Rock Trails: Scottish Highlands

As a former ‘Munro bagger’ and now keen geologist, this book combines two of my favourite pastimes. While the body is not quite so willing as before, the ability to read about the geology of some of my favourite Scottish walks is an absolute pleasure – bringing back pleasant memories with its clear descriptions, and beautiful photographs and diagrams.

The guide is intended to give the walker an insight into the geological forces that have shaped the Scottish Highlands; as the author says, “… to extract a narrative that is accessible to the ordinary hill walker and mountaineer”. And that he does, as he has done with the other books in this excellent series, which now also cover Snowdonia, the Lake District and the Peak District, in separate volumes.

As I have written before, Scotland is a fascinating place for geology and geomorphology. It is a place where Cambrian rocks, a mere 500 million or so years old, can be described as relative youngsters in the geological context, next to the several billion-year-old basement rocks that dominate many parts of the landscape. And it is a place where the grandeur of the scenery is a direct consequence of the interaction of rock, time and erosion.

The book starts by describing the geological history of the country, from the oldest 3byr-old rocks, through numerous tectonic events, to the more recent volcanic eruptions caused by the creation of the North Atlantic, and even more recently, the glaciation that affected and moulded the region. There are then 18 walks described in this small book (small enough to be carried comfortably in a coat pocket for ease of reference, while walking), including some of my favourites – Ben Nevis, Bidean nam Bian (above Glen Coe), the Tarmachan Ridge and Ben Lomond. Each walk is rated in terms of its length, navigational difficulties, terrain and severity; and then the text describes both the walk itself, in terms of the route, and also what geology can be seen along the way.

As a result, this guide, and the other books in the series, should now be an essential part of the mountain equipment of anybody who likes both hill walking and geology.

Rock Trails: Scottish Highlands, by Paul Gannon, Pesda Press, Tan y Coed Canol, Ceunant, Caernarfon, Gwynedd, LL55 4RN, Wales (2009). 252 pp., softback, ISBN: 978-1-906095-38-3