Staff blog: A peaceful time of the year

Quinag conservation officer Romany Garnett revels in the texture and colours of the Assynt landscape revealed by the low winter sun

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Mid-late winter is a peaceful time of year after December’s storms and the stillness in the air comes as a relief.

The slate grey and washed-out blues of the sky are muted. The birds have not quite begun their spring-time frenzy and the trees sit leafless still, with buds tightly shut. Shades of brown vary from the rusty bracken to the almost maroon of bog myrtle. The subtle dull brown of the deergrass turns reddish under sunlight.

The dips and sloughs that hold more wetness determine the habitat and the mosaic of colours. Patches of straw-like purple moor-moor grass contrast with the rich plum-red of the birch twigs. The land seems partly asleep right now.

The low winter sun picks out the detailed texture of our hills. Vertical folds and gullies on Quinag stand out, as do the bare horizontal strata of its rocks. Everything in winter seems stripped down to the most elemental, revealing this glaciated landscape to be vastly more ancient than one might guess.

The Lewisian Gneiss along the roadside of Loch Assynt was metamorphosed three billion years ago and formed part of the original crust of the earth. Rivers deposited vast amounts of brownish red Torridonian rock which forms the bulk of Quinag; this was around 1,000 million years ago.

Between the Lewisian rock and the arrival of Torridonian sandstone there is a time gap of something like 2000 million years not represented by any rocks. I wonder what was going on then?

A thin veneer of the pale grey Cambrian quartzite was formed 550 million years ago from deposits of fine sea sand. On top of all this, glaciers moved massive erratic boulders and debris, depositing them around the flanks of the mountain. The erratics sit awkwardly in the landscape as if dumped by the ice only yesterday.

After looking at these ancient rocks, it was a marked contrast to find a beetle swimming under the ice of a shallow pool. This was spotted by a group of children on a school trip to Quinag. Their instinct was to rescue it from these icy conditions. It was however in no need of rescuing, very much at home and full of life.