Northwest Highlands Geopark, Scotland

Northwest Highlands Geopark: a place where sea and mountain frame day to day community, where history, geology, exploration and wilderness meet.

In case you might be thinking the word park means manmade attractions or well groomed garden hedges, that’s not what is happening in the Northwest Highlands Geopark.

nw highlands geopark sign

There are communities in the area — it is as the name would suggest, in the far northwest of Scotland — where you will find warm welcome. The heart of things in this remotes and beautiful area is geology, nature, history, and wilderness.

Geology is a big part of the story. In fact, an area of the NW Geopark led scientists to discover aspects of geologic history that guide understanding of how landscape was formed not only in Scotland but across the world.

The oldest rock in the Geopark is Lewisian gneiss. It is named after the isle of Lewis in the Western Isles and is about 3 billion years old. This is the oldest rock found anywhere in Europe.

You will find gneiss in various ways in the landscapes of the Geopark. You will also see sandstone, limestone, and quartzite, which, although not exactly newcomers, are newer than gneiss (which is by the way pronounced “nice”).

This is important because at Knockan Crag, older gneiss overlays the younger rocks. This puzzled scientits for years and led to controversy, until Victorian geologists Benjamin Peach and John Horne were able to demonstrate how older rocks had been thrust up above newer ones, by what they learned studying a formation called the Moine Thrust. You too can study what they found.

nw highland geopark moine thrust scotland geology

Geology in the NW Geopark is not limited to Knockan Crag, though. You will see different strands of rock through the landscapes in the Geopark, especially in the mountains. At Torridon you can see sandstone for example. You will also find it in the rocks around Stoer Bay.

Much of the landscape of the NW Geopark was first shaped by glaciers as the ice age ended, resulting in boulder fields, lochans and distinctively shaped mountains including Stac Polaidh and Suilven.

nwhighlands geopark stac poll scotland

The glacier also carved coast lines, creating what are today the sands at the Kyle of Durness and the dunes at Sandwood Bay.

As glaciers melted, people came to settle in what is now the Geopark.

Much of the archaeology is still to be investigated and dated, but there’s evidence of ancient people gathering shells at Sandwood Bay.

There are chambered cairns, that is, burial tombs, around Elphin and elsewhere in the northwest Highlands. There are also hut circles, stone buildings were people lived in community, dated from Bronze Age. and Iron Age times.

What does all this mean for you when you visit the Northwest Highland Geopark today?

You’ll be able to explore nature, not only through geology but by seeing wildlife, especially various bird species, and flowers and plants.

You could climb those mountain if you’d like. or photograph their unique profiles from a distance.

nw highlands geopark winter scotland suilven

You can find many walks to enjoy, read about the geology interpretive panels at places such as Knockan Crag, and walk wilderness in search of uncommon plants such as mountain aven and holly fern.

You could find the northernmost surviving native oak reserve in Scotland hear Loch a’Mhuillinn, and see a dramatic series of waterfalls in Corrieshalooch Gorge.

When you are ready for a break from exploring, there are communities which will offer you welcome in the Geopark; after all, people have been coming here since those first shell fishers and hut builders.

nw highlands geopark elphin winter scotland

Ullapool is one of the largest, a fishing port that is also a holiday destination. Achiltibuie, Kinlochbervie, and Durness are among the places where you’ll find welcome.

Given the remote nature of this area and the fact that some of the communities are rather small, it’s wise to enquire and book ahead if you are planning a stay, as some places book up in summer and close in winter months.

Music is also a way to appreciate the landscape, history, and community of the Northwest Highlands Geopark.

Mairearad Green grew up in the northwest Highlands, along the coast across from the Summer Isles. She is a visual artist as well as a composer and player of pipes and accordion. Her work draws on her native places.

Duncan Chisholm. is a fiddle player and composer. He believes deeply connection between place and spirit. Sandwood Bay is a place dear to him. He’s written a whole album drawing on his time at Sandwood.

he Northwest Highlands Geopark is a UNESCO global geopark. It is well worth your exploration any time of year.

Photographs by
Jim Barton
Gordon Hatton
Sarah Charlesworth
Sylvia Duckworth

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