London and Aberdeen and exported linen yarn from imported lint and kelp grown on the shores of Brora and the neighbouring parishes of Loth and Golspie (p.301).

In 1811 a mining engineer named William Hughes was employed to sink a 76m shaft into the coal seam. A coal mine and a brick and tile works opened to the west of the Brora in 1813 and improved saltpans were constructed to the east by the mouth of the river (Gifford, p.559).

Designed by William Hughes, Brora Harbour was modernised in 1813-14 at the mouth of the river to export coal, salt, quarried stone, bricks, whisky from the newly opened Clynelish Distillery, and later herring and other white fish. The tidal harbour is enclosed to the north by an artificial bank joining the shore to small island (Gifford, p.560). Warehouses, curing yard and an icehouse (early-19th century) were also constructed around the harbour. The mine and brickworks were connected to the harbour and saltpans by a horse-drawn railway (Gifford, pp.62 and 559; New Statistical Account of Scotland, p.152). Plans dated 1811 and 1820 show a railway line running alongside the harbour and crossing Brora Bridge, connecting the coal mine and brickworks to the harbour. The village of Brora was further developed around this time and 'Brora New Town' was laid out in 1814 on a gridiron plan.

The saltpans produced salt for fish-curing, which was shipped to the larger Moray Firth ports during the height of the salmon, and later the herring fishing industry. The coal mine, saltpans and brickworks were closed by 1828. This was partly due to the poor quality of the coal and partly the end of the import tax on salt, reducing the need for locally produced salt (GUARD, p.24). The Ordnance Survey Name Book of 1871-75 describes the harbour as small and compact and notes it (and the village of Brora) was the property of the Duke of Sutherland (OS1/33/2/49).

The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1872 shows the harbour with two quay walls along its southern extent and a series of mooring posts (these have been removed and replaced by modern mooring rings and rails). An icehouse (dating from around 1820) is shown to the west of the harbour and a rectangular plan building enclosed by a boundary wall. The 2nd Edition map of 1904 shows little alteration to the harbour area beyond a change in the shape of the island extending from the north harbour wall.

A report from 1847 describes the need for the clearing of mud from the channel and harbour and the removal or large rocks and stones at the mouth of the river (Tidal Harbours Commission, p.359). An 1855 survey of the harbour by David and Thomas Stevenson shows proposed excavation works to the basin and harbour entrance due to the build-up of silt. It is not known to what extent these excavations took place, however historic newspapers dating from the early to mid-20th century record the need for urgent dredging and deepening of the harbour because boats were getting stuck (for example, Northern Times and The Scotsman).

The coal mine reopened and the brick industry resumed in 1872 which reinvigorated the economy of Brora, however the arrival of the railway in 1871 meant transportation by rail was preferable than by sea, and harbour exports subsequently declined from the mid-19th century onwards. Ownership of the harbour changed from the Duke of Sutherland to the local authority sometime in the mid-20th century. The harbour is now used for leisure craft and lobster fishing (Ports and Harbours).

Statement of Special Interest

Brora Harbour meets the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

  • It is a good representative example of a small, early-19th century, drystone harbour.
  • It is minimally altered and contains much of its early-19th century fabric.
  • The harbour forms part of an important group of historic structures relating to the coal mining and fishing industries of Brora.

Architectural interest:


Brora Harbour is a modest tidal harbour built as part of large-scale improvement works by the Sutherland Estate in 1813-14. The early-19th century saw the improvement of many of Scotland's harbours, largely as a result of advances in both agricultural and industrial production from the second half of the 18th century (Moore, p.97).

Many Scottish landowners invested heavily in local harbour provision to facilitate exports of coal and other goods from their estates. In some cases, small communities like Golspie or Lochgilphead, still used a simple stone jetty or landing place which was adequate for shipping local goods (Moore, pp.98-101). The design of Brora Harbour, though small, indicates it was built for the export of a sizeable local coal industry, and later a fishing industry, as indicated by the icehouse and former fish curing yard to the west of the harbour. It was also common, even in small communities, for railway lines to connect local industry down to the quayside. A tramway is shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1904, however no rail infrastructure now appears to survive (2022).

The drystone construction of the harbour at Brora is, by design, free draining. Most vernacular harbours from medieval times to the early-19th century were constructed in un-bonded, coarse rubble (SCARF). The lack of mortar or pointing means any water that penetrates the wall can easily flow out without getting trapped and causing a build-up of pressure behind the walls. The use of larger stones in the harbour walls further helps the dissipation of energy from the waves (Warren, McCombie and Donohue, p.3).

The civil engineering profession was rapidly developing to meet the increasing demand for improved transport facilities and prominent engineers such as Thomas Telford and John Rennie were in demand (Moore, pp. 97-98). William Hughes was a mining engineer employed by the Sutherland estate from around 1810. He was tasked with exploration of the coal seam and sunk a new shaft. Hughes also worked on the surrounding infrastructure, including the construction of the harbour and railway line between the mine and the harbour (History Links Dornoch).

The overall layout of Brora Harbour is typical of an early-19th century harbour. It includes a roughly U-shaped inlet with an elongated artificial island or breakwater along the northern extent of the basin. The harbour walls gradually decrease in height as the basin curves from the dockside quay northwards.

While Brora Harbour is of a standard design and style for its early-19th century date, it does survive as a relatively unaltered and representative example of a small drystone harbour that was constructed for the local economy.


Brora Harbour is a traditionally constructed maritime structure that is prominent in the landscape, close to the mouth of the River Brora. It forms part of a group of historically related buildings linked to heavy industry and the fishing industry, including an icehouse (listed at category C, LB573) and a walled enclosure possibly relating to a former herring curing yard or related fishing structure.

The addition of 20th century housing and a former council yard on the south side of Harbour Road has changed minimally the immediate setting of the harbour. A concrete slipway was added sometime between 1904 and 1970, between the west harbour wall and the icehouse, and the buildings east of the icehouse were replaced by a roughly square plan building sometime before 1970 (this building is the subject of development proposals, as outlined in section 2.2 above). Overall, these later additions surrounding the harbour are minimal and do not adversely affect the setting of the harbour itself which is relatively early in date and largely unaltered in terms of its plan form and construction.

Historic interest:

Age and rarity

Harbours and landing points can be found all along Scotland's coastline and, as such, they are not rare building types. Those that are early in date and contain a significant amount of early fabric may be of interest for listing. There are a number of harbours along the east coast of Sutherland and Caithness, including the harbours at Wick (1803-11), Helmsdale (1818) and Keiss (1831) and later-19th century harbours at Dunbeath (1892) and Lybster (1849, rebuilt 1882), a number of which have related icehouses close by.

Many harbours were improved or constructed in the early-19th century to serve both large and small communities. Before the arrival of the railways and transport by road, the need for improved port and harbour provision was considered a key tool for economic development in Scotland, and the United Kingdom (Moore, p.97). Brora Harbour was built or improved primarily for coal exporting, as well as the export of salt, bricks and fish, particularly herring and salmon to Aberdeen and London (Highland Historic Environment Record; Statistical Account of Scotland).

The 19th century harbour survives relatively unaltered and along with the icehouse nearby it forms part of a historically related group of maritime structures.

Social historical interest

Social historical interest is the way a building contributes to our understanding of how people lived in the past, and how our social and economic history is shown in a building and/or in its setting.

Coastal ports and harbours are an important part of Scotland's economy. Large and small harbours are tangible reminders of the local economic and social history of an area.

The current Brora Harbour was built in 1813-14 to import and export raw materials and finished products relating to the local coal mining, salt-panning and brickwork industries. The survival of the icehouse, west of the harbour, also shows the importance of fishing to the local area, intertwining salt production with storage and the curing of fish for transport firstly by sea, and later by rail.

The harbour was owned by and funded by the Marquis of Stafford (later the Dukes of Sutherland). During the Clearances, Brora Harbour was one (of many) departure points in Sutherland for emigrants leaving Brora and the surrounding areas for destinations such as New Zealand (National Mining Museum).

Association with people or events of national importance

There is no association with a person or event of national importance.



Canmore: CANMORE ID 6979


Unknown author (1811-13) Plan of the Town and Harbour of Brora, at

Unknown author (1820) Plan of allotments in the Parish of Clyne, at

Stevenson, D. & T (1855) Survey of Brora Harbour Shewing the Improvements Referred to in the Report to His Grace the Duke of Sutherland, at

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1872, published 1873) Sutherland CVI.2 (Clyne). 25 inches to the miles. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (revised 1904, published 1906) Sutherland CVI.2. 25 inches to the miles. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1970, published 1971) NC9003-NC9103. 25 inches to the mile. Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Printed Sources

Gifford, J. (1992) The Buildings of Scotland: Highlands and Islands. London: Penguin, pp.61-62, 559-60.

Moore, K. L. (2009) Maritime Scotland, 1800-1914 in Veitch, E. (ed.) Scottish Life and Society: Transport and Communications. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, pp.97-101.

New Statistical Accounts of Scotland (1845) Clyne, County of Sutherland, Vol. 15, p.152.

Statistical Accounts of Scotland (1794) Clyne, County of Sutherland, Vol. 10, p.301.

The Northern Times (04 June 1903) Improvement of Brora Harbour, p.5.

The Scotsman (10 October 1938) Brora Harbour, p.7.

Tidal Harbours Commission (1847) Appendix C to Second Report of The Commissioners with Supplement and Index. London: HMSO, p.359.

Online Sources

Graham, A. and Gordon, J. (1988) Old Harbours in Northern and Western Scotland in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 117, pp.265-352, at [accessed 13/06/2022].

GUARD [Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division] (2010) East Sutherland Coastal Zone Assessment Survey, at [accessed 09/06/2022].

Highland Historic Environment Record. MHG9764 – Brora Harbour, at [accessed 15/06/2022].

History Links Dornoch. The Development of a Coalmine at Brora, at [accessed 09/06/2022].

National Mining Museum Scotland. Coalface Newsletter, October 2015, at [accessed 15/06/2022].

Ordnance Survey Name Book (1871-75) Sutherland volume 2, OS1/33/2/49, p.49, at [accessed 08/06/2022].

Ports and Harbours of the UK. Brora, at [accessed 08/06/2022].

SCARF. Research based conservation of harbours, at [accessed 08/06/2022].

The Highland Council Planning Portal, at [accessed 08/06/2022].

Warren, L., McCombie, P., and Donohue, S. (2013) 'The Sustainability and Assessment of Drystone Retaining Walls' in Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering, pp.1-4, at [accessed 13/06/2022].

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

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The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

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Printed: 22/04/2024 00:37