The North West Highlands of Scotland became a European Geopark at the annual meeting of the European Geopark Network in Sicily, in October 2004. The Geopark is located in the far north west of Scotland. The 2000 km2 area encompasses some of the finest mountain and coastal landscapes in Britain and contains a wealth of classic geological localities. The rich natural heritage is recognised in the high number of designated areas: two National Nature Reserves, 54 Geological Conservation Review sites, 26 geological Sites of Special Scientific Importance, 17 Special Protection Area sites and 11 Special Areas of Conservation. The area also contains many historic and archaeological sites, ranging from Iron Age defensive towers, remains of Norse settlements to castles and houses related to the Lordship of the Isles.
The Geopark contains some of the most important and diverse geological and geomorphological features in Britain. The unique landscapes strikingly reflect the underlying geology. Geologically, the area is dominated by the internationally important Moine Thrust Zone, which runs from north to south.
To the west lies the 3000 million year old Lewisian Gneiss Complex, containing some of the oldest rocks in Europe; these rocks are characterised by the typical rugged ‘cnoc-and-lochan’ landscape. Several ‘insel-bergs’ occur on top of the Lewisian Gneiss; these are formed by the circa 1000 million year old Torridonian red sandstone. Other inselbergs are capped by white Cambrian Quartzite – often covered in vast blockfields, since the quartzite was highly susceptible to frost-shattering during more recent Ice Ages. East of the mountains is the wild, boggy country underlain by the enigmatic Moine rocks. Tell-tale signs of the past Ice Age can be found troughout the area. The coastal scenery also reflects the geology. Where the coast is formed by Lewisian Gneiss there are numerous small coves and craggy headlands. In contrast, high cliffs and occasional sea stacks such as the Old Man of Stoer characterize coast formed by Torridonian sandstone. The North West Highlands is a key area in the history of geological science. During the 19th century, the so-called ‘Highlands Controversy’ raged over the relationships of these rocks, ending with the recognition of the complexities of the Moine Thrust Zone, now recognised as one of the most important structures of the circa 400 million year old Caledonian Mountain belt. Hundreds of geology students from around the world are still trained in the region every year.
Geological interpretation that helps the visitor to appreciate and understand the geological processes in the
area is already well developed. There are two Tourist Information Centres with geological displays and one 24 hour visitor centre at Knockan Crag, which is solely dedicated to the Moine Thrust. Twelve interpretative panels occur at viewpoints. An active Ranger Service organises guided walks throughout the summer.
North West Highlands Geopark
Sutherland IV27 4LE,