Each one like a national treasure, Scotland’s ancient lochs boast timeless appeal – but for my partner and I, it’s the treasures underneath the surface we’re hunting.

Our small home in Highland Perthshire is brimming with antique glass bottles and ceramics, all of which we have recovered from the beds of Scottish lochs.

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This very niche hobby we like to call ‘loch larking’ started three years ago, during lockdown. With more time on our hands and a host of lochs on our doorstep we tentatively started to explore beneath the surface. Our wild swims turned to snorkelling and then onto cleaning out the litter in our lochs. Amongst the modern rubbish and camping detritus we discovered much older artefacts, some with incredible stories to tell.

Hunting glass bottles from the Victorian and Edwardian era became our main pursuit. Every bottle we found and researched gave us a fascinating glimpse into the past. It's an amazing feeling to be the first people to handle these objects in 150-plus years. Our most common finds include aerated water, whisky, wine, ink, castor oil, soups, sauces, champagne and many more indulgent delights.

The Herald: Jamie with a vintage Leith Whisky bottleJamie with a vintage Leith Whisky bottle (Image: Erin McDermott)

But that’s not all we find. On our most recent search, we discovered a WW2 handgun hidden in the shallows. Details on the side identified it as a Colt Commando revolver, and this was confirmed by the specialist firearms officers who took it off our hands to make sure it couldn’t be used again. Other unusual finds include sunken boats, huge fallen trees, inquisitive pike, and antique ceramics.

The Herald: Colt Commando revolverColt Commando revolver (Image: Erin McDermott)

And as it turns out, we’re not the only ones addicted to adventure archaeology. After some pressure from our Instagram followers and fellow ‘treasure’ hunters, we got ourselves a GoPro and began recording our underwater exploits. Incredibly, our ‘Bottles from the Deep’ YouTube channel attracted over four thousand subscribers after less than a month.

That was when we realised the sheer size of the global community who were desperate for us to keep exploring the icy loch waters. Alongside us ‘loch larkers’ there are mudlarkers, metal detectorists, river waders, magnet fishers, and everyone is united by a passion for discovering lost history.

It still amazes us how enthusiastic people are about the things we find that have been sitting on the bottom of a loch for over a century. Americans in particular tend to be interested and amazed in seeing what our lochs look like under the surface.

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Some things we find are difficult to identify or date, but the community around this interest are so knowledgeable and encouraging that they freely share their expertise. Some will even send us items that match things we have found, for instance we brought up this beautiful antique stoneware jar and a Thames mudlarker from London who follows us kindly sent us a lid that fit it perfectly.

We’re fortunate to live rurally where we have access to a number of fairly quiet lochs and we’re also very lucky that a lot of our friends equally like to do uncomfortable outdoor activities.

Although if we do frequent a more popular loch, it’s not uncommon for people to gawk as we don our wetsuits, boots, gloves, hood, snorkel, flippers, weighted belt, and knife (for emergencies).

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And if you’re wondering how valuable these items are, well the truth is that most aren’t worth much. We also haven’t sold anything as yet, despite collecting hundreds of antique bottles. Most of our bottles were made in Scotland and England in the Victorian era, however some hail from as far afield as France, Italy or even Croatia.

Another joy of this hobby is that it opens up a lot of hidden or forgotten history. Cleaning and researching our finds is another element we enjoy. On one dive we unearthed five 1880s Coca Mariani bottles, which was cocaine laced wine. We had no idea this was such a mainstream product. Cocaine infused wine was said to be popular with many public figures including Queen Victoria, Pope Leo XIII – whose image was often used to advertise the product.

The Herald: 1880s Coca Mariani bottles1880s Coca Mariani bottles (Image: Erin McDermott)

For us, there’s still a huge rush when we see something lurking in the loch bed, especially when we know what it is…if we find a bottle that is quite rare, it’s an unbelievable feeling.

That’s what probably makes it addictive; the act of actually hunting for something and then finding it half buried beneath sand or sediment. We could be searching for up to an hour before we find anything, but at other times the loch beds are littered with too much for us to carry in one day.

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There’s always a great buzz after going for a swim, even if we don’t find much, it still feels like a day well spent. Underwater you feel at total peace, weightless, silent, and completely separate from the hubbub of modern living. The joy of exploring a ruined medieval castle or iron age crannog in the loch instils a childlike sense of wonder and escapism.

We love to share our finds and adventures via YouTube and Instagram and plan to organise an exhibition showcasing some of our favourite treasures and the stories behind them.