Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland


Scotland's mountains and glens retain the secrets of the long and frequently violent geological history that has gone into their making. Volcanoes have played a major role in the creation of Scotland and while the youngest, a mere sixty million years old, were responsible for much of the scenic splendour of the Inner Hebrides, the rocks composing many of the famous Scottish landforms as, for example, those of Glencoe and the Edinburgh district are also the direct result of volcanism.

Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland explores back in time from the most recent examples to volcanoes of the obscure Precambrian times which left their signature in the ancient rocks of the far north-west. Geographically the book ranges across all of Scotland from Shetland to the Borders. Reflecting current research into Scotland's geology, the author also speculates as to the climate, geography and ecology of the long-gone landscapes in which the volcanoes of differing ages were created and destroyed.

The book is extensively illustrated with maps, sketches, cross-sections and photographs and relates what can currently be seen in the worn-down remains of Scotland's old volcanoes to active analogues around the world. This book vividly brings life and meaning to what the layman would otherwise regard as cold and incomprehensible rocks.


There have been so many times during my geological travels in Scotland when I have met farmers, fishermen, tourists and others who have been curious about what I was doing and who have asked me to explain, in simple terms, the origin of the rocks and landscape features around them. Having spent a professional lifetime publishing papers for scientific readership as well as teaching, almost exclusively, to geology students in one of Scotland’s oldest universities, I felt it time to attempt to write a reasonably non-technical explanation for the general public. My own work, which has been devoted to volcanology and igneous petrology over the past 55 years, has afforded me the privilege of working in areas of active or recent volcanism as far apart as Iceland, East Africa, the western Indian Ocean and the United States.

Whilst Scotland may lack active volcanoes, its landscape is crowded with the rocky outcrops providing evidence of volcanoes that erupted in bygone ages. Scotland is probably more richly endowed with the relics of volcanic eruptions than any other tract of comparable area on the face of the Earth. These cover a time span from nearly 3000 million years to the relatively recent past at around 60 million years (or as recently shown, to around 46 million years). the volcanic products that contribute to its geology can be shown to represent just about every type of volcano known. Many of its well-known topographic features represent the root zones of volcanoes, the upper parts of which have been shaved off by erosion. This is true for some of the well-known topographic features in central Scotland such as Dumbarton Rock near Glasgow and Castle Rock, Edinburgh, as well as for many of the most scenic parts of the Hebrides and western Highlands. in general, the rocks from which the Scottish landscape has been sculpted record a long and complex history of events in which volcanism has played a major role.

Had this account been intended as a scientific treatise it would be littered with references to relevant works and there would be a long listing of all those publications that I have consulted. But it is not, and at the end I refer only to a selection of sources that provide a lead to those readers looking for more detailed information. in writing this book I have helped myself very freely to material from the published literature. I am conscious of the huge debt of gratitude I owe to all who have taught me about the igneous rocks of Scotland over the past sixty plus years. Without the . . .

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