by Mike McNamee Published 01/12/2007
Mike McNamee goes in search of landscape at the very top of the British Isles on a route planned, illustrated and captioned by Paul Gallagher.
This is a personal story, a journey in search of the landscape of Scotland. The north west Highlands are a long way from Cheshire and an even longer way from middle or southern England. The number of people who have never crossed the Esk into Scotland is sometimes quite surprising. In these days of well-travelled holiday makers it is easier (and cheaper) to hop on a plane to the Costa del Sol than it is to grind your way the 650 miles from London to the top of the country we live in.
So, for our overseas' readers contemplating a visit and for all the English who have never ventured north, here is what you can expect. This is not a glossy tourist board view of Scotland (see call-out box about the Highland Midge) but an honest assessment of why it is worth the journey for those yet to make it, and what you are likely to endure!
Scottish scenery is the result of more than 4,000 millions years of geological development which involves some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Almost all geological forms are represented in Scotland, which is why it is, and always has been, a paradise for researchers and students. These very old rocks have travelled the globe, carried on the tectonic plates, moving at about the same speed as your fingernails grow. They have travelled from close to the South Pole to reach their present position and were initially built from four separate chunks that were gradually forced together to create the foundations of modern Scotland.
Only after four continents had collided to form the Old Sandstone super-continent did England and Wales even come close to Scotland, only to have America and Africa come muscling into the scene much later, as Pangaea, the biggest super-continent of all, formed, close to the equator, and extended almost pole to pole. It is this closeness that resulted in our sharing of Old Red Sandstone with the Appalachian mountains - we were formed at the same time, only for the Americas to depart the scene and wander off across the globe, 300 million years ago. It is this sandstone that is responsible for some (but not all) of the wild mountain scenery of the Highlands.
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