The Rock Route

Science Nerd Heaven?

Scotland is an excellent place to get your geology nerdiness happening! The Rock Route, which is part of the Northwest Highlands Geopark, is a great way to see some breathtaking scenery and get a bit of education at the same time.

Rock Route Explainer Board.
The explainer boards point out the major features that you can see in an easy to understand way. Here my photo is overlaid with sections of the board.

For me, a science nerd from way back, the “Rock Route” was a dream come true and discovered almost by accident. I was heading that way anyway and then I saw the purple road signs. It combined my existing road trip, incredible scenery and information all in bite-size chunks!

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With plenty of “explainer boards”, maps and signposts along the way you can trace the tumultuous geological history of the area.  The rocks along the rock route are old, really old and represent the oldest rocks found in Europe. They contain evidence of tectonic movement and the fossils captured in the sedimentary rocks are some of the earliest life forms ever discovered.

 

The Rock Route
It’s easy to see the two layers of different rock in this image. The darker rock, now on top, is older than the lighter one.

To top it off, the North West Highlands was one of the birthplaces of modern geology with Benjamin Peach and John Horne showing how stratigraphy needed to be carefully interpreted because the rock layers on top might not necessarily be the youngest. The accepted idea is that rocks are laid down in layers. The rocks on top are the youngest, the ones underneath are older. However, if the layers become deformed and folded, they can overlay each other, and older rocks might be higher than younger rocks. Geologists look for clues in the types of rocks and fossils to help put the rocks in the right order.

 

 

 

I started the Rock Route in Ullapool and while not stopping at all the highlights was able to get a good feel for the area. I dallied at the Rock Shop in Kylesku (just north of Unapool) and had one of the best toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches I have ever had! The day was a bit bleak outside and the warm cosy shop and museum, a welcome respite.

UNESCO Geoparks

The NorthWest Highlands Geopark is one of the many UNESCO Geoparks.

The UNESCO Geoparks are

“are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development. Their bottom-up approach of combining conservation with sustainable development while involving local communities is becoming increasingly popular. At present, there are 147 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 41 countries.”

Getting to the Rock Route

I don’t think it would be efficient to do the Rock Route any way except by car. This allows you to take your own time, stop where you want and take as long as you like. I did the trip from Ullapool right through to Scrabster in one day covering a  distance of 197 miles  (317 km).  This was made possible through an early start and a late finish, thanks to the long daylight hours!! As stated, the weather was not great, and I did not take in all the highlights or linger long except at Knockan Crag, where I took a walk along the well-marked track and Unapool for lunch.

The best place to start the Rock Route is either Ullapool or Durness. Look out for the signs with a purple Celtic design on the A835 heading out of Ullapool.

Durness Beach - The Rock Route
The end of the Rock Route at Durness.

 

St Kilda, Scotland.

St Kilda Island - Sea Stack

St Kilda Island

I often develop a theme for my travel photography. For instance, when I went to France for my 50th birthday, I took pictures of the numbers from 1 through to 50. In Italy, it was doors. In New York, it was taking photos of photographers taking photos.

My original intention on my vacation to Scotland was to take photos of place names that were the same as places in Australia. I was quickly overwhelmed, with nearly every place name having a twin somewhere in Oz. I would have had to of stopped at every suburb, so I ended up abandoning the idea.

St Kilda is a case in point. In Scotland, it is a tiny remote island in the outer Outer Hebrides. Two and a half hours from Harris (on a relatively speedy boat)  which is already about an hour from mainland Scotland on the ferry. In Australia, it’s a hip inner-city Melbourne suburb. They don’t seem to have a lot in common!

St Kilda is a dual World Heritage site and managed by the National Trust of Scotland. It is listed for both its historical value and its wildlife.  It has a fascinating history. Now abandoned, it was once a small community of only 36 people. These hardy souls were evacuated in 1930 because they had no food and no way of supporting themselves.

These days, St Kilda is a defence base, a tourist destination and a place for scientific research. It’s not easy to get to, so visitor numbers are relatively low, although smaller cruise ships can come into its harbour.

Kilda Cruises

I took a trip out to St Kilda with Kilda Cruises.  Kilda Cruises takes small groups (max 12) out to the island from Leverburg, on Harris Island, a few times a week, depending on the weather. When you book, you need to make allowances for a two-day travel window. If the seas are too rough for travel on one day, you need to be available the next day. If it is still too rough, you will get a refund.

It takes about 2 and ½ hours cruising to get to the island. If you are prone to seasickness, I suggest you stay out on the back deck. Here you will be able to watch the sea birds following the wake and breathe in the fresh sea air. It is, however, noisy, so you may want to consider noise-cancelling headphones.  You may catch sight of puffins diving into the water and coming up with mouthfuls of small, silver fish. You might also be lucky to see some whales or dolphins.

St Kilda

The boat leaves Leverburg at 7:45AM and returns at around 7:30PM. You can get a great cup of tea and a bacon butty at the Butty Bus before you depart. The Kilda crew will drop you off at St Kilda’s little harbour where you will transfer to the island in a small dingy. A ranger from the National Trust will give you a run-down on  the island and its history. After this introduction, you’ll have around 5 hours to explore, walk and take in the scenery on your own.

Swamp Orchid - St Kilda

There is no place to buy food, so you need to take your own food and water for the whole day. There is a toilet in the village, near the museum, but away from there, it is a matter of “hide and squat” behind one of the many stone walls!

On the way back, Kilda Cruises provides a lovely hot cup of tea, cake and a shot of whiskey to warm you up. Even though I went in “summer”, I was dressed in fleece-lined Gortex pants, a Gortex jacket, beanie, gloves and a few other layers! Make sure you wear good shoes and be prepared to step in a lot of sheep shit!

Here is a short (long) video of my day on St Kilda. Sorry about the wind noise! While too late for this post, I now have a proper mic for connecting to the phone to cut out the wind!

 

This video shows some of the histories of the island and is obviously (!!!!) not made by me!

 

My Scottish Vacation Photo Album

The family slide show

When I was a little, I remember family gatherings where we sat at my maternal grandparent’s house to watch the “slide show” of a recently past family event.  It was one of my favourite things to do. At the time, I was more concerned with whether I was actually in any of the shots, rather than any aesthetic quality the photographs may have had.

These days we can publish our photos via so many media; Facebook, Instagram, Stellar, blogs etc., etc. Despite this, I  still always produce a physical photobook of my vacations. I start them as soon as possible after returning so I have the places and events fresh in my mind. For this photobook, I went from over 6000 Raw images down to around 300 processed “artworks”.

The coffee table book

My aim for the photobook is not so much recreate the journey, but rather present the most noteworthy images. It is not a journal as such, but rather a coffee-table book.

You can see the photobook from my Scottish Road Trip here on Yumpu. I was unable to alter the canvas size, so there is a section of white space above and below what are sometimes meant to be full-page images. This is a bit distracting, but I don’t know how to fix it. Let me know what you think.

The actual book itself is 17 x 12 inches with a hardcover and  186 pages. I chose eggshell matte paper. For the past 10 years, I have used Photobook Australia, which I find excellent value for money. (I am not affiliated with Photobook Australia in any way)

 

 

 

Photo of the Week 33

Photo of the Week Challenge

Primula Scotica

On my recent walking tour of the Orkney islands, our walking guide, Nigel had told us to be on the lookout for the elusive Primula scotica or Scottish Primrose. It was sharp-eyed Elaine who spied it first.  Declared to be nationally scarce, it was indeed a lucky find! It is only small, about 13 mm across and maybe 7 – 8 cm tall. This one found on the walk from Skara Brae to Yesnaby.

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You light up my life – Lighthouses in Scotland

Part 3 of the ongoing series on lighthouses

 

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Ardnamurchan Lighthouse.

 

Going to Scotland gave me a chance to photograph some of my favourite subjects – lighthouses. According to the Northern Lighthouse Board, there are 206 of them. That’s  140 odd less than Australia. The wriggly, rugged Scottish coastline is ~16,500km (if you include all the islands) compared to the 25670 km needed to encircle Australia. A ratio of about 2:3. The surface area of Australia is 100,000 times bigger than Scotland. This gives you a really good idea of just how wriggly and rugged that Scottish coastline is.

With so much competition for my time, I only got to visit a very few of them.  Some “visits” only a fleeting glance from a ferry deck while at others, I had a more expansive visit.

I have done my best to pinpoint location, but my memory is a bit patchy on some, and I can only give a  guestimate based on where it appears in the sequence of other photos taken. If I have incorrectly labelled any, please let me know in the comments below!

You can see my posts about Australian lighthouses and lighthouses in Maine by following the links.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, Kilchoan.

The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse (above) is built on the most westerly point of the British mainland and is approximately 20 minutes from the Kilchoan Ferry Terminal. There are a shop and cafe on-site, as well as guided tours. You access it via a long, narrow, one-way, walled road. Stop at the traffic lights and be patient, it takes a little while to go green! It is also a great place to do some whale spotting. I saw two very large fins which I decided were orcas but more likely to be Minky whales. (My camera does not have a strong enough zoom to get good pictures) There is also a lovely little cafe (Puffin Coffee) on the way which is well worth stopping at.

Neist Point Lighthouse, Skye.

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Neist Point Lighthouse on the most westerly point of the Isle of Skye is set amongst some spectacular scenery. The carpark was packed the day I was there, and there were plenty of people making the trek down the very steep path to a grassy meadow below.  I noticed that some people were finding the pathway very challenging, and I recommend you wear shoes with a good grip and have a reasonable level of fitness.

There is not much nearby, although I would recommend the Red Roof Cafe, which is less the 5 miles (8km) away. This cafe has excellent vegetarian food that even the most committed carnivore would enjoy! They have a splendid array of very interesting tea as well. Their French Earl Grey was amazing!

 

The Corran Lighthouse, Loch Linnhe

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What a strange place for a lighthouse! Inland? On a Loch? The job of the Corran Lighthouse is to guide vessels through the very narrow, Corran Narrows on Loch Linnhe  On the other side of the loch, is Fort William. I didn’t stop here beyond jumping out of the car to get the shot. The Keepers’ Cottages are now used as luxury self-catering cottages.

Kinnaird Head Lighthouse, Fraserburgh

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The Kinnaird Head Lighthouse has two distinguishing features:

  1. It is built over the ruins of a castle
  2. There is the excellent Museum Of Scottish Lighthouses on the same site.

Unfortunately, I only had time to have a short one hour visit but managed to snag a spot on the last guided tour for the day which was a well-spent £9. Because the Keeper’s quarters were once a castle, they were quite luxurious in comparison to others I have seen.

 

The collage below shows some of the other lighthouses in Scotland quickly captured (and whose locations I cannot be 100% sure of!).

 

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Coming into Harris Island by Ferry

 

 

 

 

The Scottish Fishing Industry.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Fraserburgh, a fishing town on the northeast coast of Scotland. You can tell it was once a prosperous and thriving community by the size and grandeur of its public buildings. These days it’s a bit tattered at the edges, but as I said in my previous post, there are some good people there. Nearly everyone I had an extended conversation with was very keen to know what I thought of Brexit. Almost as keen as I was to avoid the topic! I didn’t know enough about it to make a sensible statement, and I could tell it was a loaded question. It got me into a bit of an internet vortex trying to find information about how many people were involved in fishing in these towns and what affect the EU had had on them.

Fishing Industry Studies

The opening statement of a 2004 report by the Royal Society of Edinburgh Inquiry into the Future of the Scottish Fishing Industry, does not beat around the bush

The Scottish fishing industry has been managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) of the European Union for the last thirty years. The policy has failed to achieve adequate conservation of certain key fish stocks so that an important part of the industry and the livelihoods of many in Scotland’s fishing communities are now under threat.

Changes to the European fishing industry have had a more significant effect on Scotland than elsewhere in the UK because Scotland has always depended more heavily on fishing. While less than 9% of the UK’s population lives in Scotland, around 60% of the fisheries catch is landed there. Many of the fishing communities are in small, relatively remote villages. Fraserburgh and Peterhead, by contrast, are large port towns which account for the majority of fishing employment in the district. Fraserburgh is an important port for shellfish.

Total allowable catch?

The introduction of quotas imposed when the UK joined the EU, drastically reduced the total allowable catch.  I was told by fisher folk in Fraserburgh that a lot of caught fish are dumped at sea. It would seem the amount of fish caught has not been reduced just the amount of fish brought to shore. The quotas have reduced the profitability drastically by taking away some economies of scale. Employment in the industry fell by 40% in the ten years from 1994 – 2004.

Scottish Fishihg Trawler

Twenty years ago, nearly 60% of the population of Fraserburgh was in some way linked to employment in the fish industry. These days it is much less. A report published in 2016 states that there were 780 fishermen (interesting it used that term… are there no women?) on a fleet of  207 active vessels. This is eclipsed by 208 vessels in Stornaway, Harris.

According to this same report, things are looking up for Fraserburgh and other fishing towns. The once dire situation for cod and haddock is improving. No longer at the brink of virtual extinction through overfishing, stocks are increasing.

Will Brexit make a difference for the people of Fraserburgh? Or will it be too late? Will the family businesses last or will the owner-skippers be bought out by huge corporations who can ride the up and downs more easily? Will the small vessels be replaced by supertanker size rigs? Will the charm of a salty Scottish fishing village be lost forever?

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Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive analysis of the Scottish Fishing Industry, just my personal interpretation after reading a few reports.

I used the following sources when putting this post together.

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/aug/18/where-did-all-the-cod-go-fish-chips-north-sea-sustainable-stocks

https://www.rse.org.uk/inquiries/the-scottish-fishing-industry/

Aberdeenshire Sea Fisheries Statistics. 2016.

A chat with a nice fellow at the fish markets.