My fieldtrip to Assynt, Scotland

The day we’ve been waiting for is finally here. This is the feeling that I believe gripped all 40 of us the day we were leaving for Assynt, Scotland. This was going to be our first residential Geology fieldtrip – as part of our prescribed Fundamental Skills for Geoscientists module. It felt exhilarating, a sort of journey into the unknown – I mean, it’s Scotland. It was exciting enough for the home students who already live in the UK and some of them had already visited before, but for me as an international student, it was like being aboard a spaceship about to depart for space.

The adventure begins

There we were, a group of keen and bubbling Geology students on our way, embarking on our first ever residential geological fieldtrip. The first pit stop was in Siccar Point in the Scottish county of Berwickshire. There we marvelled at not only the coastal landscape but also the famous geological pilgrimage point, Hutton’s Unconformity, a place where two types of rock formations meet – red sandstone and grey wacke. We soldiered on until we had reached our destination for the night, a youth hostel situated in the majestic Scottish capital, Edinburgh. On the first night of our travel, having spent the majority of the day on a coach, we all just wanted to eat and sleep!

The first day was definitley a different feeling, being with your coursemates for such a long time and having to share rooms with them. Personally it helped me to get to know them a lot better. I built really fun friendships and strong camaraderie with people I had really not talked to that much beforehand, so it was great to get to know people properly for the first time. I think as well as being a fieldtrip, it definitley held an element of team building as well, which made it all that much more interesting.

Seeing the sights

On the second day of our quest we hit the road again, bound for our final destination of Assynt, where our residential fieldtrip would officially begin. This was mainly a travel day, stopping at locations near Inverness, seeing some classic geology that had undergone metamorphic events that had changed from being an igneous to a sedimentary rock.

Day three was a spectacular day. We visited areas encompassed within the north coast such as the beautiful Loch Awe body of freshwater, which definitely did make us all awe in wonder! A visit to the Scourie and Laxford Bridge showed us a classic example of the outcrops of Lewisian Gneiss and pegmatite rocks and their geological relation.

The fourth day was definitely one of the main highlights of the trip – a visit to Clachtoll. Here we saw a continuation of the formation of the Lewisian Gneiss rocks and the Bay of Stoer formation. As lunchtime started to approach, the sun thankfully revealed itself from behind the veil of clouds hiding it. We ate our packed lunches on the Clachtoll beach rocks overlooking the Atlantic Ocean that harboured spectacular crystal-clear turquoise water. Definitely a lunchtime to remember!

I really felt at this point in the trip that everyone had loosened up, and we had all gotten to know each other a lot better. It was interesting with our lecturers as well, seeing how as the trip progressed, they ceased to just be your lecturer and course leader, but another adult you could sit down with after a day in the field and talk about a wide range of topics ranging from academia to football. Personally, this helped me build a better working relationship with my lecturers who supported the trip, and as funny as this may sound, it made me see their human side, so they’re now not just an academic leader to me.

Rock mapping

Day five came with an introduction of a new set of rocks that we were going to eventually be mapping. The rocks were the Lewisian Gneiss, Torridonian Sandstone, Basal Quartzite, Pipe Rock, Fucoid Beds, the Salterella Grit and the Eilean and Ghrudaidh Limestone Rocks. With all this new information freshly implanted into our minds, we were ready to tackle two days’ worth of identifying and mapping these rocks in the areas we had been allocated.

The following two days continued the mapping exercise. We completed this in groups of three and four. It was definitely challenging, being our first-time undertaking mapping as well as having to trek up various hills and rock outcrops all in the hope of identifying the rock type. Thankfully it was not raining when we undertook the task. My group and I ran into what we had assumed was a lizard at first, but it turned out to be a snake. We later learned it was an adder. It was definitely a reality check and a reminder that we were very much in the wild.

Personal development

This new set of knowledge, such as how to identify different rocks and how to map them, helped me understand the theory that was taught to us during lectures, but it also marked, for me, a clear step up of learning stages and progression in my academic career. I can now confidently use geological apparatuses in the field to conduct various geological observations, such as using a compass clinometer or a hand lens. This is something I certainly was not able to do when I started my course.

Famous faces

Day eight brought about a visit to the Bone Caves at Inchandamph and the Moine Thrust. In addition, learning about the past Glacial history of Scotland once beckoning with icecaps and snow-clad mountains was also very interesting. We were also introduced to the famous Ben Peach and John Horne, whose claim to fame was their incredible mapping and remarkable attention to detail as they mapped the Northwest Highlands of Scotland.

Farewell Scotland

As day nine arrived, it was time to bid farewell to Assynt. With memories of the fieldtrip still so fresh in our minds, we travelled back to Edinburgh where we would camp for the night, continuing our journey back to Derby the following morning.

On reflection

As I look back, it was definitely a trip to remember, having learned so much, as well as taking in all the breathtaking views and sights. A special thanks goes to our lecturers who supervised and monitored us throughout the fieldtrip, as well as our coach driver who drove us safely there and back. Personally, I was able to not only cement my existing friendships, but also create new ones. I feel much more comfortable around my course tutors and course mates and this has helped build a sense of community within the year group. I also managed to grow and expand my geological knowledge and I now have a deeper sense of the subject.

Overall, a really enjoyable and informative trip and a great start to the summer break!

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