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!

Rock RouteP1870177

 

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!