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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.

Geology & Landforms

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.

For much more detail on the geology of the area have a look at The Leeds University Assynt page - Or the Oxford University page on 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 at Knockan 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.
Pepe on Cul Mor
Old Man of Stoer sea stack
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