Carstairs Kames

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Best Places to see Scotland’s Geology: Falls of Clyde and Carstairs Kames

Carstairs Kames is known internationally for its classic examples of an esker system. The system formed from sediment that was deposited by glacial meltwater rivers at the end of the last ice age (approximately 14 000 to 13 000 years ago). First described by Robert Chambers in 1848, albeit erroneously, the site has been researched extensively over the last 150 years, with Robert Jamieson (1774 – 1854) being the first to assign the landforms to glacial activity in 1874. Although the exact origins of the deposits are not yet known for certain, their study has helped greatly in the understanding of the development of Scotland’s Quaternary landscape.

Carstairs Kames - a series of anastomosing ridges and mounds deposited by glacial meltwater rivers at the end of the last Ice Age. © Scottish Natural Heritage.
Carstairs Kames – a series of anastomosing ridges and mounds deposited by glacial meltwater rivers at the end of the last Ice Age. © Scottish Natural Heritage.

The landforms stretch for about 6km north of Carstairs village in a series of SW/NE trending, anastomosing (intertwining) ridges and mounds. These are interspersed with kettle-holes. Similar landforms are to be found elsewhere in the area, suggesting that the Carstairs Kames are part of a larger suite of glacially-derived deposits. The maximum height of the ridges is about 25m and they overlie a bed of till approximately 40m deep. The ridges are thought to be englacial or supraglacial deposits, associated with a complex terminal moraine that formed during the retreat of the last ice sheet. The ridges are most prominent at the southwesterly end, suggesting that this was the direction in which the glacier was retreating; this has been confirmed by current direction measurements taken from the sediments.

The sediments within the deposits are typically fluvio-glacial. Boulder/gravel beds were laid down initially, followed by finer gravels and sands, however the units are very discontinuous and are also faulted. To the northeast of the system, finer sediment exists, possibly glacio-lacustrine in origin.

Note: the term ‘Kames’ is a historical term, with the modern term being ‘eskers’.

Further reading:

Gordon, J.E. & Sutherland, D.G. 1993. Quaternary of Scotland, Geological Conservation Review Series No. 6., Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.