Geodiversity in Scotland

Posted on March 9th, 2011 by Charles Boot

Christopher Dingwall writes:

In response to Dr Rutherford’s forum piece on Geodiversity, her question stimulated a few brain cells. In reading my response, you ought to know that I studied geology at school and as a subsidiary subject in my first year at UCL, alongside my geography degree, so have a long-standing interest in the subject. Indeed, I used to run a week-long summer school entitled ‘Geology and Scenery’ here in Scotland when I worked as a field studies tutor at Kindrogan Field Centre in the 1970s.

Fossil Grove,Victoria Park, Glasgow

The ‘Fossil Grove 1888’ image was taken after discovery of the fossil tree stumps c1888, but before the shelter was built.

The ‘Fossil Grove 1888’ image was taken after discovery of the fossil tree stumps c1888, but before the shelter was built.

While cutting a path through an old quarry in the 1880s, workers came across the well-preserved fossil stumps of several trees, or giant club-mosses, in the Carboniferous strata north of the River Clyde. When work was completed on laying out Victoria Park, it was decided to keep the old quarry as a rock garden, and to preserve the stumps in situ by building a shelter.

A school group visiting the Grove in 1948

A school group visiting the Grove in 1948

The building and so-called ‘Fossil Grove’ still survive, and can be visited between April and September during the year. The building is almost dead centre of the attached view, on a low wooded hill in the centre of the park, and has been accessible to the public for well over 100 years.There is a long history of education & interpretation.

Ariel view of Glasgow's Victoria Park

Ariel view of Glasgow's Victoria Park

Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline
Patrick Geddes was commissioned by the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust to prepare a plan for the development of the town’s Pittencrieff Park. Entitled City Development : A Study of Parks Gardens and Culture Institutes, and published in 1904, this was a typically Geddesian fountain of ideas, way beyond the wit and resources of the Carnegie Trustees. However, among his proposals were those not only for a ‘Scottish Rock Garden’, mainly intended for the display of plants, but also a ‘Rock Garden Further Developed: Evolutionary and Geological’ intended to educate people about different rock types. “… Our rock garden may be considered … as the quadrant of a circle. Around the widest sweep of this large arc we arrange for the world formations; along the middle British ones; while near the centre comes the presentment of our immediate strata”.The scheme was to have comprised “… genuine and representative rock samples … ripple marks, fossils, igneous rock, a glaciated surface … creatures of the past … the geographical distribution of our different plants might thus be largely related to the limestones, sandstones and clays of our geologic model… How can the simple visitor, the beginner in geology, be helped to see the great processes of world-making? May not this be in some measure contrived in miniature by the help of our little stream … I do not propose attempting to construct a model glacier … (but) I should desire to set up in a summer house in the adjacent plantation one or two forms of the machine for imitating the stupendous operations of nature … foldings, dislocations, the makings of mountains and valleys themselves. Here we reach the natural conclusion of such pioneering proposals — that he who would see the world may literally do worse than come to Dunfermline”.What a breadth of ambition and imagination! Sadly, it all proved too much for the Carnegie Trust, so was never realised.

Baxter Park
When doing some work for Dundee City Council on Joseph Paxton’s Baxter Park, in Dundee, I was asked to prepare a report on the rock garden there. By the end of this, I was left in little doubt that there was a deliberate ‘arrangement’ of the rockwork, now mostly hidden, as the bulk of the so-called ‘rockery dell’ was infilled long ago. As in Glasgow’s Victoria Park, the boundary of the park was arranged so as to incorporate part of an existing whinstone quarry. The ‘rockery dell’ formed therein consisted on one side of the quarry face, and on the other of rather higgledy- piggledy arrangement of rocks stood on end or piled up (see postcard view of the latter); probably local whinstone and sandstone.

Postcard view of the Rockery in Baxter Park, Dundee

Postcard view of the Rockery in Baxter Park, Dundee

However, there was a third arrangement of rockwork above these, still visible and accessible, as it lay outside the ‘dell’, this consisting of several layers of limestone blocks (definitely not local origin), arranged to resemble natural rock strata [Christopher’s original report contains quite detailed contemporary descriptions of the feature and planting from the 1860s]. I assume that the limestone rockwork was deliberately chosen and placed, so as to provide a suitable place for planting calcicolous species, and a contrast with the ferns etc, planted in the Dell.A little more analysis and comparison may be required here, to determine whether Paxton has a deliberate aim in mind in the way that he arranged his rockwork !

Pulham Rockwork
Although not strictly educational, I have long been interested in the quality and character of James Pulham & Sons’ rockwork, some of it artificial, some of it constructed out of natural rock. I have clambered over their work here in Scotland, whether ‘artificial’ as at Ross Hall Park and Ballimore, or ‘natural’ as at Dunira or in Kelvingrove Park, and in Ireland at St Stephen’s Green in Dublin. In some instances, as you will know, the artificial rock faces are highly convincing.

Other ‘Natural’ Rock Features
There are too many examples to mention of Scottish waterfalls, crags, cascades etc. incorporated into designed landscapes, sometimes with subtle remodelling to heighten effects; though not deliberately educational in purpose.
Finally, another curiosity, a house called Camlarg, near Dalmellington in Ayrshire (now demolished) where the side of the main drive to the house site is still lined at intervals with large boulders, most of which are exotic and/or unusual geological specimens.This is a coal-mining area, so there is a chance that at least one of the past occupants of the house had an interest in geology. Again, not deliberately educational, but curious and interesting nonetheless.


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