Watching brief on Edinburgh Rocks! walk

Leading walks out-of-doors from urban geology to out in high and lonely places requires that you get out there from time to time to check your route and look for changes for good as well as ill.

We’re in the midst of the Scottish Geoheritage Festival presently, part of the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology in Scotland. I’ve offered to do some of my urban geological walks, as they are accessible for all. Although they are ‘standing’ routes, things often change more quickly on the streets than on the hills.

Hills of Holyrood Park from Calton Hill

Looking towards the landscape of dormant vents and lavas of Holyrood Park

Edinburgh Rocks! is a fixed route around the eastern part of central Edinburgh, which takes in Calton Hill (a Site of Special Scientific Interest), the Stones of Scotland monument, the Geodiversity Wall of the Scottish Parliament, the megaliths that make up the Scotland’s Journey on the access ramp to Our Dynamic Earth, one of the many pavement fish just beside Rockstar North building and ending in the James Hutton Memorial Garden.

One problem with the start of the walk is how busy it is at the steps that lead to the first locality. Shadow the dog was photographed as part of a school project, I directed various visitors and would find myself asking if lost looking people were after the walk. Usually not.

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Steps leading to the start of Edinburgh Rocks! route

Calton Hill is in a state of flux, with one of the access roads blocked off, denying me the linear route over the top. However, this did mean that I found the excellent exposure of basalt lava shown on the left-hand photo below, which makes an excellent contrast to the underlying volcaniclastic sediments in the photo on right. Many sites have also had extra interpretation boards fitted a part of the Edinburgh in 101 Objects project.


Things are a bit more straightforward down through the Stones of Scotland site, although the lichens and other biofilms are making some of the stones harder to interpret, although I do wonder if this was part of George Wyllie’s plan for the exhibit. Should the stones be cleaned? Did George leave instructions about this matter?

Block with Stigmaria, a fossil tree root impression

Midlothian sandstone with fossil tree root in Stones of Scotland


The Canongate Wall (or the Geodiversity Wall) combines rocks and poetry to pleasing effect and this is where what I carry in my head, rather than the external environment, changes. Out on a walk, the question came up as to who Mary Brooksbank was. I stumbled upon a leaflet I had picked up in Glasgow back in my ‘filing system’ at home and there she was.

The pavement fish are likewise as much about how my knowledge shifts over time and also finding out what people on the walk would like to know, rather than telling them the same thing each time.

Wilf crouching by a fossil fish

Wilf showing the scale of ?Glyptolepis specimen beside Rockstar North HQ

Finally, the run up to the well-hidden Hutton Memorial Garden. As it is tucked away, there can be quite a bit of litter and visits from people less than interested in Hutton’s geological contributions. After the main plaque was stolen from the central stone, a replica was put up and a smaller label added explaining that the replica has no scrap value, as seen in the photo below. Now the small plaque has vanished!

Rock with plaque commemorating James Hutton, Geologist

Hutton Memorial Garden plaque

I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

Posted in Geodiversity, Geological Walks, Geological Walks (urban), Scotland

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Al is a Summer Mountain Leader
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