WHOI  WHOI People  

Journey

Our group of 15 (10 students, 1 post-doc, and 4 faculty) departed Boston on June 8th on a jumbo jet for Glasgow, Scotland. The personal space afforded coach class travelers on our flight was insulting, and we arrived the following morning completely devastated. Nevertheless we had but a short time to observe the myriad geological wonders of Scotland, so immediately upon our arrival we began driving north to the port of Mallaig where we would catch the ferry to Rum the next day. We must have looked the patriotic lot in our red, white, and blue microvans, but had the mental state of our drivers been known to the locals they would surely have given us more space on the two lane highways. Imagine our surprise when we tried to downshift and lowered the window instead.

Everybody knows that nothing can stand in the way of geological processes, and thusly motivated we put aside jet lag and had a look at Glencoe, a Devonian volcanic center with a famous history of ingratitude and bad manners. What's a Devonian volcanic center? In this case just a bit of rhyolitic magmatism generated by the collision of the Avalon and Laurentia continents some 400 million years ago. Scotland has a fascinating geological history, and in fact it can legitimately claim to be the birthplace of modern geological science. If you like your science nice and simple then you can forget ever comprehending the meaning of rocks in Scotland. But if you like things that are complicated and confusing... then you would have liked driving with us up the coast to Mallaig because it wasn't clear from one moment to the next what exactly was happening.

This much is clear, we arrived in Mallaig without an incident that anyone could remember, and fell upon the West Highland Inn with the weight of our fatigue and surprisingly healthy appetites. Eating in Scotland is an experience to be missed, but we did it anyway and then more or less collapsed in heaps. There was some controversy at the bar as the drinking habits of several members of our group were questioned by the Irish barmaid, who referred to one individual offering to share his beer as "Half Pint", and another with the bad sense to order a glass of port as a "Granny Drinker." On a different day this might have started a brawl, but we were too tired to care about being insulted, and the situation was defused on account of extreme exhaustion.

Our destination the next morning was the Isle of Rum, which was to be our base for about 4 days. We arrived at Rum after a leisurely sail across the channel on the ferry, and descended upon the youth hostel established in historic Kinloch Castle. Rum is a magnificent island adjacent to the better known Isle of Skye, and we spent the next four days hiking among its peaks, hills, and valleys. The rock outcrops are wonderful and occasionally spectacular, in the summer the sun sets at about 11:30 pm, but the weather is awful and one must take extreme caution to absolutely never find yourself in a windless space outdoors near sundown lest you be devoured by a swarm of the dreaded midges. Some Scots at our hostel remarked that they'd gladly accept the Euro if Scotland be allowed to export the midge. This must not be allowed to happen.

After four days on Rum we returned to the mainland with our heads full of layered gabbros and bedded peridotites, our bellies full of single highland malts, and our hearts full of dread for the "gentle Scottish climate." All traces of jet lag were now happily absent, and driving, which only a few days earlier had seemed a terrible burden, was now great sport. The Scottish Highlands are ribboned by quaint single lane roads at the extreme north end, and the microbuses happily gobbled up these asphalt pathways.

Eventually we managed to reach Achmelvich Bay in the Assynt region, a sublime testament to the devious character of the Almighty, who deemed it appropriate to put a knocked-out-loaded white sand beach or two in northern Scotland, well out of reach of the European beach circuit. Here again we stayed at a hostel. A nice enough place though the moss in our duffels was starting to go septic. Our nighttime fantasies swirled with hot showers, and clean, dry clothing.

You can see the layered sedimentary beds that first gave some geologists an idea of the scope of geological time in Assynt, but you can't watch World Cup Football on television because there aren't any TVs! This proved a bit frustrating to certain members of our group, but in the end one has to admit that looking at famous rock outcrops in the drizzling rain is no more painful than watching Totti fall to the ground and put his hands to his face in agony because somebody has stepped on his foot.

After several days in the Assynt region it was finally time to turn our thoughts towards home. We drove east to Inverness, stopping along the way to visit the Glenmorangie distillery (try the 18 yr. old brew if you can find it), and abandoned all pretense of cultural immersion by checking into the Holiday Inn. The pre-fab hotel experience never felt so good as we torqued the hot water gauges to maximum and let the manky, wet, clothes dry out on the lampshades.

The next day it was all business as we drove to the airport and took a series of three flights back home. Coach seating about did us in again, but somehow we managed to keep our wits about us and get through U.S. customs. 80% humidity in Boston never felt so dry.

Last updated: August 10, 2007