A geopark is an area of geological heritage where that heritage is used to benefit the community by raising awareness of key issues. In general, geoparks will increase awareness of hazards such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and tsunamis. There will usually be a strategy in place for disaster management within local communities.
As well as raising awareness of geological hazards, geoparks also promote ‘green tourism’ and keep abreast of past and recent climate changes. In Scotland, there are three geoparks – Shetland, North West Highlands, and Lochaber.
Characteristics of a Geopark
In order for a site to qualify as a geopark, it must have a number of geomorphological or geological sites of both national and international significance. For these locations to be important, they will be judged on their aesthetic appeal, rarity, scientific importance, and educational value. A geopark must also provide value to the local community by helping the people to understand their geological heritage.
As well as being geologically important, geoparks can also be sites in which there is historical, ecological, cultural, or archaeological importance. The local community around a geopark will typically strive to use geotourism or ‘green’ tourism to attain sustainable progress. Geoparks in Europe must become a part of the European Geoparks Network (EGN) and work with other geoparks to promote activities and exchange ideas. There are currently sixty geoparks in the EGN.
The scenery in Lochaber Geopark is outstanding; in 2007, the beauty of the area was recognised and awarded with the title of both European Geopark and Global Geopark. The geological features for which it was recognised include a volcano and Glen Roy’s Parallel Roads.
The landscape of Lochaber is diverse and was created over time by glaciers and volcanic eruptions. The Lochaber Geopark stretches north to south from Glen Garry to Rannoch Moor and east to west from Loch Laggan to the isles of Muck, Canna, Eigg, and Rum.
One of Lochaber’s unique features is the fact that its record involves both plate collisions and then the plates drifting apart again. The famous volcanic mountains of Ben Nevis and Glen Coe were formed during subduction beneath the Caledonian range, while the volcanic centres of Morvern, Rum, Eigg, and Ardnamurchan were formed when plates drifted apart.
Lochaber Geopark Goals
As with all geoparks, Lochaber Geopark has a number of goals in terms of raising awareness and promoting interest in the surrounding area. The park was a member of the European Geoparks Network and the Global Geoparks Network until 2011 and is now in the process of reapplying for membership in both networks.
Visiting Lochaber Geopark
Lochaber is a spectacular place for a holiday and no visit to Lochaber would be complete without a visit to the Lochaber Geopark. There are more than twenty interpretation boards in areas of outstanding scenery in Lochaber and visitors can access them by following the ‘rock routes’. Each of interpretation boards at these amazing viewpoints give visitors an insight into the geological history of the area. At each viewpoint, there are a number of geological features, and there is information on how these features came to be. Although it is not necessary to visit each board in a particular order, there is an information leaflet available in the geopark that will give details on the most practical way to travel from one to another depending on the direction being driven. The leaflet also contains suggested routes to take.
Lochaber is home to Scotland’s Big 5 – red deer, seals, red squirrels, otters, and golden eagles; visitors to Lochaber Geopark have an excellent chance of spotting some of these creatures. There are many tours and activities available in Lochaber Geopark, which give visitors an even bigger chance of catching a glimpse of the Big 5; these include walking days, boat trips, paddling trips, and safaris.
One of the best ways to sit back and enjoy the surrounding area is to take a cruise along the Caledonian Canal. These tours are available during the summer months, and patrons can enjoy warm and comfortable seating areas with full commentary and a hot drink and snack. Canal cruises offer visitors to Lochaber a greater chance of spotting some incredible wildlife.
As well as the Big 5, there are many other creatures to see in and around Lochaber, including the sea eagle, grouse, wildcat, pine marten, and porpoise.
As well as canal cruises, visitors to Lochaber can partake in a number of activities. Walking tours around the surrounding hills is a popular way to enjoy the beauty of this spectacular location, with Ben Nevis one of the most popular destinations. Many visitors will enjoy kayaking and canoeing while others might enjoy a spot of fishing.
The Jacobite Steam Train is another fantastic way to see the surrounding area and gives Harry Potter fans the opportunity to enjoy a trip across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which featured in the movie.
After a long day of exploring Lochaber Geopark and the surrounding area, there is time for some fun. Lochaber has plenty to offer in the way of dining and drinking. There are many fabulous restaurants, cafes, and pubs at which hungry customers can enjoy some mouth-watering cuisine.
Moreover, when it comes to enjoying a pint or two, Lochaber does not disappoint, with many local bars and pubs providing cosy atmospheres and some friendly chat.
There are plenty of accommodation options in Lochaber, from self-catering cottages to bed and breakfasts to hotels with their swimming pool and spa. Some prefer to take their tent with them, which is ideal for those on a budget. Camping in Lochaber is the perfect way to enjoy the magnificent surroundings.
Make the Most of Your Lochaber Visit
If you are spending time in Lochaber in 2015, a visit to Lochaber Geopark is recommended. However, to enjoy all that this spectacular location has to offer, a canal cruise is a wonderful way to appreciate the beauty and serenity of this Scottish Highlands destination.
For more information on Lochaber Geopark, visit their website: http://lochabergeopark.org.uk/