Book review: Rock Trails, covering: Lakeland, Snowdonia and Peak District, by Paul Gannon

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Jon Trevelyan (UK)

There are several passions in my life – geology and geomorphology being a couple and hillwalking being another. And it doesn’t take much to see that that these go together rather well. Over the last few years, a number of great leaflets, often laminated, have been produced setting out UK geological walks – providing a route with explanations at points of interest along the way. At the same time, there have been an increasingly large number of excellent books produced on the geology of certain areas in the UK, for example, recently Snowdonia, Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders. Therefore, I am not surprised (but am highly delighted) to have come across a couple of guide books written by a fell walker covering classic UK mountain walks, but also explaining the geology and landforms of the larger areas together with what can be seen and explored during a walking expedition.

Rock Trails: Lakeland‘ and ‘Rock Trails: Snowdonia‘ were published in 2008 and 2009 respectively. A further one, ‘Rock Trails: Peak District’, was published in December 2010. They are all written by Paul Gannon, who is a science and technology writer. However, as is clear from these books, he is also a dedicated hillwalker, who organises landscape walks for hillwalkers interested in finding out more about the geology and scenery of upland areas.

Each of these guides begins with a discussion of the geology of the areas concerned. So, for instance, the sedimentary and igneous geology of the Lake District is described together with the tectonic history of the region. And one cannot discuss this area without discussing glaciation (the cover of the book has a lovely picture of the beautiful ‘U’ shaped valley of the Langdales, which I have always thought to be one of the best examples in the UK), and so Gannon duly describes the effect of the ice age on the mountains along with the affect of erosion in creating the geomorphology of the area. For Snowdonia, the tectonic history – the closing of the Iapetus Ocean – inevitably dominates his discussion, for it was this that created the volcanoes and mountain building that is the basis of these lovely Welsh mountains. But he covers much else besides and everything is beautifully explained using simple but colourful diagrams.

Finally, I am told that the Peak District book will cover “the story of the Peak District landscape from its tropical beginnings to its rugged gritty present. Limestone reefs grow in the shallows of tropical seas, taking captive fossilised sea creatures. As the seas shift and coastlines change, sandstones build on the banks of a great river delta. Forests of giant ferns take hold of the land, leaving behind a legacy of coal and bitumen”. (Obviously, I am quoting the press release – you will probably be aware that I usually keep my prose a little more ‘prosaic’ than this, but I couldn’t resist letting you have a read!)

The second half of the guides then covers several of the classic walks in each area. Gannon takes you on a series of 13 (Snowdonia) and 15 (Lakeland and Peak District) walks in each guide, which, given the locations, inevitably gives access to spectacular views of the best of each area’s scenery and reveal evidence of the landscapes’ intriguing natural and human histories. However, no hillwalker would want to learn about the geology of, say, Helvellyn, Scafell Pike or Snowdon without actually touching the summit cairns. So, Gannon duly takes you up each of the mountains by well-known routes. And I should know – just seeing the name “the Band” on the map, as part of the ascent of Bowfell, just makes my calves ache!

Sensibly, the books are strongly made, but small in size and will comfortably fit in your cagoule pocket. (No one wants to carry a huge book around with them half way up a 3,000-footer.) Detailed maps are provided, but I would not recommend using just these to navigate in such mountainous areas – a map, compass and GPS will also be necessary.
Frankly, I am really pleased to have these two books in my possession and I will certainly take them with me when I go walking.

Rock Trails: Snowdonia, A Hill Walker’s Guide to the Geology and Scenery, by Paul Gannon, Presda Press (2008), 240 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-1906095048

Rock Trails: Lakeland, A Hill Walker’s Guide to the Geology and Scenery, by Paul Gannon, Presda Press (2009), 260 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-1906095154

Rock Trails: Peak District, A Hill Walker’s Guide to the Geology and Scenery, by Paul Gannon, Presda Press (2010), 218 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-1906095246

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