Heading up to Elphin after the Banff Mountain Festival at Inverness, we will arrive late but the forecast looks great. Assynt includes, and is surrounded by, spectacular mountains, most of which rise up from an undulating landscape of Lewisian Gneiss as isolated peaks of reddish-brown Torridonian sandstone, often topped with a layer of pale quartzite. This is a wild part of Scotland no more so in winter where if you get snow it is superb. The mountains .seas and lochs are unique and usually you have a hill on your own and if there is a view it is a wonderful wild place.
Walkers & Climbers – whether experienced or not – are spoiled for choice here. There are two Munros in the area – Ben More Assynt and Conival, located on the eastern edge of Assynt are popular with the keen mountaineer. But there are many more walks & climbs to suit all ages and abilities – low level walks, coastal strolls, and rock climbing on the sea cliffs or the mountains.
“Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out
these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,
and left, on the hard rock below — the
ruffled foreland —
this frieze of mountains, filed
on the blue air — Stac Polly,
Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven,
Canisp — a frieze and
|Landscape, Geology & Caves|
|Unlike possibly anywhere else on mainland Britain, the link between the underlying rocks and the landscape is clearly defined in Assynt. Due to the absence of urban development and the sparse covering of vegetation much of the skeleton of the land is exposed for all to witness.
In the limestone valleys around Inchnadamph & Elphin are found the most extensive cave network in Scotland.
Rock formations here date back over 3000 million years (and include some of the most ancient rocks in Europe) but the landscape we see today is much younger – having been sculptured by the ice during the last ice ages .
The oldest formation, Lewisian Gneiss, creates a landscape of low hills and scattered lochans. Rising from this gneiss landscape are huge ‘islands’ of Torridonian sandstone (occasionally capped by quartzite) that resisted the erosive powers of the last Ice Age. These stubborn survivors form the iconic mountains that make the landscape here so distinctive.
This is nowhere more clearly seen than along the approach from the South – the sandstone monoliths of Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Cul Beg, Canisp and Suilven standing proud above the surrounding landscape of Lewisian Gneiss.
Along the eastern edge of Assynt a series of geological thrust planes can be identified – including the famous Moine Thrust. Originally identified by pioneering geologists Ben Peach & John Horne over 100 years ago, there was great controversy over their conclusions. However, their interpretation was accepted and led to many of the current theories of structural geology, and they are commemorated with a cairn in Inchnadamph, at the west end of Loch Assynt.
Little wonder that this part of Sutherland together with the Coigach area of Wester Ross have been designated the North West Highlands Geopark. There are several display boards along the roadside as you travel through the area explaining the geological significance of the landscape. There is also a fascinating display centre atKnockan Crag a short distance South of Elphin.
Another intriguing site of geological interest is that of the suggested Meteorite strike close to Clachtoll Beach.The rocks exposed close by are evidence of what is considered Europe’s largest known meteorite strike.