Northern Rocks

Neville Martin (UK)

Shetland is famous for many things including ponies, knitwear, sheep and sheepdogs, birdlife and fishing. It is less well known for being an excellent attraction for the geologist or that it is currently going through the process of qualifying for European and World Geopark recognition. The rocks of Shetland are too old for fossils with the exception of some fish and aquatic plant fossils at the southern and western extremities. However, what it lacks in fossils it more than makes up for in an abundant variety of minerals and geological structures and, while looking for minerals, the geologist can enjoy some of the most spectacular seascape in the UK. In addition, the islands have a long history of mineral extraction and there has been talk of possible, future platinum and gold mining.

ORS Cliffs Bard Bressay and Noss.

One of the reasons for the geological diversity is that the Great Glen Fault, which formed Loch Ness, also manifests itself in Shetland. This gives rise to a displacement of some 60 to 80km, such that there is a distinct difference between East and West Shetland. The landscape is also the result of sculpturing by glaciers and the sea. The many submerged, glacial valleys are called “voes”, the largest of which is Sullom Voe, the site of the oil terminal where oil from north, east and west of Shetland is landed. The shelter provided by such a large voe (which is sea loch) made it an important flying boat base and airfield during the Second World War and remnants of these days are still evident.

Banded gneiss – Fethaland.

Getting to Shetland in the past was a challenge with all links being through Scotland, mainly via Aberdeen (a one hour flight or 12 hours overnight sailing). However, over the last few years, things have got easier with sea links to the European mainland (Denmark and Norway) and direct summer airlinks to Stansted (by the Faeroese Atlantic Airlines).


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