Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Rambling on the Rocks: Around Northern Ireland in 20 Walks...by Kirstin Lemon


Advert for the walks guide in NI4Kids.
Northern Ireland is one of the most geologically diverse places on Earth. As a geologist, I am very lucky to live here as I can pretty much drive to anywhere in under two hours, and therefore 'visit' every single geological time period in a day. I spend a great deal of time telling people about rocks (as part of my work I mean, not just to random people in the street) and one of the best ways to do this is to lead a guided walk. That way I can show people what to look at and help them to understand why the natural landscape looks the way it does, but of course I can't be everywhere at once...

Landscapes from Stone

At the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) we have a long history of producing popular geology publications. Some of our most successful were the Walk and Explore guides produced as part of the EU-funded Landscapes from Stone project. But these were published in 2000 and many of them were out of date so GSNI decided it was time to produce a new walking guide, taking the best bits from the original Walk series and making sure that we covered the whole of Northern Ireland.

A new walking guide

The long process of producing the new walking guide began back in 2012 when I first started as Landscape Geologist with GSNI. Using my knowledge of Northern Ireland's geology I identified areas to focus on that would not only cover the country geographically but also take into account as much geological diversity as possible. After going through the original Walks series, a number of walks were selected that would best represent particular features, were in especially scenic areas, or were well-known walks in their own right. I also identified many additional walks that I knew of either as a geologist, or as a lover of the outdoors, and put the whole list together.

The selection process

All of the walks were tried and tested either by me, or by some of our work experience students who were only too keen to get out of the office for the day. Each route was meticulously mapped, photographed and detailed notes were made about what to see along the way. Many of the original walks were scrapped as they were simply not there any more and some of the others had to be changed or added to ensure that there was good access and that there was enough to see and do. In one case, the original route took me through a river that went up to my thigh!

View from Cave Hill, one of the two walks in Belfast.
Image from Tourism NI.
A team of us at GSNI eventually whittled down the walks to 20, including three in every one of Northern Ireland's six counties, and two in Belfast to highlight the fact that you can still see geology even in the city. We included walks that were suitable for serious hillwalkers including one that takes you to the peak of Slieve Donard in the Mourne Mountains, and walks that are suitable for families with small children such as the one around the kettle lakes at Lough Fea in Co. Tyrone.

Useful information

Ballykeel Portal Tomb on the Mullaghbane Walk.
Image from Ring of Gullion AONB.
One of the major additions was that I wanted to make sure that the book was useful and didn't just tell you where to walk and what to see. Each walk has information on where to park, where the nearest town is, where you can get refreshments (because every good walk should end with tea and buns), where the nearest public toilets are, and in some cases what public transport you can use to get there. I also included what walks are suitable for who, and provided information on what walks are suitable for pushchairs and for dogs, a serious consideration for many walkers.  

I tried in many cases to use walking routes that are already in existence and that are way-marked. This way it saved on the directional instructions in the book and allowed more time to talk about what you see along the way. Aside from the geological heritage, I included other aspects of heritage in each one to try and encourage walkers to appreciate the links between geology and well, everything!

Time for a geological 'journey'

The book has been written for the popular audience as we want as many people to use the book as possible. I tried to include all of the major geological attractions in Northern Ireland such as the Giant's Causeway, but I also included places that non-geologists might not know about such as Barnes in Co. Londonderry and its spectacular glacial landscape. This has all been accompanied by stunning photographs as there's nothing more likely to make people pick up a book that an amazing image.

The ultimate aim of Rambling on the Rocks is to get as many people out walking and exploring the natural landscape of Northern Ireland as possible. I want to ensure that every time they use the book that they are taken on a geological 'journey' and one that I am fortunate to go on every time I go walking.


'Rambling on the Rocks: Walking Northern Ireland's Natural Landscape' by K. Lemon, M. Cooper and A. Donald is available to buy directly from GSNI and is also available at the BGS shops in Keyworth, Edinburgh and London with an RRP of £7.99.

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