I can normally be found writing news stories or running outreach events for the Department, but this year I decided to dust off my walking boots and tag along to Arran with our first years to find out what makes this fabled Island so geologically exciting. Let’s just say it didn’t disappoint, and in the post below I’ve managed to condense down what — according to our students and demonstrators — makes this trip so special.
The ferry ride to the Island
One of the trip highlights for us all had to be the sunset as we reached Arran on the ferry. We were full of anticipation — the students having seen their first outcrops on the Ayrshire coast earlier that day. This was our first glimpse of our home for the next week; the sun setting over the highest peak, Goat Fell. Arran looked more like a Greek Island — sparking a bit of friendly rivalry with our counterparts on the Spain fieldtrip, who were under a near perpetual rain cloud for their entire trip!
Fossil lightning strikes in the New Red Sandstone
A student favourite. We encountered these beautiful fulgurites at one of the first localities of our first day on Arran, touring along the foreshore between Brodick and Corrie. Aside from the stunning cross bedding in the New Red Sandstone, the students were also really excited to find these curious structures in the rocks. Palaeo-weather never fails to impress!
The Index Limestone
Another of the students top picks: this outcrop on the north coast of Arran was teaming with fossils (and also students looking for crinoids). We find a trilobite every few years or so in the Index Limestone, and this year one of the first years, Abby, found a beautifully preserved pygidium!
Beautiful mini-folds in the Dalradian
PhD student, Hassan Aftab Sheikh, took these photos of beautiful mini-folds in the Dalradian rocks of Arran’s NW coast. This was day 3 of the trip, so students could finally get out their compass-clinos and have a go at measuring plunge and plunge direction.
On our penultimate day on Arran we visited the infamous Doon. Students had a chance to draw some of their first large-scale sketches before heading to the rock-face for a closer look. One of our arty students, Imane, captured this magnificent hulk in all it’s glory in the drawing below.
Further along the from the Doon, we encountered a quartz-feldspar porphyry: one of the many sills in the area. It was post-doc Auriol Rae’s favorite rock of the trip, but also got us demonstrators a bit hot under the collar as we tried to disentangle its emplacement history. The porphyry contains xenoliths of the underlying dolerite sill, and the dolerite itself contains xenocrysts of feldspar and quartz which must have come from a similar magma to the porphyry. Which came first? We think they probably were contemporaneous.
Free day: Goat Fell and the Standing Stones
Of course, after a busy week of fieldwork we were ready to unwind. Being geologists we couldn’t totally escape from rocks…Students had a choice for the day: either climb Goat Fell for uninterrupted views of the Island and beyond, or a more chilled visit to the Machrie Moor Standing Stones followed by a tour of the Lochranza Distillery. Even at the distillery we talked geology: hearing how the local rocks impact water purity and distillation.
Our fantastic lecturers — Sally Gibson, Alex Piotrowski, Nick Butterfield and David Al-Attar — kept us busy each evening with lively talks about Arran’s geology. Alex even led a small group of us in an astronomy lesson, taking advantage of the remote dark skies for stargazing (he had come prepared with telescope and astronomical binoculars!)
A final vote from the demonstrators – the puddings at the Lochranza Field Centre! I don’t think any of us went hungry that week, and sitting down each evening to eat a three course meal concluded by ginger cake and custard (our #1 pudding of the trip), arctic roll or warm chocolate cake certainly kept up energy reserves! We realize now that none of us took photos of the puddings (too busy eating them…)
A big thanks to our inspiring lecturers, enthusiastic students, and all that took care of us: Phil the bus driver and the staff at the Lochranza Field Centre!
To those who have been to Arran in previous years – what memories do you have of the trip? Can you add any of your own highlights in the comments?