Strange shapes on the skyline

The clues are there if you only know how to recognize them. For many landscapes it is quite difficult to determine just what forces of nature sculpted what we see all around us, and frankly take for granted as always having been there.

As a geography student at the University of Southampton in the late 1960s, I studied geomorphology (the study of landscapes and the forces that shape them) over three years. So it’s quite fun when we are out and about on our travels trying to work out how any particular landscape evolved. Of course, in the past 10,000 years or less humans have had a dramatic impact on what we see, often hiding the very features that would provide a straightforward answer.

But there are many landscapes when it is much clearer how ice, water, or wind acted upon the geology to reveal those landscape features that we all treasure. The tors of the Dartmoor, formed through chemical weathering of granite in a tropical environment, find their counterparts in Nigeria, for example.

Walking round Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire (just northwest of Knaresborough and Harrogate) the effects of wind erosion on a 400 million year old sandstone, Millstone Grit, during the last Ice Age some 12-18,000 years ago) – and earlier periods of weathering in warmer climates millions of years ago – can be clearly seen. And some fantastical rock formations are now carefully protected by the National Trust.

Steph and I visited Brimham Rocks at the end of September on our way north to Newcastle, and what glorious weather we had. You could see south and east 20 miles or more over the Vale of York. In fact the tower of York Minster was clearly visible on the horizon. And to the west, the landscape rises towards the backbone of England, The Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales.

Walking up from the car park, we took the left hand route round the Rocks. In the video you can see several of the rock formations that are indicated on the map: Surprise View, Cannon Rocks, Eagle, Dancing Bear, Druid’s Writing Desk, and Idol, among others, finally come round to Druid’s Castle Rocks from the north and east (click on the map, ©2002 The National Trust, to open a larger version, and which is reproduced here for illustrative purposes and to encourage visitors to Brimham Rocks).

©2002 The National Trust – inlcuded here for illustrative purposes and to encourage visitors to Brimham Rocks

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