The Hugh Miller Writing Competition 2019-2020

Statement from the Organising Committee, 10 December 2020: “In the summer of 2020, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Hugh Miller Writing Competition committee decided to investigate the background of Hugh Miller and his views on race. We asked Black Isle-based historian David Alston for help – he is an expert in the history of race in the Highlands. He told us about a passage in Miller’s ‘Testimony of the Rocks’, in which Miller expresses his views on race in the context of his religious beliefs & ideas about evolution. Like many 19th Century scientists, Miller believed that humans evolved from a Caucasian ancestor, and that other races had ‘degraded’ from that origin. His language in this passage is abhorrent and racist, and comes from a lecture he delivered, published posthumously by his wife, Lydia.

These views are against everything we as a committee, organising the Hugh Miller Writing Competition, stand for. In light of this, and several other factors, we made the decision earlier this year to pause the competition to discuss its future. Hugh Miller’s writing and discoveries remain a hugely important part of Scotland’s palaeontological and geological history, but we now know a new and difficult truth about the man himself, which must be acknowledged.

These revelations do not in any way detract from the fantastic, inspiring poetry and prose pieces that have won prizes in the past three Hugh Miller Writing Competitions.”

The Hugh Miller Writing Competition carries the name of one of Scotland’s most well-known geologists, Hugh Miller (1802-1856), and aims to inspire new, original prose and poetry on the theme of Scotland’s geoheritage. The competition was organised by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum and The Friends of Hugh Miller.

For the 2019-2020 writing competition, poetry and prose entries were invited that were inspired by one or more of the “51 Best Places to See Scotland’s Geology.” The list, compiled by a panel of experts, aims to help you find out more about Scotland’s geological heritage, and guide you to the best places to see different elements of the story laid out in our country’s beautiful landscapes. You can find full details here:

We hope that these writing competitions, open to all ages, will encourage both a renewed interest in Miller’s work, and contribute to a catalogue of new writings inspired by one of Scotland’s greatest nature writers. We also aim to highlight the role that Scotland’s geology plays in our daily lives and foster greater awareness and appreciation of Scotland’s geodiversity.

“Hugh Miller is one of the writers who gave me ‘deep-time spectacles’; his remarkable prose helped me, as it has helped so many people, to see back into earth history, and read our planet’s ancient past from its present surface. He was, really, a visionary, and it is wonderful to see him still celebrated today.”
Robert Macfarlane, author of Mountains of the Mind, The Wild Places, Landmarks

Thanks to everyone for the support the competition has received, and all the lovely entries. Here are the winning entries for the 2019-2020 competition:

The Scottish Geodiversity Forum and The Friends of Hugh Miller published Conversations in Stone to celebrate the life and legacy of Hugh Miller. This anthology brings together prose and poetry inspired by Miller and his life, and his unwavering love of stone, landscape and palaeontology, and includes winning entries of the first two Hugh Miller Writing Competitions.
Conversations in Stone is available to buy from the Edinburgh Geological Society.

Adults: Poetry

1st: Highland Boundary Fault, Balmaha  Alison Cohen
Highly-commended in poetry: A Stone’s Throw from Easdale Carol Shea
Highly-commended in poetry: The ‘Old Man’ Teeters Stuart Graham

Adults: Fiction

1st: Cinder Toffee Vee Walker
Vee Walker’s recipe for Knockan Crag Cinder Toffee

Adults: Non-Fiction

1st: Moving with Granite Anna Fleming
Highly-commended in prose: Pilgrimages of Wonder Rhona Steel

Winning Entries from the first two competitions

Testimonies of the Rocks: the Hugh Miller Writing Competition 2015-16
1st place in prose: Jane Verburg
2nd place in prose: Antonia Thomas
3rd place in prose: Jim Gilchrist
Highly commended in prose: Paula Hunter
Highly commended in prose: Màiri Anna NicUalraig (Mary Ann Kennedy)

1st place in poetry: Justin Sales
2nd place in poetry: Kenneth Steven
Joint 3rd place in poetry: Jim Mackintosh
Joint 3rd place in poetry: Michael Davenport
Highly commended in poetry: Elizabeth Pickett

Under 16 Prose winner: Mackenzie Robbie
Under 16 Poetry winner: Annabelle Fuller

Footprints in the Sand: the Hugh Miller Writing Competition II 2017-18
Prose Winner: Thomas Halliday, University of Birmingham School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Prose Runner-up: Ross Barnett, University of Durham
Poetry Winner: Alex Woodcock, Published writer / poet – and a stonemason
Poetry  Runner-up: Gillian Dawson, Renfrewshire
Highly commended in Poetry: Alison Seller, Cromarty
Highly commended in Poetry: Fiona Ritchie Walker, Published poet, Montrose

Many thanks to our competition partners for 2019-2020, both for their ongoing support and for donating prizes.

Scottish Geodiversity Forum –
The Friends of Hugh Miller –
British Geological Survey (BGS) –
Geopoetry 2020 –
Dynamic Earth –
Edinburgh Geological Society –
Scottish Centre for Geopoetics –
Lochaber Geopark –
Cromarty Arts Trust –
The Hunterian, Glasgow –
Mr Woods Fossils –
The National Museums Scotland –
The National Trust for Scotland –

Our school-age winners will be given the opportunity to read at the Geopoetry2020 event in October 2020:

Helping SNH to promote the Scottish Fossil Code: If collecting fossils in Scotland, please do so responsibly and follow the advice on best practice in the collection and storage of fossil specimens outlined in the Scottish Fossil Code.  The Code may be viewed and downloaded from: