Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The father of Lakeland geology was Jonathan Otley. He was a humble clock-repairer who worked from a courtyard in Keswick, but he walked the fells and used his eyes and came to understand the rocks that lay beneath his feet. He was the first to see the broad pattern of the rocks that have made the beautiful and distinctive landscape of the Lakes.
To the north of a line sloping from the north-east to the south-west that lies just south of Keswick are the clayslates. To the south of a parallel line drawn south of Ambleside are the greywackes and in the centre are the greenstones.
Today we call them the Skiddaw Group, the Silurian Sediments and the Eycott and Borrowdale Volcanic Groups.
Otley made his observations almost exactly two centuries ago when geology as a subject was in its infancy, but what he saw remains visible today to anyone who learns to look.
Dr Alan Smith knows that “rock is everywhere to be seen – not only does it form the fells and the crags, rock debris is scattered widely over the countryside”. It is there on the footpaths, on the lake shores and in many of the buildings from the ancient stone monuments to the cottages and farmhouses and the village churches.
The “cleaved slaty mudstones” to be seen in the outcrops on Lord’s Seat are the same rocks which have formed “the smooth grass and heather-covered fellsides” of the Newlands Valley. The roof of the small church of St Kentigern in Mungrisdale, built in 1750, is covered with very black Skiddaw slates which probably came from the workings in nearby Bannerdale.
The volcanic rocks can be seen at their best in the blockfield on the summit of Scafell. The lavas formed varying kinds of rocks. There’s fine-grained basalt that’s found on Birker Fell. Speckled green/grey andesite can be found in upper Wasdale. Eycott Hill is formed of porphyritc andesite. Alan Smith does not spare the reader the technical language – you have to use it in geology, but he does explain it clearly and succinctly, and he provides excellent photographs showing both close ups of the rocks themselves and pictures of the landscapes that the rocks have formed.
The Silurian sediments are to be seen in a photograph of a roadside cutting on the A685, where there is a one kilometre section of alternating greywrackes and mudstones.
Lakeland geology, because of the diverse processes of its formation, is hugely complicated. Alan guides the reader carefully through the whole range of igneous and metamorphic rocks, the carboniferous rocks, the conglomerates and breccias and the Permian and Triassic Rocks.
Jonathan Otley spent a long life walking the fells and observing the rocks. Alan Smith’s lucid and superbly illustrated book is the perfect starting point for anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps.