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But our understanding of this is relatively recent — a mere two hundred years in comparison. The rocks of Scotland have formed over a time span of billions of years, with a series of different plate tectonic events over time resulting in a wide variety of rock types. Visit: Siccar Point.

Mountain Building In Scotland by Kevin Jones

We can imagine Scotland as a jigsaw, with six main pieces, slabs of continent formed at different times in different places. Go back beyond million years, and the oldest rocks give us glimpses of a complex history, with long-lost ocean basins, volcanic islands and chunks of continent that have been altered and overprinted by more recent events.

The recent history is clearer, starting with the Caledonian Orogeny about million years ago. Before that time the rocks of Scotland, Scandinavia and North America were one continent, while on the other side of the now-vanished Iapetus Ocean lay the rocks of England and the rest of northern Europe. The Caledonian Orogeny describes a period of continental collision and mountain building which closed the Iapetus Ocean, collided the rocks of England and Scotland, and fused the main jigsaw pieces of Scotland together.

Then quieter conditions prevailed and much of Scotland was buried under layers of sediment, forming sandstone, coal and other sedimentary rocks.


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These are ancient and highly deformed metamorphic rocks gneiss have been deeply buried and contorted during a long history. The Callanish standing stones in Lewis are examples. These rocks are also found on the mainland, in a thin strip along the north-west coast.

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Here they are often buried under younger sandstones and limestones, including the Torridonian Sandstone, dating back to 1 billion years and the oldest sedimentary rocks in Scotland. Just inland from the coast, we come to our first major discontinuity, the world-famous Moine Thrust, which is best seen at Knockan Crag NNR , just north of Ullapool. This fault plane separates ancient gneiss, sandstone and limestone of the west from overlying metamorphic rocks, the Moine, to the east.

The Most Photographed Mountain in Scotland

The Moine rocks were originally ocean-floor sedimentary rocks, but were caught up in Caledonian Orogeny, buried and heated to form metamorphic rocks schist. A block of these rocks were then pushed westwards, up and over sedimentary rocks that lay to the east. This juxtaposition of metamorphic rocks above sedimentary rocks was a major puzzle to the Victorian geologists who first studied them, and solving the puzzle represented a major leap forward in our understanding of mountain building and faults, long before the concepts of plate tectonics.

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Visit: Northwest Highlands Geopark. Travelling further south, we reach the Great Glen between Inverness and Fort William, site of a major fault line separating two blocks of metamorphic rocks with different histories.


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To the east, these rocks are buried under the Old Red Sandstone, made famous by stonemason Hugh Miller , who found many unique specimens of fossil fish around Cromarty on the Black Isle. South of the Great Glen, the Highland metamorphic rocks often contain large bodies of granite, for example in the Cairngorm mountains. These granite masses were once molten, with hot, liquid rock squeezing and melting its way upwards.

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Mountain Building

Make a difference, learn more, donate today! The peat bog that passes for a path at the foot on Ben Vane. A closer view of the badly braided and eroded path. Ben Vane. Higher up Ben Vane the path is a rubble-chute.