Steven Lamb's Salt Stories
Approaching along the coastline on Saltpans Road, rising high like a monolith, the Blackthorn Salt Tower stands defiantly looking out across the Firth of Clyde. So appropriately positioned, a manifestation of the terroir it bridges; standing between land and sea as if it has been there for centuries. From a distance the wooden framed structure looks solid, impermeable and it is difficult to gauge its size and proportions. The unique shape and glistening darkness of the tower is imposing but natural. It isn’t until you stand at the foot of the tower that you really appreciate the scale and realise that it is alive and organic.
Image by Jane Barlow via PA Images
The solidity of the tower softens in close up as it reveals the darkness comes from hundreds and thousands of intricately woven black thorn branches, stacked and slanting just off the horizontal; deliberately designed to direct droplets of clear, clean Ayrshire sea water into a huge flat stone collecting pan beneath. The shimmering light from the descending droplets sent out to both land and sea like a beacon. The external branch ends clipped and trimmed in a tactile pleasing even facia.
Witnessing this living sculpture from the outside would be enough but it has an inner beauty. A working, graceful space that reveals the heart and soul of the Blackthorn Tower. A place that combines quality, simplicity and the pull of gravity. The wooden skeleton of the tower with a central staircase spine has both functionality and aesthetic. The gentle sound of sea water trickling through the branches of blackthorn create an immersive soundscape. Rhythmic and hypnotic. Ascending the staircase and up through a bolted trap door leading to a platform at the top of the tower and back outside with a breath taking, infinite view out to Arran and beyond.
The sea water that is pumped to the top of the tower is then gently released back down via hand turned taps into a wooden gully that surrounds the towers upper edge and then guides it down through the blackthorn maze. A small adjustment of each pegged tap ensures the correct flow of seawater. Like fine tuning a huge harp which allows the water to concentrate eventually at the bottom. The final product of this symphony is an exceptionally noteworthy gourmet UK sea salt.
In a perfect balance of science and sorcery, the water is warmed and allowed to crust and form. Each salt crystal, an inverted perfect pyramid containing the unadulterated mineral of the sea and blackthorn forms and sinks before being harvested by hand. Individual and beautiful the crystals would not look out of place in a Hatton Garden jeweller’s shop window. Opaque and significant with a slow dissolve on the tongue, Blackthorn salt, created by nature, the elements, passion and the invisible ingredient of time using historical innovation and modern sustainability surpasses every other gourmet sea salt I have tasted. A product this good, born directly from the landscape it occupies, fixed in the longitude and latitude as well as the topography of this pocket of Scotland, will not be an easy secret to keep.
It will, I predict adorn many kitchens far away from Ayr and with that in mind, the packaging which is beautifully designed and immediately recognisable, is completely compostable. Everything eventually returns to the earth but only exceptionally good salt comes from the sea surrounding the Blackthorn Tower. As unique in its production as it is in flavour and quality.