Norma Allan’s 51 Best Places Poems

After the ‘ Best Places to See Scotland’s Geology’ were chosen in 2017 by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum, I set about writing a poem for each site – a tall order! I took my facts from each of the 51 Site Pages, so inevitably I am using much of the language and information therein to create my poems.

Nevertheless, it allows the reader to view these special Places from a different angle. I hope I have succeeded in this aim and that you enjoy reading them.

Norma Allan, April 2020

Click on the poem title below to view the poem for each of the 51 Best Places

Unst, Shetland

Brownish rocks on a stony beach,
No lovely sand to warm your feet.
Here on the coast of Unst you walk…
Over layers of rock, once an ocean bed,
Which somehow escaped by upward thrust…
Through the upper mantle to form the top crust.

A perfect example of oceanic plates…
Of limestone and schistostic slates.
Nudging continental rocks behind.
This stony beach of ‘ophiolites’,
Rocks of gabbro and dunite, from deep within..
The Earth’s crust now lie on the shore.

Trample across this ancient sea floor,
Pushed up from within the earth’s deep core,
Travel down through the ocean crust…
Back in time – a geological must…
On the island of Unst in Shetland.

Eshaness Coast, Shetland

Eshaness, a blast from the past!
The remains of a long-extinct volcano..
On the Shetland Isles once land-locked and warm..
In the tropics, far from its present home.
Continental collisions then ensued,
Mountains thrown up and volcanoes spewed.

Now Eshaness lies on the wild Atlantic,
But still to be seen on the cliffs near the lighthouse,
The flank of the cone from a central core.
Below the crags lies agglomerate rock,
Fragments ripped out from the fiery vent..
Tumbled at speed to the shore below.

At Grind-o-da-Navir, along the coast,
Ash, dust and lava with violence expelled,
Crashed to the beaches far below.
Creating a flat and grassy terrain,
Covered in sea-pinks during the spring.
The power of the sea and its volcanic past,
Have ensured Eshaness is truly a blast!

St Ninian’s Tombolo, Shetland

Five hundred metres of golden sand,
A beautiful beach formed from shells,
Between St Ninian’s Isle and the Mainland.
A vast stretch of arc-like shape.
Sheer force of water has created this place,
Where the seas encroached to drown the landscape.

Since the Ice Age when the ice cap melted,
The land has not risen as expected,
Hills and valleys now concealed,
Only their tops are today revealed.

A tombolo formed from ocean-swells…
Manoeuvred the sand into this beautiful form,
Dumped and moulded by Atlantic storms.

Would St Ninian have walked this beach,
When Christianity he came to preach?
To the glory of the earth, I hear him say,
Kneeling on the golden sand to pray.

The Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Orkney, the islands north of Britannia,
Floating free from Caledonia.
Pounded by Atlantic and Pentland storms,
Who would have guessed this place was once warm?
Land-locked in deserts near the Equator,
To exist today in a temperate zone!

Here geology and man unite,
Inhabited since Neolithic times,
Whose people built homes using local sandstone,
Furniture, rooms and ceremonial tombs.

Settled and occupied 5000 years past,
Skara Brae, a village preserved..
Under the silt, the mud and the sand.
Uncovered by chance after raging storms.

Like a mirage it appeared before our eyes,
Standing Stones and Chambered Cairns,
Maeshowe, Brodgar and Stenness too,
Ancient settlements from long ago.

Today a land of music and song,
Of artists who paint and cruise ships who call,
A special place since pre-history,
The Orkneys still imbued with mystery.

North-west Hoy, Orkney

Old Man of Hoy one-legged you stand,
Holding firm through Atlantic blasts,
In prime position on the headland erect.
Once your body intact and strong,
Now half your limbs collapsed and gone.
Your Old Red Sandstone frame shows cracks,
Which may one day bring down your stack.
Close to Orkney, proud you rise…
Out of the sea before the cliffs,
Old Man of Hoy, please stand firm!
A pillar of strength on only one limb.

Achanarras Quarry, Caithness

A Fishy Tale!

Fish in quarries? How can this be?
Well, It’s all a matter of geology!
A wind-swept hill in cold Caithness,
Once a lake where the breezes caressed,
South of the equator, warm and dry.
In these gentle waters many fish would thrive.
Where are they now? Gone from sight…
But wait!…

Still here within the rocks and stones,
Preserved is the outline of their bones,
From a far-off age they lie there locked..
On these rocky shores where now we walk.
Long gone the lakes but the fish remain…
Dormant in the rocks to remind us again,
That the earth evolves and for ever changes.
From oceans and valleys to mountain ranges.

A Fishy Story indeed!

Smoo Cave to Am Fairaid, Durness

On the northerly shores of Scotland’s Durness,
Lies a gigantic cavern dark and mysterious,
A famous cave formed of limestone rock,
But beware and prepare yourself for a shock!

For there within lives a terrible dragon..
Who goes by the sinister name of Smoo.
Venture inside and you will hear him roar,
Like the pounding of waves crashing onto the shore.
Here is his home for millions of years,
And he rarely if ever deigns to appear.

But I am sure he was present at the birth of the cave..
Where once he lived by a shallow warm ocean..
All that time ago when forces in motion..
Moved his tropical world up to temperate zones,
The cold of Durness he could feel in his bones…
The chillier climate, the hostile terrain.
How he longs to return to the warmth again.

Smoo has witnessed the gradual drift..
Of tectonic plates which move and shift.
If only our dragon could speak and disclose..
The tale of these movements which have shaped our globe.
So take heed when you visit that Durness shore,
For Smoo may be waiting to tell us more!

Scourie Bay and Laxford

Lewisian Gneiss is all very nice and found in the north-west Highlands,
Its name derives from Lewis, the Hebridean island.
Scourie Bay and Laxford are particularly splendid..
Where the gneiss is seen so perfectly formed and colourfully

Formed three billion years ago – are you suitably impressed?
Hard and unforgiving, resistant to erosion,
Spread along the Sutherland coast, grey and bleak and striped,
Squeezed and stretched, pushed around and sometimes even folded,
Reformed and settled on this coast and gradually remoulded.

But the story is not over, for later on in time,
Bursting forth from deep in the earth came hot and boiling magma..
Which quickly turned to basalt and crystallised to dykes.
Dykes are igneous rock sheets – not the human kind!
Vertical bands forced through the gneiss, clearly to be seen.

But perhaps the most sensational sight is somewhat further north,
At Laxford, very close to the road is the ‘Multi-Coloured Rock Stop’,
It sounds like it’s a lot of fun, up there in the north-west Highlands,
A music bar for rock sessions? A cool art-deco tea-shop?

None of these – but a place which reveals the wonders of geology!
For here three rocks of different ages are lying side by side,
Ancient gneiss, black basalt and the younger pegmatite.
Each rock is clearly seen in neat and perfect bands,
As if created long ago by skilful human hands.
Scourie is the place to see the oldest rocks in Europe.
Where it’s nice to see Lewisian Gneiss and maybe even touch it.

Loch Glencoul

Continental collisions, an ocean closure,
Cataclismic action and perpetual motion.
Upward thrusts and massive upheavals,
Thrust planes pushed westwards in mountain-sized portions.

These movements created Loch Glencoul,
A Norwegian fjord carved out by glaciers,
The famous hill of Beinn-ard-da-Loch..
Is a favourite place for geologists to stop..
And wonder at the movement of these great slabs of rock.

The Lewisian Gneiss, lay there beneath,
Under the quartzite from the Cambrian period,
Forces caused it to fracture and break,
And sections thrust westwards and over the top.

A massive thrust movement pushed it across,
This layer of Gneiss ending up on top,
The Glencoul Thrust can be clearly observed,
With the layers of rock tilting down and east.
It’s all the Fault of the Moine, you see,
It throws its weight around and Thrusts!

Knockan Crag NNR

The Moine Thrust – what a wonderful name!
But not for this reason its claim to fame.
For at Knockan Crag before our eyes,
Sediment rocks have been metamorphosed!

A Fault Line, famous, known as the Moine Thrust,
Created havoc and forced the rocks up.
Great slabs of rock pushed upwards and out,
Fractured and heated, buckled and bent,
Heaved and squeezed in their powerful ascent…
To the surface they came, transformed in the process,
From sedimentary to metamorphic form.

On this major Fault Line you can place your hands…
On either side of these different rock bands.
Metamorphic on top and limestone below,
Knockan Crag is the place to go.

Luskentyre, Harris

I have been to the Caribbean..
To bask in tropical climes,
Of palm trees and turquoise water..
The thrum of cool steel bands!
But nowhere is there better..
Than the coast of western Harris.

Idyllic beach and coastline,
The most perfect spot on earth,
Expanses of unbroken sand.
A shell-sand paradise.
Lapped by waters of aquamarine,
All is calm and so serene.

Behind those glorious beaches,
The sand dunes rise in mounds..
Through them ‘blowthroughs’, corridors of power, Carved out ceaselessly by the ever-present wind.

Beyond there lies the glorious machair,
A landform unique and special.
A blaze of colour along the coast..
Where wild flowers bloom in early summer,
Waders and wildfowl tiptoe the shore.

Trotternish, Skye

There’s Trotternish and Waternish and Minginish and Sleat,
Evoking mysterious places straight from Tolkein’s Ring.
But Trotternish in north-east Skye has a special claim to fame,
‘Tis the ancient home of dinosaurs from a long-gone Jurassic Age!

Skye, the Dinosaur Isle, wherein these creatures roamed …
Across this land in the distant past when it lay in warmer zones,
We find their giant footprints imprinted in the stones,
‘Footprints in the sand’, now in the rocks embedded.

These ancient rocks laid down so many million years ago,
On the shores and shallow waters of warm tropical seas.
On top of these Jurassics lie stacks of long-cooled lava,
Formed when the earth was moving to create the North Atlantic.

The result today is stunning, great pinnacles and blocks..
Creating a fantasy landscape in spectacular shapes and forms,
Post-glacial landslides have formed the Quiraing and Storr,
The most dramatic rock forms found here on this dinosaur isle.

Beinn Eighe NNR and Loch Maree

Loch Maree was an area of great dispute..
Among 19C geologists of considerable repute,
The Highlands Controversy, as it came to be known.
Sir Roderick Murchison and Archibald Geikie..
Challenged the evidence of a certain James Nicol..
As to the origins of the North-West Highlands.

Nicol was convinced this mountain region..
Contained major tectonic faults.
Contested in high dudgeon by M & G ..
Who claimed the eastward inclination..
Was simply an old to young progression,
From Lewisian Gneiss to Cambrian sandstone.

Nicol’s theory was later supported..
By Thomas Bonney who clearly showed..
That the rocks on top were Lewisian Gneiss,
Crushed by the Earth’s tectonic movements..
Thrust violently upwards to emerge on top.

Nearby is the Valley of a Hundred Hills,
A spectacular corrie and ‘hummocky moraine’!
The effect of glaciers as they retreated,
A chaotic array of mounds and ridges..
Like a lunar landscape moulded by ice.

The Beinn Eighe range has fantastic scenery …
Of contrasting Torridon and Cambrian sandstones,
Red rocks sliced through the grey-white quartz,
And dramatic corries revealing this ancient landscape.

Corrieshalloch Gorge

A spectacular gorge – gorgeous, in fact!
At the head of Loch Broom way up in the north.
A deep, deep abyss carved out by glaciers..
Bringing debris and volumes of water..
Tumbling down into Loch Broom.

The surrounding bedrock is mudstones and sandstones,
Formed when sedimentaries were squeezed and melted..
In the Moine mountain-building episode.
Metamorphosed by all this commotion,
As the Iapetus Ocean slowly closed,
And Scotland and England were welded together!

In the Corrieshalloch are the Falls of Measach,
Mighty waterfalls from a mighty height,
The waters plunging to the valley below,
Breaking off blocks and debris in flow.
From a precarious platform high above,
Those with courage can gaze down on this force..
Wonderful names for wonderful sights,
Corrieshalloch and the Falls of Measach,
The awesome power of ice and water,
To carve these paths through the surrounding rock.

The Black Isle and Hugh Miller Museum

The Black Isle means only one thing to me,
Hugh Miller, the great Victorian of geology.
Fossil hunter and pioneer,
There he pursued all things he held dear.

Self-taught he daily roamed the land,
Taking notes to try to understand..
Our earth, its geological formation,
The rocks and oceans and their creation.
A religious man, he somehow aligned..
Christian beliefs with scientific finds.

With keen eye and unquenchable thirst for knowledge,
Writer, folklorist, collector of fish fossils..
Embedded in rocks along the shore.
He carefully catalogued and held in store..
For future geologists to pursue the more.

His son created a fine museum,
To house his father’s life-time collection..
Of fossils and tools, sketches and notes,
A self-made man with a tragic end,
Hugh Miller, we owe you an enormous debt.

Laich Sandstones, Elgin

The finest sandstones in the Laich of Moray have a secret to reveal,
Fossils of reptiles, fish and herbivores can still to this day be found,
Once thriving in the arid conditions of their desert surrounds,
In the warm dry Tropics as the continent moved slowly north,

Rhynchodipterus Elginensis – a fish in all but name!
Elginia Mirabilis, a kind of hornèd reptile,
It sounds like the Elgin Marbles but presumably just by chance!
Not forgetting the Gordonia Traquairi and the Geikia Elginensis,
Two-tusked herbivores affectionately known as Gordon and little Geikia.

All these exotic creatures are a reminder of Scotland’s past,
Today we have the sandstone cliffs, the product of the deserts,
Lying in our temperate zone on the Moray Firth far from the balmy tropics,
Seek out these fossils among the cliffs for they are surely there!

Spey Bay

The Sea of Tranquillity, the Sea of Galilee..
But the Sea of Stones? What can this be? …
A shingle bay at the mouth of the Spey,
Where the stones stretch as far as the eye can see.

Rolling Stones in enormous piles …
Creating rock music of a grinding style,
As the stones go rumbling and tumbling downstream,
Carried to the mouth by the river in spate.
Its force diminishing as it widens and spreads.

The wind and the tide both play their part,
Nudging to the west the shingle and sand,
The cargo dumped in various channels..
Forming islands of stones, sitting high and grand.
Forming shingle bars and mounds of pebbles.

But yet another factor has had a bearing..
The ice cap during the last glacial period..
Pressed down the Earth’s crust into the mantle,
Until in time when the ice had melted..
Slowly the land began to rise.

Natural forces always at work,
Where nothing is static and ever in flux,
The ice flow, the winds, the movement of tides,
Have created the Sea of Stones, the River Spey.

Portsoy, Banff Coast

Once the harbour bustled with fishermen,
Mending their nets or preparing their boats,
Day and night saw plenty of action,
The herring was landed, cleaned and sold,
Fishing was good and herring meant gold.

Today it’s quiet, where have they all gone?
The old harbour deserted, the fishermen vanished,
Abandoned their port and now fish elsewhere,
For the sea here no longer provides their fare.

Once famed for the beautiful Portsoy ‘marble’,
Found on the coast and washed by the sea,
Not true marble but in a motley of hues,
Polished and shaped into ornaments for sale.

Quartzites, meta-limestones and serpentinite,
Formed at different times by tectonic might,
Rocks which were bent, fractured, disrupted,
An impossible conundrum to determine their sources.

The quartzites distinguished by rod-like structures,
The serpentinite in textured, colourful mixtures,
The limestone multi-folded, providing contrast,
All side by side along the Portsoy coast..

Cuillin Hills, Skye

The Cuillin Hills fill the mind’s eye..
When thoughts turn to the Isle of Skye.
Steep jagged peaks a dramatic sight,
Rugged black peaks against the light of the sky.

Its majestic crags, its hollows and clefts,
Stun the senses and make you draw breath.
A wild and unforgiving terrain,
Which draws us towards it again and again.

Volcanic action from millenniums ago,
Ripped America and Europe apart,
During the opening of the Atlantic Ocean.
Creating volcanic crags when lava flowed..
From the magma chambers and in time transformed..
Into gabbro when the cooling slowed.

After all this commotion, what today remains..
Are these fantastic mountains to enjoy and to climb,
Now sleeping volcanoes, these magnificent peaks,
A magnet for climbers, a geologist’s feast,
Dramatic beauty hard to beat.

Isle of Eigg

Rum, Eigg and Muck – it conjures up ….
A fantastic cocktail in a fluted glass,
The Sma’ Isles I wish to toast today,
Eigg is one of these in the Hebrides.

Eigg is only a geological youth – a maiden!
Surrounded by ancient crusty old rocks!
She is a beauty, a geologist’s dream,
Scotland’s last-known volcanic eruption,
When Eigg lay south in warmer climes..
And lava flowed in bygone times.
Where Jurassic reptiles once would roam.
Whose fossils and footprints still remain.

The Sgurr of Eigg is the dominant sight,
A ridge of ‘volcanic glass’ in the south,
A massive rock, the jewel of the crown,
From where you look over the harbour town,
Across to Skye and the mainland coast,
Or west to the Isles of Lewis and Harris.

The island population is small,
Only occasional ferries come to call,
The big wide world is out of reach.
Alone with the Singing Sands and the beach.
The community have bought the land,
Freed themselves from the rule of chiefs,
No more the province of foreign buyers.
Rum, Eigg and Muck are in a revival.

Loch Monar

A beautiful loch in the Northern Highlands,
Peaceful and serene, but the dramatic setting..
Of a continental collision long time past..
Which produced the Caledonian mountain belt.

This violent encounter created this range..
Rocks which formed in shallow seas,
Sedimentary turned into metamorphic..
By forces deep within the Earth’s crust.

Here they were cooked, bent and finally crumpled.
Brought to the surface by erosion and ice.
Like fantastic origami shapes they were moulded,
Exquisite patterns like wallpaper designs.

Such beauty formed by natural forces,
More exquisite than an artist’s highest endeavours,
There to be admired on the shores of Loch Monar..
Our Highland mountains with wonders to tell.

Falls of Foyers, Great Glen

Many are the waterfalls in the rainy clime of Scotland,
Tumbling down the mountain-sides through glaciated gorges.
But some have something special and one is above Loch Ness,
Where the River Foyers descends dramatically in a headlong plunge…
Into a seething ‘horrid caldron, dim-seen through rising mists’.

These are the Falls of Foyers, known as the Smoking Falls,
Where the foam and spray rise in misty clouds that engulf and fill the air.
Down through the deep dark gorge, on their relentless dramatic path,
Cascading into an amphitheatre carved of solid rock,

Victorians came by train or boat to admire these cataracts,
Down Loch Ness from Inverness to visit the beauty spot.
Much described and illustrated by literary figures,
Johnson, Turner, the Wordsworths and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Located on the eastern shore of the infamous Loch Ness..
Where Nessie lurks alluringly in the cold and murky depths,
Perhaps it’s there behind the falls where Nessie has her den,
From where she slips unseen into the waters just beneath.

So next time you travel down the Great Glen via the eastern shore,
Look closely behind the Smoking Falls and the descending torrents,
A smoke-screen hiding who knows what beyond the misty spray,
The Falls of Foyers, a spectacular sight, a mighty waterfall.

Quote: Robert Burns – in Verse 1. Poem: The Falls of Foyers

Isle of Staffa

A forest of stone columns on the Atlantic edge,
Staffa – that great majestic rock, rising supreme..
From the seething foam and crashing seas.
Geological masterpiece,
An island of pillars and cathedral cave,
Birth-child of a volcano’s cooling lava.
Wonder of nature, so perfectly formed…
Touched by the hand of God,
Sculpted in vertical hexagonal columns,
Inspiration of poets, musicians, writers.
The waves tumble and crash into the mouth.
While the seas sing loudly in the melodious cave.

Isle of Iona

Pink rocks washed by turquoise water,
Where the ferries berth and seals pop up,
Iona, this island off the coast of Mull..
Has a magic and peace of its very own.

White cottages skirt the water’s edge,
In the distance the Abbey tower is seen,
Columba’s Isle where he came and settled,
And daily prayed and meditated.

In time his centre became the Abbey,
As pilgrims in droves came to worship his shrine.
Now travellers arrive seeking spiritual healing,
From Columba’s influence and Christian teaching.

This tiny isle has a rich geology,
With rock formations from different periods,.
In the west, the ‘Bay at the Back of the Ocean’,
A beach of brightly-coloured pebbles..
Of ancient Lewisian gneiss and granite.

The pink sedimentaries are found in the east,
Where the beautiful ‘machair’ adorns the beach..
Pure white shell-sand covered in grass,
In the spring a spread of wild flowers en masse.

All these make Iona a special place,
Columba’s seat of Christianity.

Luing and the Atlantic Islands

These Atlantic Islands of complex geology,
Through multiple upheavals in our planet Earth,
Demonstrate rock forms of amazing range,
Slices of Earth’s crust from different periods.
How did this happen? Can we understand?
How this pattern of islands was created.

An ancient supercontinent split apart,
Forming a new ocean, the Iapetus, in fact.
Volcanic eruptions then occurred,
Creating basalt rocks in the east of Luing.

Scarba and Jura were later formed,
From sediment in the Iapetus Ocean,
Slowly built up great layers of rock …
Eroded from Laurentia, a vanished continent,
To which dear Scotland once belonged – all hail to Caledonia!

As the Iapetus closed, the sediments were squeezed..
Between colliding continents, ending up as slate..
The Slate Isles – Belnahua, Easdale, Luing and Seil.
The famous blue-grey slates used to ‘roof the world’,

The Mull volcano and its neighbour siblings..
On the isles of Skye, Rum and Arran,
Triggered the opening of the Atlantic Ocean.
This is clear as mud – or sediment, I’m sure!
But I know if you visit, all will be clear.

These are a beautiful range of islands,
Revealing geology’s splendid story,
Billion of years of Earth’s evolution,
An intricate tale to understand,
But if you learn to look with a geologist’s eye,
You will come to appreciate by and by.

Glen Coe

An erupting volcano, a collapsed caldera,
Breath-taking words for a breath-taking spot,
This dramatic scene of grandeur and splendour,
Formed of magma so long ago..
And rocks sunk down to form a crater.
This beautiful glen shaped so much later..
By glaciers which formed in corries and glens,
Such stirring beauty where tears have flowed…
For the Glencoe Massacre of Clan MacDonald.
Horror and grandeur side by side,
Now a wonder of nature, a paradise.

Parallel Roads of Glen Roy, Lochaber

Parallel roads on the slopes of Glen Roy,
The work of General Wade perhaps..
Building his roads throughout the Highlands,
Drover tracks or boundary lines?

A mathematician testing his theories..
On parallel lines and their interesting properties?
Darwin suggested marine shorelines.
Or maybe royal routes for ancient Kings?

But no, the answer is somewhat less romantic –
These are the shore-lines of ice-dammed lakes!
Blocked off by glaciers affecting the river drainage.
Overflowing their banks and trapping these lakes.

Other ice features can be seen in Glen Roy,
Glacial moraines, terraces and bluffs,
Alluvial fans and landslips too,
All the work of the Ice Age and more.

I prefer the more fanciful theories..
For the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy,
But a unique phenomenon to behold,
And all without a geometry slide.


Schiehallion, the magic mountain,
Whose fame hangs on a pendulum!
Measuring the mass of the Earth..
From these quartzite rocks.

Thus Schiehallion made its name,
The experiment its claim to fame.
Deflecting its worth as a beautiful peak,
An upside-down mountain turned on its head.

Folded and fractured by internal forces,
Forming part of the Caledonian Chain.
Age before beauty, old above young,
The ancient rocks settle on top.

Meanwhile, walkers climb to the summit,
Today the name of lager and music,
They jig the dance or sing the song,
Sup the lager and admire the view..

Across to Loch Rannoch and east to Loch Tummel,
There in the Highlands, Schiehallion stands proud,
Its conical shape can be seen for miles.
The magic mountain, a jewel of the north.

River Feshie

When the last ice sheet melted after the recent Ice Age,
The flow of the water was immense and strong,
Carried down the glen, carving pathways to the base,
A long glacial trough with wide valley floor.

Mud and sediment were dumped..
On the floor of the valley, stock-piling ever more …
With sand, gravel and boulders, still happening today..
From erosion on the hillsides and force of the river.

All this action in the midst of great beauty..
In a landscape as fine as you’ll ever see,
The River Feshie flowing through the glen,
Rising in the Cairngorms and across to the Spey.

On Creag na Caillich above the glen,
Cones of debris are forming and spreading..
Piling up slowly – landform in action!
The valley in-filling before our eyes!

Another reminder that our Earth is evolving,
That ‘terra firma’ is a misunderstanding,
Our landscape, climate, location and wildlife,
Is a moving kaleidoscope and constantly changing.


Within Scotland’s Grampian Mountain range..
A sub-arctic plateau, a terrain untamed,
Where conditions are fierce with powerful winds,
Not for softies, the Cairngorms!
A mountain wilderness with conditions extreme,
Glaciers of ice with snow and sleet,
A challenge supreme to test endurance.

The last Ice Age brought glaciers which flowed..
Scooped out corries and created large tors,
Great blocks of granite left up on the summits.
On the high plateau, a unique environment …
Where Arctic plants and wildlife survive,
A landscape untamed by the hand of man.

For lesser mortals, this National Park..
Has many activities with which to attract ..
Skiers and climbers, visitors from afar,
All come to enjoy this landscape unspoiled,
A mountain railway transports them safely..
Up to the heights of these wild plateaus,
The Cairngorms, one of Scotland’s gems.

Burn o’ Vat, Muir of Dinnet NNR

Follow the tumbling gurgling Vat Burn,
Up through the granite rocks of the Grampians,
Scramble over tumbled boulders,
Squeeze yourself through a narrow cleft,
To enter the magical world of the Vat!

A circular cauldron with smooth granite walls..
Which narrow and taper the higher you go.
Here is a pot-hole of majestic proportions.
The Burn o’ Vat takes a headlong plunge,
Creating a perfect waterfall.

This magical place sculpted by water..
From the ice sheets as they rapidly melted..
Torrents of water formed the Vat Burn..
The swirling current swept the gravel and boulders..
Grinding round and round, carving the cauldron..
This massive pot-hole known as the Vat.

Corrie Fee, Glen Clova

A grand mountain glen topped by a glacial corrie!
Corrie Fee, scooped out by moving ice flows,
Creating this stunning highland scene ..
On the edge of the Cairngorm Mountains.

Lava flows transformed to volcanic rock,
Interrupted with bands of limestone …
The terrain for arctic-alpine plants,
Surviving here since the last Ice Age.

Spectacular waterfalls descend the corrie,
Crashing down to Glen Clova below.
Where the river snakes across the valley,
Towered by majestic mountains.


Stonehaven, a fishing port on the Aberdeen coast,
But here one can view a collision of continents!
Stonehaven the last point on the land ..
To see this earth-shattering phenomenon.

Here is where the plates collided…
Two sets of rock slid past each other,
Reacting to the enormous forces …
Pushing against them, and finally uplifting.

That great rupture in the Earth’s crust ..
Our very own Highland Boundary Fault,
Separating the Highlands from the Lowlands,
It ran across country from Bute to Stonehaven
To continue on deep under the North Sea.

We somehow expect a dividing line,
But no such thing will you ever find,
Yet visible the band of altered rocks,
Metamorphic to the north and sedimentary to the south.
All in and around Stonehaven.

St Cyrus NNR

The sun shines down on St Cyrus Beach, a paradise of peace,
But millions of years before, it was a very different scene,
A landscape hostile, black with lava and molten igneous rock.

But as time evolved, earth’s forces slowly worked their magic,
Tumultuous rivers and streams appeared and carved out grooves and channels,
Dumping sediment into lakes forming on top of lava.

Today it is a peaceful spot of sandy beach and cliffs,
A home for wildlife, plants and insects and many breeding birds.
In summer para-gliders float above the blaze of flowers.

Fire and water have evolved this landscape into what it is today,
Who knows what’s next in store for this rich, diverse reserve?
Perhaps in time the sea will encroach and wash the beach away.

Seaton Cliffs, Arbroath

Two mighty rivers from different ages have moulded Arbroath’s landform,
When Scotland was nestling in the tropics and each river overflowed.

The older river flowed south-west, dumping sand and gravel and boulders,
To slowly form red sandstone and conglomerate material,
Wind and water played their part, carving hollows and small hills …
Earth movements later forced the sandstone to move and then to tilt,
Soon sediment layers were laid on top – gravel, sand and silt.

The younger river (a few million years!) had a similar effect,
This one flowed south-easterly, transporting mud and gravel,
Now preserved for us today as red and yellow sandstone.
Just north of Whiting Ness the ‘time gap clearly seen,
Between the rocks of different ages formed by these watercourses.

The power of the sea has battered and eroded Arbroath’s shores,
Instead of sandy beaches, we have boulders and gravelly stones,But the cliff erosion has created some fabulous rock-sculpting,
Interesting formations of sea-caves, arches, stacks,
Needle E’e, the Deil’s Heid, the Sphinx and the Camel’s Back.

An angular unconformity!

Balmaha, Loch Lomond

Balmaha – you mean the paradise in the Pacific Ocean?
Bali Hai and Rosanno Brazzi, straight from the sixties movie.
But no, it’s a beautiful spot on our famous Loch Lomond.
A pretty wee village on the eastern shore,
The Conic Hill and so much more.

But here ‘on the bonnie banks’ you will find,
Something to capture the fertile mind –
The Highland Boundary Fault, no less!
Crossing the country from east to west.

So what is a Fault and where is the line?
Could somebody help and please define?
I expect to see a yawning chasm,
Or a clear green line denoting the schism.

Nothing so simple, but take a close look,
There are visible signs of different rocks..
To the north and south of the HB Fault,
This great fracture cutting through the Earth’s crust..
Where magma burst through the mighty fission,
Enormous upheaval and finally division.

Folded, heated, transformed to the north,
Into tougher metamorphic rock.
To the south, sedimentary layers piled up,
So starkly different,

Here we can stand at the great divide..
Between Highland and Lowland on either side.
Let your eye trace the islands all marching across –
The HBF is traversing the Loch!
You can follow this rift from here to Stonehaven.

Flanders Moss NNR

A strange flat terrain of peat and moss,
Britain’s largest lowland raised bog.
In the past Flanders Moss lay under water,
Part of the flood plain of the River Forth.

Beneath lie the secrets of thousands of years,
The accumulation of dead plants and mosses,
Laid down slowly layer upon layer,
Forming the peat by one mill per year.

The Moss is alive with watery beasts,
Frogs and toads, adders and lizards,
Stonechats and snipe, geese in the autumn.
Plants and shrubs in a colourful feast.

This peaty wilderness is a priceless resource..
For scientists who probe the surface,
A treasure trove of information,
Perfectly preserved deep down in the peat.


River floods and glaciers shaped the Callander landscape,
Sandstones and mudstones cooked and stewed,
Metamorphosed from sediments deep..
In the Iapetus Ocean, once down in the tropics.
Fossilized marine life still seen in the limestone.

In time this Ocean began to close!!
The Grampian mountains forced up instead…
Along the Highland Boundary Fault..
Major earth movements along the track,
Close to Callander, gateway to the north,
Loch Lomond and the area known as the Trossachs.

Sediments from these eroded rocks..
Deposited below on alluvial plains,

Then came further climatic changes,
Glaciers from the recent Ice Age created …
Spectacular gorges and waterfalls,
Like Bracklinn and Coire Eas na Calillich.
These meltwaters producing major floods,
Bringing cobbles and boulders and lots of mud.

Mud, mud, glorious mud,
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood,
So follow me, follow, down to the hollow,
And there let us wallow in glorious mud!

East Neuk of Fife

St Andrews today the home of golf,
Tommy Morris and the famous Old Course.
But long ago it was religion and education..
Which made its name and reputation.
The Old Course, Cathedral and Varsity,
Are the roots of the town’s diversity.

St Andrew’s relics were buried here..
A place of pilgrimage to visit the site.
John Knox and his boys at the Reformation,
Saw bishops murdered and martyrs burned.

But St Andrews has a lesser known dimension,
A coastline of remarkable rock formations,
Of rock layers bent into wave-like patterns,
Folded and twisted in intricate bands..
As if sculpted by deft but unknown hands.
Formed when this region lay near the Equator,
Drifting north millenniums later.

Further along the coastal track,
The Rock and Spindle, a basalt stack.
More evidence of Scotland’s volcanic past.
A dramatic silhouette and famous landmark.

Golf, religion and education,
Are the essence of this coastal town,
But the folds, fire and fossils of the East Neuk,
Are an added feature well worth a look.


Islay, the island of whisky, the land of ‘uisge beatha’,
A paradise for the whisky buff, absorbing its sweet vapour.
While slowly savouring the single malts, a choice of more than eight!
What more could a man desire in his imperfect human state?
But through the golden haze and glow, look well at the beautiful views,
For this island’s landscape is unique, my friend, and here’s the reason why.

A mirror of past climates is recorded in its rocks.
Changes so extreme all those millions of years agone.
Glaciers reached the tropics and global ice took over ..
To grip us in its clutches – Snowball Earth, as it was called.

At Beannan Dubh, near Ballgrant, limestone is exposed,
Formed in warm seas when Islay lay in the tropics.
Infilled with sandstones, siltstone and sedimentary sludge.
Glacier deposits with continental rock embedded,
Flowed towards the ocean before melting into mud.

Islay and the Garvellachs are small capsules of time,
Revealing clear, dramatic fluctuations of clime.
Their transition in and out again of that period called ‘Snowball Earth’.
An amazing phenomenon as to how they were created.

So let’s drink a toast to Islay with its golden warming nectar,
And to all that Islay offers as well as ‘Uisge Beatha’,
For the rocks on which distilleries stand are speaking of Earth’s history,
‘Scotch on the rocks’ takes on a whole new meaning!
About ‘Snowball Earth’, when glaciers reached the tropics,
Evidenced here on Islay and the neighbouring Garvellachs.

Isle of Arran

Want to walk through time in just a day or two?
Then the island of Arran is ideal for you.
For the island is divided by the Highland Boundary Fault,
Creating different landforms to the north and to the south.
The Lowlands below and the Highlands above.
All within one island, the contrast clearly marked.

The sedimentary rocks around the south-east coast,
Record Scotland’s journey across the warm Equator.
In the north, mountains of granite formed long before in time,
At the opening of the Atlantic with continental drift,
Ice Age glaciers then eroded the softer rock,
Creating the skyline now typical of the north.

In late 18C, James Hutton paid a visit to the north,
There he found the older, metamorphic rocks,
One of his ‘unconformities’, revealing to the world,
How the different rocks had been separately formed,
Over millenniums of time on our Planet Earth.

Here on Arran the geology is emphatically displayed,
Observe the different rock forms from each distinctive age,
The change is clearly seen on each side of the Fault..
Our Highlands and our Lowlands so compactly defined.

Fossil Grove, Glasgow

An ancient forest from long ago has somehow left its traces..
Preserved in fossils in the heart of Glasgow, of all places!
Discovered in 1887 while creating Victoria Park,
Tree stumps from millions of years ago conserved like moulded casts.

Under the igneous dolerite, found embedded in the sandstone,
Eleven trees – ‘Lepidodendrons’, primitive vascular plants.
How has this miracle happened, after so much time has passed? …
The floods from a river delta swamped the ancient forest.

The trees died, were buried in mud, and slowly they transformed…
The sediment into sandstone and the tree stumps into fossils,
Where they quietly lay under igneous rock, perfectly preserved.
And now they stand exactly on the spot where they once grew and thrived.

A ‘Fossil Grove’ has been created of these ancient forest remnants,
The tree stumps stand in Victoria Park as a miracle of preservation.
An unlikely place to find them but here is where they belong,
Reminding us of another world that used to lie beneath.

Falls of Clyde

The power of water in all its might,
The Falls of Clyde, a breath-taking sight,
The meltwaters from long ago glaciation….
Flooded the river and burst its banks.

Pounding and crashing, plunging and tumbling,
Roaring and splashing, foaming and rumbling.
Volumes of water forcing their way..
Down through the gulleys, cutting through bedrock,
Shaping the landscape as it carves out its path.

Today it is a feast for the eye,
A place to marvel and to enjoy.
Poets and artists acclaim the site,
Wordsworth, Turner and the like.

Visitors flock to picnic and hike..
Gaze in wonder at its powerful descent..
Through precipitous gorges and deep ravines,
The Falls of Clyde, Lanark’s pride and joy.

Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

A geological wonder, Edinburgh’s crown,
Arthur’s Seat and its surrounds,
Forged in fire and carved by ice,
The ancient volcano stands supreme,
A supernatural landscape as in a dream,
The basalt cone of Arthur’s Seat…
Towering above the terrain beneath…
Grassy valleys which once were swamps.
The dolerite cliffs of Salisbury Crags,
So perfectly shaped in easterly folds,
Scene of James Hutton’s studies of rock,
Explaining the mystery of Earth’s deep time.
Our triple-SI a unique and glorious haven,
The Queen’s Park is a place to chill,
Walk and climb, experience the thrill…
Of this wild paradise in Auld Reekie’s heart.

Dunbar and Barns Ness, East Lothian

A limestone pavement? Wow, sounds grand!
From Barns Ness to fair White Sands,
A white-bleached coast, no creation of man ..
But of natural forces in the long-distant past.

Scotland once in the Tropics was steamy, hot and wet,
Seas rose and fell and rocks laid down as sediment.
Now hidden within the limestone lurk embedded fossils …
Of coral reefs, rooted soils and long-ago forms of life.

Walk towards Dunbar, the scene is starkly changed.
The cliffs are red volcanic ash where once volcanoes raged!
Igneous rock, black and red in fantastical eerie shapes,
A volcanic hell-hole spewing boulders, dust and ash.

The limestone formed in tropical seas,
The igneous rock from erupting volcanoes,
Stunning evidence of nature’s force,
Geology carving its powerful course.

Siccar Point

Like staring into the ‘abyss of time’,
Hutton’s prime discovery –
The dramatic cliffs of Siccar Point,
Astounding patterns within the rock.
What hand has carved this whole creation?

Down by the shore where the seas crash and pound ..
James Hutton arrived, three men in a boat.
Here at last in the strata he found his proof ..
That the Earth was much older than its Biblical claim.

Greywacke beneath from an ancient ocean,
Red sandstone above from desert conditions,
Exhibiting layers millenniums apart,
Siccar Point, the climax of Hutton’s work.


‘The Master of Ballantrae’ springs to mind,
Robert Louis’s famous novel,
But Ballantrae has more to offer,
Of a more physical and earthly kind.

Raised beaches at Bennane Lea,
Stranded sea cliffs and rocky outcrops …
Remains of sea stacks now far from shore,
All tell a story of Ballantrae’s past.

For an ancient ocean lies beneath us!
Volcanoes erupted under the sea.
Spliced these rocks on to an adjacent continent!
A phenomenon known as ophiolites.

Here you walk over upper-mantle rocks,
On to igneous layers from the ocean crust,
To sedimentaries from the ancient sea-floor.
A journey in geology to transcend and explore.

On the beaches are pebbles of granite,
The same as found on Ailsa Craig isle,
Curling stones still quarried here,
Relics of the Iapetus Ocean,
Long ago subducted into the earth’s mantle,
A window into Earth’s evolution.

Loch Skeen & Grey Mare’s Tail

The Grey Mare’s Tail – a wonderful title.
A beautiful horse with a long swishing flail.
But no, it’s a deep, deep glacial trough,
Carved out along a fault line in the Earth’s crust.
Successive ice-sheets over eons of time,
Eroded the weaker rock along the line.

The Tail Burn which currently drains Loch Skeen,
Forms a hanging valley above Moffatdale.
One of the highest waterfalls that Scotland boasts.
Cascades and plunge pools tumbling forth.
The bedrock of greywacke sandstone and mudstone ..
Resistant to the water erosion.

Visited by Sir Walter Scott,
Described in ‘Marmion’ as ‘the roaring linn’.
Corrie-like features – natural amphitheatres,
A wonder carved out by ice, no sign of the horse!

Eildon Hills

Legends abound of the Eildon Hills,
Split in three by Michael Scott.
Frequented by King Arthur’s knights,
Conquering heroes in courageous fights.
Fairies dwelt in ‘them thar hills’,
Thomas Rhymer captured by the Elfland Queen,
Vanished one day without trace from the scene,
Years later he emerged at last…
With true predictions and prophetic sight.

Below the Eildons lies the town of Melrose,
Where lies the medieval Abbey,
Once powerful and rich, its fortunes turned,
When ‘dinged doon’ in ruthless English attacks ..
And later the purges of the Reformation.

Nearby Scott’s View above the Tweed,
Where Sir Walter stopped to gaze at the view,
His favourite sight across the valley..
The Romans’ Trimontium, the Eildon Hills.

Terrain moulded by water and ice,
Leaving proud the igneous peaks,
Their volcanic shapes commanding the scene.
Trimontium, the three hills, as they were named ..
By the Romans who set up camp and home.
History, geology and legends of old,
Have formed the Eildon Hills today,
Beauty with a certain mystery.

Back Bay, Monreith

Down in the west of Galloway,
Lies the little port of Monreith,
A statue of an otter overlooking Back Bay,
A memorial to Gavin Maxwell.

The beach itself has a story to tell,
For you are walking on an ocean floor –
The ancient long-gone Iapetus Ocean!

Twisted rocks, folded and faulted,
Solidified into greywacke rock beds,
Gathered as sands and muds in deep channels,
And gradually buried by sediments and gravels,

Spectacular cliffs and stretches of beach …
With colourful boulders of sedimentary rocks.
Now part of the Southern Uplands and Ireland,
Reappearing again in America’s Newfoundland.

These siltstone beds are sediments …
Brought from the ancient continent of Laurentia,
Which once lay north of the Iapetus Ocean!
The core today of America and north-west Scotland.

By curious coincidence – too good to be true!
The rocks from opposite sides of this ocean,
Have come together like poetry in motion,
To form the border between Scotland and England!

An astounding tale and a further reminder ..
Of the changes of the earth, a constant wonder.
Terra firma? It may seem that way,
But the plates are moving beneath our feet!


The Solway Coast was formed from ancient rivers and warm shallow seas …
When Scotland lay in a tropical zone millions of years ago,
Their legacy the sedimentary rocks which we enjoy today.
Sandstones, mudstones, limestones all visible along the coast.

Caused by a subsiding trough bounded by active faults,
Where sediments from rivers and seas steadily built up,
Fossils of corals and various shells are found in the mudstone rocks,
And the ancient remnants of former algal beds.

A special sight near the shore is the craggy outcrop known as the Thirlstane Arch,
The rock contorted by powerful forces deep within the earth.
The Devil’s Stone, a huge erratic boulder of silver-grey granite,
Carried down by a glacier from Criffel Mountain in the north,
Or spat out by the devil biting off the chunk!

Along the coast is the birthplace of John Paul Jones,
The founder of the US Navy three centuries ago.
The ruins of Sweetheart Abbey built by Cistercian monks,
Built upon these rocks with a much older tale to tell.