Exploring Caithness, Scotland

1 Thurso coast viewTHURSO, SCOTLAND (June 19, 2015) — After meeting in the morning for our 2015 Larwood Symposium, most of the participants then went on a field trip in the region around Thurso in the Caithness district, northern Scotland. Above is a view of the Thurso coast at low tide.

2 Dunnet Head lighthouseOne of the places we visited was Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in mainland Britain. The lighthouse is shown above.

3 Dunnet Head viewThe rocks in this part of Scotland are as austere as the rest of the country. This is the Old Red Sandstone, a Devonian unit found widely in Great Britain. It was deposited under mostly terrestrial conditions, and includes sediments from rivers, lakes, sand dunes and wadis. It splits easily in this part of Scotland into flat slabs called flagstones, which are used for buildings, walls, and tombstones.

4 Dunnet Head flowersThere are beautiful flowers on the windswept slopes of Dunnet Head. If I can, I’ll identify these later and add the name to this post. [Caroline Palmer did us the service: Armeria maritima (Thrift). Thanks, Caroline!]

5 Dunnet Head flowers 2For some reason purple is the most common flower color today. [Caroline identified this as Silene dioica (Red Campion).]

6 Dunnet Head orchidThis is a delicate little orchid I found sheltering behind a wall. [Ah, I made a classic mistake. Caroline points out that this is not an orchid, but a damaged Red Campion (as above). My perspective in this photo gave it a misleading orchid-like appearance. Always a lesson!]

7 John OGroats signJohn O’Groats is the most northeasterly point of mainland Britain. The small village here is 876 miles away from Land’s End in Cornwall, the most southwesterly part of the country. Apparently this is a big deal.

8 Paul Patrick John OGroatsHere we see a typical activity of bryozoan workers: checking fish traps for encrusting colonies. Paul Taylor is on the left and Patrick Wyse Jackson on the left. Paul looks superficially well-dressed, but he’s wearing Crocs on his feet.

9 Old Man of Hoy 2In the evening our party boarded a NorthLink ferry and sailed to Stromness. On the way we passed a sea stack known as the Old Man of Hoy. This erosional feature appeared some time after 1750, and like all coastal rock formations, it is destined to fall into the relentless waves.

10 Stromness from hotel windowFinally in the late evening we made it to the harbor in Stromness, Orkney. This is the view from my window in the Stromness Hotel. The white and blue ferry can be seen in the upper left. We settled in for the night to resume our meeting in the morning.

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is a Professor of Geology at The College of Wooster. He specializes in invertebrate paleontology, carbonate sedimentology, and stratigraphy. He also is an expert on pseudoscience, especially creationism.
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