The British Landscape Club

British Volcanoes: Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

As the ash cloud drifts this way and that around the North Atlantic - an ocean which owes its existence to the same forces responsible for Eyjafjallajökull itself - it’s time to pause and contemplate our own volcanoes again.

Last time we looked at the remains of the caldera on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, a volcano that may have been the result of the same hotspot as Eyjafjallajökull but is, in any case, related by virtue of its eruption at the start of the rifting process which first opened up the Atlantic.

This time we are concentrating on a more urban setting, on a volcano that last erupted in the Carboniferous period (between 360 and 290 million years ago) in the middle of what is now Edinburgh. It would have looked very different then, when much of Britain was a tropical swamp and a kind of prototype dragonfly flitted around the marsh with a two-and-a-half foot wing span; when arthropods which bear a resemblance to modern millipedes reached lengths of over eight-and-a-half feet; when all of this gigantism was made possible by an atmospheric oxygen concentration not far from double modern levels.

The view from the slopes of Arthur’s Seat

Around other parts of what is now the Midland Valley of Scotland, coal was being produced in the swamps of a coastal plain that was not unlike the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico today (without the devastating oil-spill, of course). For 50 million years, this tranquil scene was occasionally interrupted by volcanic eruptions. First at what is now the Castle, then later in Holyrood Park, eventually forming the feature now known as Arthur’s Seat.

In the related volcanic activity that formed Salisbury Crags (below), however, the molten rock never actually made it to the surface as a volcanic eruption, cooling deep within the earth instead. By the way, if you live in London and don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting to see Salisbury Crags or are simply too metropolitan to countenance travelling beyond the M25, the mountain has come to you instead. A lot of London is paved with it.
Salisbury Crags

Iceland: a reminder of the power of the landscape.

This video is definitely not on ‘our patch’ but is a beautiful time-lapse that displays the might and power of volcanoes. Under the video, Sean Stiegemeier explains how he came to take this amazing footage.

Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull - May 1st and 2nd, 2010 from Sean Stiegemeier on Vimeo.

”So I saw all of these mediocre pictures of that volcano in Iceland nobody can pronounce the name of, so I figured I should go and do better. But the flights to get over took forever as expected (somewhat). 4 days after leaving I finally made it, but the weather was terrible for another 4. Just before leaving it got pretty good for about a day and a half and this is what I managed to get.

Wish I had more time. I missed all the cool Lightning and the Lava of the first eruption. But I figure this will just be a trial run for another day.

I am of course accepting sponsors to send me back there for more please...!! haha”

Music: Jónsi - Kolniður (

Canon 5d mkII

HUGE thanks for the Motorized Dolly via MILapse ( Details are to come soon so stay tuned...

© Sean Stiegemeier | |


British Volcanoes: Ardnamurchan

If your holiday plans are threatened by geological violence this year, why not make the most of the disruption and stay in Britain instead? After all, there’s no need to be stranded on the other side of the world in pursuit of amazing landscapes when we have more than enough of our own - and that includes volcanoes.

At the risk of sounding like a Travelodge brochure, Britain’s volcanic heritage can be discovered in many locations across the UK from the wilds of Ardnamurchan to the slopes of Snowdonia - there are even city centre volcanoes for your convenience. We’ll be looking at all of these over the next few weeks, but we’re starting at mainland Britain’s most westerly point - not Land’s End as is popularly supposed, but the Point of Ardnamurchan in Scotland.

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The Ardnamurchan Peninsula, seen here courtesy of Google, was the site, around 65 million years ago, of intense volcanic activity. Over a period of approximately three million years, the Ardnamurchan volcano would have undergone a series of awe-inspiring eruptions culminating in the collapse of the cone and crater onto the chamber of molten rock beneath, forming the caldera - the remains of which we see today. The hotspot that created it may even be the same plume that now lies under Iceland obstructing your travel plans.

In the intervening period, wind, rain and, the most destructive of them all, glacial ice, have worn down the landscape. The following image is from the southern part of the crater itself, while the view north - like most of the journey along this road - is obstructed by the lie of the land.

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