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Natural Wonders of Southern Scotland

John is a retired librarian who writes articles based on material gleaned mainly from obscure books and journals.

Loch Lomond

This freshwater loch, famed for its “bonny, bonny, banks”, is 24 miles long, 27 square miles in extent, and marks the point where Highland and Lowland Scotland meet.

Geologically, this region is known as the Highland Border Complex where an ancient mountain range collided with lowlands composed of Devonian rocks, with a mixture of marine sediments thrown in. It is possible to see the corresponding fault line, running across several of the islands in the loch, from the summit of nearby Conic Hill.

Loch Lomond and its surrounds are very rich in wildlife, this being a sanctuary for many over-wintering wildfowl such as Greenland white-fronted geese. Over a quarter of all native British plant species can be found here.

There are many islands in the loch, most of which are privately owned, but access can be had to the nature reserves on Inchcailloch, Bucinch and Ceardach.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond

Arthur's Seat

The area that is now Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is the result of extremely violent volcanic activity in the distant past. Arthur’s Seat and nearby Salisbury Crags are prominences that were created when a volcano erupted some 335 million years ago.

The summit of Arthur’s Seat, 820 feet high, offers a stiff climb that is rewarded by magnificent views over Edinburgh and the surrounding area. There is evidence of occupation by people during the Bronze and Iron Ages, thus demonstrating the strategic importance of the area in past times.

Arthur's Seat (behind Salisbury Crags)

Arthur's Seat (behind Salisbury Crags)

Traprain and North Berwick Laws

“Law” simply means “hill”, these two being in East Lothian. They stand prominently above the surrounding countryside, Traprain Law being 734 feet high and North Berwick Law 613 feet high.

They are all that is left of ancient volcanoes.

Traprain Law, to the east of Haddington, was a fortified site during the Iron Age and may well have been occupied since the Stone Age. It is the largest hill fort in Scotland.

North Berwick Law overlooks the small coastal town of that name, and quarrying of the hill provided the red basalt stone that can be seen in many local buildings. From the top there are splendid views of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh and the Lammermuir Hills. At the summit is an arch made from the jawbone of a whale.

North Berwick Law

North Berwick Law

St Abb's Head

This headland in Berwickshire is of great interest both to naturalists and geologists, as well as offering superb sea and coastal views.

There is evidence here of the continental collision, around 400 million years ago, that joined what is now northern Scotland to the rest of Great Britain.

This is one of the largest seabird breeding colonies in Europe, and the birds to be seen here in huge numbers include razorbills, shags, puffins and fulmars. St Abb’s Head was established as a National Nature Reserve in 1983 and is looked after by the National Trust for Scotland.

The area has been occupied for at least 3,000 years and it was the site of an early Christian community. The ruins of a 7th century monastery, founded by St Ebbe, can still be traced on the cliff edge.

St Abb's Head

St Abb's Head

Bass Rock

This is the most prominent of four islands in the Firth of Forth close to the shore near North Berwick. It is volcanic in origin, being the plug of a volcano that emerged in the Carboniferous Era around 300 million years ago.

It rises from the sea to about 350 feet, with sheer cliffs on three sides and a more gentle slope on the fourth. A castle was built here in the early 15th century and a lighthouse in 1903.

The rock has world importance due to the fact that up to 800,000 gannets nest on its cliffs. It is home to about 10% of the world’s North Atlantic gannets. The gannet’s scientific name – Morus bassana – derives from its presence on Bass Rock.

Boat trips can be taken to the Rock from North Berwick, and visitors are likely to see gray seals swimming near the Rock as well as vast numbers of gannets during the breeding season.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock

The Grey Mare's Tail

This is a spectacular waterfall near Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway. A small loch, Loch Skeen, which is one of the highest in Scotland, drains via a small burn (stream) into the valley below. It does so via a 200 foot (60 metre) drop, hence the waterfall.

This is the result of glaciation about 15,000 years during the last Ice Age. The valley below Lock Skeen was occupied by a glacier that excavated a typical U-shaped valley that was somewhat deeper than would have been achieved by a normal river, and with much steeper sides. When the glacier melted and normal drainage patterns resumed, tributary valleys, such as that draining Loch Skeen, would have been left “hanging”, with their streams plunging down the steep sides of the glaciated valley.

The waterfall is best seen when there is plenty of water coming down from the loch, and this is normally in late winter or early spring.

The Grey Mare’s Tail was described by Sir Walter Scott as “white as the snowy charger’s tail”.

The area around the waterfall is renowned for its rare upland plants, this being one of best places to find them in southern Scotland.


The Grey Mare's Tail

The Grey Mare's Tail

Comments

Liz Westwood from UK on September 13, 2019:

This article is a great advert for Southern Scotland. You showcase its stunning scenery to great effect.

Arthur Russ from England on September 13, 2019:

The scenery brings back some memories. I’ve only ever been to Scotland once, arriving at Gretna Green on our first day, to visit the famous ‘anvil’, then spending the rest of the week touring the Highlands, visiting places like Glencoe, Fort William, Ben Nevis and a number of lochs, before making our way back to England via Glasgow.