Set in stone

Discover millions of years of geological history that has shaped some of Britain’s most spectacular scenery and created a wealth of natural wonders to be enjoyed on these 10 walks through time.

Words by Louise Curley  

Sunset by a balancing rock

Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire

Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire

About

This remarkable collection of intriguing millstone grit rock formations sit amid the heather-clad moorland of Nidderdale. Once a mountain range as high as the Himalayas stood not far from Brimham, but over millennia this eroded, leaving behind a river system where sand and grit was compressed to form the millstone grit that has been sculpted by ice, wind and rain to create natural forms with evocative names such as the Druid’s Writing Desk, the Dancing Bear and the Idol.

Walk it

A short, circular walk from the car park (bus to Summerbridge 2.5km away) takes in the rocky highlights, including an oak tree that has been growing out of a rock for at least 250 years. Follow the path out onto the moorland before returning to the start.

Find out more

nationaltrust.org.uk (opens in new window)

A hole in a rock, in the water, by the coast

Lulworth, Dorset 

About

This section of the Jurassic Coast has some of the finest examples of rock folds in Europe, such as the Lulworth Crumple. See where rocks have eroded and continue to be sculpted by the elements to create dramatic landforms such as the scallop-shaped Lulworth Cove and the arch of Durdle Door. 

Walk it

Start at the main car park in Lulworth (on three bus routes) and head west on the South West Coast Path until you reach the cliffs above Durdle Door. Extend the walk by descending the 
steps to the beach for a closer look at the sea-carved rocks.

Find out more

visit-dorset.com (opens in new window)

A large hill sitting behind a city

Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

About

Scotland’s capital is the site of two extinct volcanoes – Edinburgh Castle perches on one and Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park is the other. Here, James Hutton (1726-1797), known as the father of modern geology, used the igneous and sedimentary rocks to support his theory that the Earth was older than had previously been thought.

Walk it

From the Holyrood Park visitor centre, pick up the Summit Path which winds steadily up to the top, providing fabulous views over the city. If you have a head for heights, return via the Zigzag Path; if not, retrace your steps.

Find out more 

historicenvironment.scot (opens in new window)

A large collection of large rocks, laying in grass

Norber Erratics, North Yorkshire

About

This is one of the best places in Britain to see glacial erratics – boulders moved by a glacier and deposited when the ice melted at the end of the last Ice Age. Older Silurian rocks were left on top of younger limestone, which has weathered, creating large boulders balancing precariously on the remaining limestone plinths. Over 100 are to be found on the southern slopes of Ingleborough.

Walk it

Start in Austwick and follow the lane through Town Head. Take a left onto Thwaite Lane, a medieval track once used by the monks of Fountains Abbey, climb the first stile then head up the hillside to the stones. Return via Moughton Scars and the quintessential Dales hamlet of Wharfe.

Find out more

visitsettle.co.uk (opens in new window)

Striped rock by the coast

Cullernose Point, Northumberland

About

The Great Whin Sill is a huge sheet of dolerite, a hard, green-grey rock formed in the late Carboniferous Period (about 290 million years ago). It stretches across Northumberland, where it is exposed on rocky outcrops along the coast. On the northern side of the dramatic headland at Cullernose Point is Acre Limestone, home to a variety of fossils.  Some of the oldest amphibian footprints in Britain have been discovered in the rocks of Howick Bay.

Walk it

Start in Craster and head south on the coast path, towards Cullernose Point, dropping down onto the rocky beaches to see the geology close up. Return along the coast path for views of Dunstanburgh Castle.

Find out more

northumberlandcoastaonb.org (opens in new window)

Short stone highway with plants growing inbetween

Hutton Roof Crags, Cumbria

About

On the Cumbria/Lancashire border, this is one of the best examples of limestone pavement in the country. The grey limestone was formed in a tropical sea more than 350 million years ago, then, at the end of the last Ice Age, it was scoured by a thick glacial sheet. Erosion created deep fissures known as grykes and large blocks known as clints, forming the distinctive pavement-like pattern. Look out for the rich array of flora that has made the grykes home.  

Walk it

There are two circular, waymarked trails – the white route (1.5km/1 mile) and the red route (2.6km/1½ miles). A detailed OS map is recommended as navigation across the limestone pavement can be tricky.

Find out more

cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk (opens in new window)

lancashirewildlife.org.uk (opens in new window)

A steep stone valley with a lake at the bottom

Llyn Cau, Cadair Idris, Gwynedd

About

Charles Darwin visited Cadair Idris to study the effects of glaciation when he was working on his theories about the age of the Earth. Soft rocks were scoured away by glaciers, leaving behind hard rocks formed by volcanic activity, forging the mountain landscape and features such as Llyn Cau, one of Wales’ deepest lakes.

Walk it

Start at the Dol Idris car park (bus stop nearby) and follow the Minffordd Path through oak woodland towards the cliffs of Craig Cau. At a cairn, take the right-hand fork towards the lake, where you can follow a circular trail around the perimeter of the water before descending the way you came.

Find out more

visitwales.com (opens in new window)

snowdonia.gov.wales (opens in new window)

A circular stone in a flat landscape

Knockan Crag, Sutherland

About

Part of the North West Highlands Geopark, this is the site of the 19th-century geological discovery known as the Moine Thrust, where the impact of two ancient continents colliding forced older metamorphic rock up and over a band of younger sedimentary rock. There are also the fossilised remains of worm holes in the pipe rock dating back to about 517 million years ago when a shallow sea covered this area.

Walk it

From the visitor centre, follow the Crag Top Trail past sculptures (pictured) and poetry inspired by the location. At the top, take in awe-inspiring views over the loch-studded landscape of the Assynt and the mountain of Suilven, before following the zigzag track back down.

Find out more

nature.scot (opens in new window)

A steep rocky and grassy valley

The Lost Valley, Glen Coe, Scottish Highlands 

About

Glen Coe is an iconic landscape created by fire and ice – the towering mountains are left over from the eruption of a super volcano about 420 million years ago, and the dramatic glen was carved out by huge glaciers. The Lost Valley, Coire Gabhail, is a great spot to take in the geology such as boulders the size of houses.

Walk it

From the car park halfway up Glen Coe (bus stop nearby), take the path to the River Coe, crossing the gorge over the bridge. The path climbs steeply up to the valley, with some scrambling necessary and a river to cross (might not be possible in full spate) before the ground levels off. Return the same way. 

Find out more

discoverglencoe.scot (opens in new window)

Round rocks by the coast

Hunstanton Cliffs, Norfolk

About

The eye-catching red-and-white cliffs on this stretch of the Norfolk coast are the result of three layers of different coloured rock – orange carstone laid down in shallow seas during the Cretaceous period; red Hunstanton rock formed in deep water and consisting of chalk with iron pigments that give it the red colour; and a top layer of white Ferriby chalk. The red layer is particularly rich in fossils, including ammonites, belemnites and bivalves. 

Walk it

Check the tide times before you start this 9.7km/6-mile walk from the South Beach car park in Heacham. On the beach, turn right, with the sea on your left, and walk along the sand to the cliffs at Hunstanton, before retracing your steps.

Find out more

visitwestnorfolk.com (opens in new window)