The written history and archaeological records of Central Scotland takes us back to Pictish times some 5,000 years ago. The geology of the area stretches back a further 400 million years.
The oldest rocks are found near Lesmahagow and in the Pentland Hills. Known geologically as 'inliers'- small areas of rocks from an older age, surrounded by younger strata – these strata have yielded some of the oldest fish on earth and are highly prized for what they tell us about early life on the planet. Rocks of the Old Red Sandstone and the succeeding Carboniferous era underlie the rest of Central Scotland in almost equal measure. Explosive volcanic rocks, thick layers of lava, desert sandstones, limestones and productive coal measures make up this bedrock patchwork. Then, sometime later, a covering of ice, some two kilometres thick, blanketed the landscape. It sandpapered and burnished the bedrock into the familiar scenes we see today – our matchless Scottish landscape.
The coal and iron ore which lay beneath the ground between Edinburgh and Glasgow provided the raw materials that drove the Industrial Revolution in Scotland, and the early focus on understanding the rocks beneath our feet was unsurprisingly initially concentrated on the most useful minerals resources.
Alan McKirdy has written many popular books and book chapters on geology and related topics and has helped to promote the study of environmental geology in Scotland. He co-authored Set in Stone: The Geology and Landscapes of Scotland and Land of Mountain and Flood, which was nominated for the Saltire Research Book of the Year. Before his retirement, he was Head of Knowledge and Information Management at Scottish Natural Heritage. He is now a freelance writer and has given many talks on Scottish geology and landscapes at book festivals and other events across the country.