Tuesday, 3 March 2009

In the field

I did my geology degree at Glasgow University. At the time, the course provided more hours spent in the field than any other in Britain. Geological field trips are far from random. Destinations are selected very carefully.

Obviously, the geology and exposure of the area is important, but first and foremost is the weather. Geology can only properly be studied in temperatures that will make your nose turn black and fall off, fingers curl into pitiful talons and eyes freeze to icy marbles. Wind is vital - it has to be fierce, and, ideally, unpredictable. The cardinal rule, though, is that precipitation must be heavy and near constant. Gaps between raindrops, hailstones or snowflakes must only be enough to allow sheltered breathing.

This, perhaps, is why Scotland has been the source of so many key figures in the development of the science. During my time at Glasgow University we covered a great deal of Scottish soil. And saw very few days of clement weather. That said - our final year trip was from a choice of three. One to Ireland, one to the North of Scotland, where I had recently spent 6 weeks mapping, and one to the South of Spain. I went to Spain. It was very hot, very sunny, and there were a lot of bars fighting for the custom of a big group of sun-scorched students. The one downside of the trip - mammoth minibus journeys in baking heat, jolting around pitted, narrow, twisting and precipitous mountain roads. With hangovers.

My mapping project aside, the most memorable Scottish trip was to the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It's a truly lovely place, but, at least while we were there, not blessed with the most welcoming climate. It rained, snowed, hailed and was incredibly windy throughout, save for one memorable instant. the hotel we were staying in laid on packed lunches for the students every day. They tried to give us a little variety, but clinging to a rocky hillside in a howling hailstorm I remember not being overly pleased to be trying to spread a frozen block of butter onto a cream cracker with a flimsy plastic knife, with the reluctant lump of cheese-ice scowling at me before flying into the gale.

Later that day, though, the rain stopped, the wind died and a bright warm sun appeared from nowhere. It went quiet, and then we heard a muffled thundering noise. We looked around as the sound grew louder, and then around the bend in the valley came a huge herd of red deer. They ran right past, metres away, and disappeared over the small hill behind us. It was a magical moment, broken only when the rain resumed its war of attrition, very shortly after.

No comments: