James Hutton: the beginning and the end of the founder of modern geology


James Hutton (1726-1797) was a key member of the circle of Enlightenment thinkers in Edinburgh, but you will find no statute of him on a main thoroughfare. Nor is a prominent blue plaque to mark his house. Yet on the edge of Salisbury Crags he made key observations that settled a key 18th century dispute in geology. While farming at Slighhouses in the Scottish Borders, he found the rate of sediment build-up in the farm drains difficult to reconcile with the massive stacks of sediment at Siccar Point a few miles to the East. His ‘Theory of the Earth’ established the idea of the rock cycle, although the importance of these ideas was not fully appreciated by the members of the newly formed Royal Society of Edinburgh when he presented them at a meeting in 1785. This 90 minute tour will explain the significance of Hutton’s Section on Salisbury Crags, visit the Hutton Memorial Garden close to the site of his house on St John’s Hill, which offers an insight into some of Hutton’s other research into geological topics. We will then move through the areas of Edinburgh Hutton attended school and began his study of medicine and chemistry before he became the “Father of Deep Time”. The tour concludes in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, where Hutton is buried to return to the cycles of the Earth he detailed.

For a FREE leaflet on Hutton, visit the Lothian and Borders GeoConservation group site here.

The start point can be varied but in the course of the tour you will visit

  1. Hutton’s Section in Holyrood Park: A key site close to his house on St John’s Hill, where Hutton found key evidence that some rocks must have been intruded into other rocks as molten material.
  2. Hutton’s Rock in an old quarry site under Salisbury Crags: As well as showing further evidence for the intrusion of molten material, this site is important for the history of the conservation of geological features, as the rock was preserved by the quarry workers at Hutton’s request.
  3. From here the tour goes to the secluded Hutton Memorial Garden, established on St John’s Hill, where you can find out more about Hutton’s life and role among the stars of the Scottish Enlightenment.Hutton_sign

4. From the memorial garden, we pass through the Cowgate area, where Hutton went to the Royal High School, when it was sited at Blackfriars Monastery,  and finish the walk in Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Hutton is buried. Unfortunately, access to the Balfour plot is restricted.


Cost: £10 per person

Duration: About 90 minutes

Party size: Eight maximum. Sorry, no unaccompanied under-16s.

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