Argyll and the Islands


A Landscape Fashioned by Geology

By David Stephenson and John Merritt

Back in 1994, Scottish Natural Heritage, together with the British Geological Survey, published a guidebook entitled Cairngorms: A landscape fashioned by geology. With the publication of Argyll and the Islands: A landscape fashioned by geology, it has now extended this excellent series to 20 such guides.

Each follows the same sort of format – they are simple guides with lovely pictures that display the landscape in all its Caledonian glory, together with diagrams explaining the relationship between this geomorphology and the geology beneath.

These guides are rather like holiday guides, the sort one finds in tourist information centres. But that is not a criticism. They inspire you to visit places and, at the same time, explain in simple (but not simplistic) ways the origins of the surrounding beauty, but in a form that can be read in an hour or two.

This guide is no different, but is perhaps slightly longer. It covers the area consisting of the Mull of Kintyre, the islands of Jura and Islay, and the mainland to the northeast. The geology and geological history is complex, but the pictures are glorious and diagrams informative, such that my (then) nine-year-old son could understand the complex idea of a geological unconformity from the photograph and accompanying diagram of the unconformity at Kerrara.

It follows a broadly chronological order, starting way back in the Precambrian and then taking the reader through geological time to the relatively more recent ice age and to the present. In addition to linking the landscape to the geology, it then successfully links the landscape to the history of local people.

For example, there are lovely aerial photographs and explanations showing that many of the roads, inevitably following the coast to avoid the mountains, are built along raised beaches. This is the result of the uplift (or isostatic rebound) of the land after the melting of the huge weight of ice present during the ice age.

The authors (both field geologists with extensive experience of working in Scotland) have done an excellent job. I would recommend this to anyone planning to visit the area or who has already done so. And I would recommend it to anyone who likes geology and beautiful pictures. Surely, as if evidence was needed, this shows that you cannot have beautiful landscapes without beautiful geology.

Argyll and the Islands: A Landscape Fashioned by Geology, by David Stephenson and John Merritt, Scottish Natural Heritage and British Geological Survey, Perth (2010), 61 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-18-53976-08-7

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