By Brian Upton
I remember reading and enjoying Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland when the first edition came out many years ago. I am also a keen hillwalker and have stood on top of many of the Scottish mountains referred to in the text. In fact, I particularly enjoyed climbing Ben More on the island of Mull, which I remember reading was the last volcano in northwest Europe.
Whether or not that is strictly correct, it was a reminder of how relatively (in geological terms) recent was the appearance of the North Atlantic, as the North American plate began to split from the Eurasian one. And how this gave rise to tremendous volcanism in the northwest of Scotland. However, some of Scotland’s volcanic geology of that country goes back much earlier in time, for example, the mountains of Glencoe (I’ve climbed the wonderful Bidean nam Bian as well) dates back to the Old Red Sandstone continent, and much of it is Precambrian in age.
In this context, I am delighted to see that a fully revised and updated edition of the book was produced a while ago, which is completely redesigned and includes new full colour illustrations and photos. It covers the entire igneous history of Scotland, and speculates about the climate, geography and ecology of the ancient landscapes, where these Scottish volcanoes wreaked their havoc.
In particular, it covers the specifics of volcanoes and a brief geological history of Scotland, and (going backwards in time) then applies these to the Hebridean Palaeocene fissure and shelf volcanism, and Upper Carboniferous and Permian volcanoes. It also covers Lower Carboniferous volcanoes, the volcanoes of the Old Red Sandstone continent and the Iapetus Ocean, and those ancient ones existing during the Precambrian. It also provides a brief bibliography for readers to follow up on the interest the book will generate.
As I said, I really enjoyed reading this book. However, I actually don’t think it is Brian Upton’s best. I give that accolade to Death of an Ocean: A Geological Borders Ballad, which he wrote with Euan Clarkson. I most certainly also recommend that one about the geology of the closure of the Iapetus Ocean in Scotland.
Brian Upton is professor emeritus of petrology at the University of Edinburgh.
Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland (2nd edition), by Brian Upton, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh, London (2015), 248 pages (hardback), ISBN: 978-17-80460-56-7