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The Origin of the Scenery of the British Islands 1

    Abstract

    THE Scottish Highlands must be looked upon as the relics of an ancient tableland cut out of highly crumpled and plicated schists. Among the eastern Grampians large fragments of the plateau exist at heights of more than 3000 feet, forming wide undulating plains terminating here and there at the edge of precipices. In the Western Highlands, the erosion having been more profound, the ridges are narrower, the valleys deeper, and isolated peaks are more numerous. It is the fate of a tableland to be eventually cut down by running water into a system of valleys which are widened and deepened, until the blocks of ground between are sharpened into ridges and trenched into separate prominences. The Highlands present us with far advanced stages of this process. In the youngest of British tablelands—that of the volcanic region of Antrim and the Inner Hebrides—we meet with some of the earlier parts of the change. That interesting tract of our islands reveals a succession of basaltic sheets which appear to have spread over the wide valley between the Outer Hebrides and the mainland, and to have reached southwards beyond Loujh Neagh. Its original condition must have been like that of the lava-fields of Idaho and Oregon—a sea-like expanse of black basalt stretching up to the base of the mountains. What may have been the total thickness of basalt cannot be told; but the fragment remaining in Ben More, Mull, is more than 3000 feet thick. So vast has been the erosion since older Tertiary time that the volcanic plateau has been trenched in every direction by deep glens and arms of the sea, and has been reduced to detached islands. It is strange to reflect that all this revolution in the topography has been effected since the soft clays and sands of the London Basin were deposited.

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