A collection of photographs and geologic impressions from my travels across the Highlands of Scotland
Isle of Skye. Assynt. Loch Ness. Cairngorms. Ben Nevis
I am very fond of the Scottish landscape with its unique ancestral, wet and geologically rough character. The Highlands of Scotland have been the playground not just for my mountaineering or trekking escapades but also for my academic field-trips where I learned the geologic and geographic history of this fascinating isle and the whole planet. My first trip to the Scottish Highlands marked the start of a beautiful journey of geographic exploration, one that would take me through the splendour of the any lochs, glens, forests and castles of Scotland.
So much I enjoyed learning about the geology of Scotland that I have to share with you a few thoughts about its fascinating geologic history. Colliding continents, erupting volcanoes and moving ice sheets are some of the ways in which the diversity of Scotland’s natural landscape was created. In the distant geological past, Scotland travelled towards the South Pole and wandered the southern hemisphere, before drifting to its present latitude. In the process it passed through all the Earth’s climatic zones. The landmass which we now call Scotland carried an ever-changing cargo of plants and animals, many of them now extinct. For its size, Scotland has the most varied geology and natural landscape of any country on the planet. The creation of this natural landscape is a fascinating story, barely believable in part and certainly never dull.
The Father of Geology
Scotland gave the study of geology to the world. Dr James Hutton (1726 -1797), who lived and worked in Edinburgh during the period of the Scottish Enlightenment, was the first to challenge the conventional view of the age of the Earth. Interpretation of the scriptures by Archbishop Usher in 1658 gave a precise figure of 4,004 years BC and anyone who challenged this view was regarded as a dangerous heretic. Hutton made many geological observations during his extensive travels in Britain and across Europe.
He considered that the “vast proportion of present rocks are composed of more ancient formations”; in other words, sedimentary rocks, such as sandstones and shales, are the product of older strata which have been ‘recycled’. Hutton thought that this continuous recycling process took place in long-disappeared oceans over aeons of geological time, as sediments were carried to the sea by rivers. And so it proved. In these processes, Hutton could see “no vestige of a beginning and no prospect of an end”. So began his challenge to the established view of the age of the Earth. We now reliably estimate the age of the Earth as around 4,500 million years. Publication of his Theory of the Earth in 1788 secured for James Hutton enduring recognition as the father of modern geology and an important place in the annals of the history of science.
Scotland also had a number of pioneers in glaciation, stimulated no doubt by the visit to Scotland of Louis Agassiz, the eminent Swiss glaciologist, in 1840. One was T. F. Jamieson, an estate factor from Ellon. He studied the deposits of the Ice Age in Scotland during the mid nineteenth century. He was the first to recognise that the land mass was weighed down by the thickness of ice which accumulated during the Ice Age and that it rose again when the ice melted.