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  • North Coast Explorer

10 Amazing Facts about the NW Highlands Geopark

Did you know that the North Coast 500 hosts the largest of 7 Geoparks located in the UK, stretching from Durness in the north to almost Ullapool in the south and covers 2100 km2?

Geology and rocks may not be your ‘thing’, but most people cannot wait to see and enjoy the stunning mountainous vistas of the North West Highlands – and the Geopark is what you will be driving through. So, why not share these 10 amazing facts about the North West Highlands UNESCO Geopark with your companions as you enjoy your drive and show off your knowledge!

An serial shot of the high ridge of Stac Pollaidh with Cul Mor in the background
Climbing the Stac Pollaidh Ridge
  1. The mountains of the Geopark are made from the remnants of once mighty mountains on what is now the eastern seaboard or coast of North America.

  2. Echoes of a giant asteroid that impacted the Highlands 3000 million years ago can be found hidden amongst the rocks at Clachtoll. It left a crater 24 km wide.

  3. Lewisian Gneiss (pronounced ‘nice’) is one of the main rock types found here and is amongst some of the oldest on earth. Geologists believe it to be between 2500 million and 3000 million years old.

  4. Fossils of some of the earliest lifeforms to inhabit the earth can be found at Clachtoll. They are known as ‘stromatolites’ and are thought to be around 1200 million years old.

  5. The mountain of Canisp shimmers, appearing to have ice at its summit all year round. It is, however, a white rock called quartzite which reflects and refracts sunlight giving it an ice like appearance.

  6. The ‘Bone Caves’ at Inchnadamph are eroded out of 480 million year old limestone – and the caves themselves once contained ancient bones of reindeer, lynx and even a polar bear!

  7. The Geopark is the birthplace of the modern science of Geology. Here two Victorian geologists discovered that the earth’s crust is not static but moving and their theories explained how vast mountains ranges such as the Himalayas and the Alps were formed.

  8. Suilven was given its name by both the Gaels and the Vikings. The Viking word ‘sula’ (meaning ‘a pillar’) is joined by the Gaelic ‘beinn’ (meaning ‘a mountain’) – Pillar Mountain. When you view the peak from Lochinver, it does indeed look like a massive grey pillar!

  9. Enjoy the art hidden amongst the mountains! At the Knockan Crag Visitor Centre, you will find a beautiful globe made of blocks of rock and if you climb Canisp, you will find a similar structure built of shimmering quartzite.

  10. Smoo Cave is unique in the UK – its outer structure being formed by the sea and its inner passages eroded by freshwater. It gets its name from the Vikings and was used as a place to distil illicit whisky in the 18th century!

A wide vista looking across moorland to the mountains of Suilven and Canisp
The view to Suilven & Canisp
A perfect sphere made of small pieces of rock found on the side of the Knockan Crag rocky hill
'The Globe' by Joe Smith at Knockan Crag
Looking out from Smoo Cave along the gorge carved out by the seawater
Inside Smoo Cave

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