Fresh from producing a new book on the vivid geology of the Isle of Skye, environmental geologist and author Alan McKirdy will be a guest speaker at the Skye Book Festival at 3pm on September 1.
Alan’s aim with Skye: Landscapes in Stone is to make it easier for people without a professional background in geology to understand how the landscape came to look like it is today and to put natural events like earthquakes and volcanoes in context. And what a dynamic context – during the lifetime of the Earth, Scotland has spent more time in the southern hemisphere than in the north, and more time separated from England than linked to it.
This 48-page work from publishers Birlinn is the first of Alan’s brand-new series on Scotland's geology and landscapes. Also put on sale in August was the companion volume, Arran: Landscapes in Stone. Coming next are ones on Cairngorm and Edinburgh, with the Western Isles; and Lochaber and Glencoe to follow not long after.
Before retiring about four years ago, Alan was Head of Knowledge and Information Management at Scottish Natural Heritage. He worked in SNH and its predecessor, the Nature Conservancy Council, in England and Scotland for around 30 years.
Among a range of other written works, Alan is the co-author of Land of Mountain and Flood with Roger Crofts and John Gordon; and of Set in Stone: The Geology and Landscapes of Scotland, both published by Birlinn. The first was written in spare time while still working; now Alan, who graduated in geology from Aberdeen University, has the time to try to complete a project which he has had in mind for decades; making accurate geological knowledge accessible in an understandable form to anyone who is interested.
Skye's geological history involves some of the most ancient rocks on the planet; a grandstand view as the Highlands of Scotland were formed over 400 million years ago and the development, around 60-65 million years ago, of one of the mightiest volcanoes ever to blow its top.
Finally, the rocks were shaped into the familiar hills and glens of today by the passage of ice as the Ice Ages gripped the land from two million years ago to around 11,000 years ago.
This book provides key information about the formation of the island and the on-going processes of natural landscape evolution that continue to leave their mark on these spectacular vistas. As an example, parts of Scotland have their ancient rocks on the surface, not because later layers have been eroded, but because they were never beneath a sea, as sedimentary rocks are laid down on seabeds. One exception is rock created from the sand of ancient deserts, which created the characteristic colour of the stone used in Edinburgh tenement buildings.
On Skye, the Quiraing with its extraordinary shapes and permanent landslip is a product first of the volcanic activity 60 million years ago, and then the activity of glaciers and ice caps. The end of the last ice age 11,000 years ago left it unstable with the escarpment trying to establish an equilibrium.
To know more, you can visit the Skye Book Festival at 3pm on Thursday September 1