Granite and Grit

paperback: 290 x 220mm [previous hardback edition going out of print]
208 pages: 250 colour pictures and 40 diagrams
Frances Lincoln 2008: £16: ISBN 978-0-7112-3180-1

Outdoor Writers' and Photographers' Guild Awards for Excellence 2010: best outdoor book

This book is a celebration in pictures and words of the 17 different stones that make up Britain's mountains. Straightforward, non-technical and occasionally humorous, with specially-drawn diagrams and over 250 illustrations, it's a 'feet-on' guide to two billion years of earth history exposed in the crags, screes, and boulderfields. It is for any walker, climber or scrambler who has ever asked: Why is Skiddaw Slate so slippery? How do tors form? How come gritstone is so difficult? What makes Lakeland so lumpy, and all the granite lands so grim?
       Geology is destiny -- whether it's the rubbishy nature of gullies, the sculpting of ice, or the landslip weirdness of the Quiraing on Skye. British mountains are a treat for the feet made of many different and interesting ingredients: gneiss and granite and gabbro; limestone and sandstone and schist; volcanoes and slate. Understanding the rocks beneath our boots simply makes Britain's mountain country even more interesting and fun. It could even help decide whether to climb the quartzite or the sandstone on the crags of Beinn Eighe, and just why the movement of the continents made me fall over on Blencathra.

The first 50 pages, with all their pics and diagrams, can be seen on
Google books


This is simply the most innovative and fascinating book for walkers that I have seen for a long time. It is an ideal present for any walking friend or an excusible indulgence for oneself!   Ken Falconer Strider (journal of the Long Distance Walkers' Association)

A truly excellent work of erudition, wit, enthusiasm and most of all, use. Handsomely laid out, robust in every way, as inspiring as it is informative. Thwackingly good; great, even.   OWPG Award judges

My previous experience of Ronald Turnbull is his witty and entertaining route guides and articles in Trail and TGO. Fortunately, Granite and Grit is more of the same: witty, easy to read and very informative. The opening paragraph sums it up and gives the flavour to come: 'This is not a geology book. Well, okay, this is a geology book. But I'm not a geologist: I'm a hillwalker who likes to know what's going on under my feet.' And that's it. Technical/geological/scientific terms are used throughout the book, but are always explained. And, and this is crucial, it is NOT a dry academic text. It is witty and informative with nicely bite sized chapters.
       The book covers the geology of all Britain's mountain areas making it clear that whilst Britain's geology is highly involved and complex it is within the reach of the non expert. For the first time, I've begun to grasp the difference between granite and rhyolite. A recent visit to the the Carneddau in North Wales was made hugely more exciting than normal by being able to recognise rock stratas, and beautiful pieces of milky quartz (not simply knowing that they were milky quartz but being able to understand how they formed).
       When I first started reading the book I found it frustrating. Chapters would just seem to be getting going, with a nice mixture of easy science, Turnbull's own walking experiences, and good explanatory diagrams and then finish. But as I read more this approach became its greatest strength: the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It is the kind of book that you read from cover to cover first time round and then go back to, to re-read individual chapters. In this way you begin to see geology as a holistic science. If you wish it's like a jigsaw puzzle, the more pieces you fit together, the more you understand the entire picture.
       And talking of pictures, the book is amply and beautifully illustrated with pictures that leave you planning trips to some of Britain's most awesomely beautiful landscapes; where, with the help of this book, that awe is increased by an understanding of the extraordinary and gigantic forces and time spans that created those landscapes.
       If you like walking up,down and around mountains, and want to understand more about them, then this book is for you.
  Thomas Naish (staffs) Amazon.co.uk

looking down on knock-and-lochan country of the Lewisian gneiss, South Harris


1 The Crunch of Continents

Various earth-shattering events of the last two billion years: Scotland crashes into England; the UK drifts north through tropics; the nudge from Africa; the opening of the Atlantic

2 Ice Makes the Mountain Shapes of Today

Glaciers carved the shapes as we see them today.

The main rock types, in roughly geological order (oldest first)

3 Having a Gneiss Time

The Lewisian Gneiss, in the Outer Hebrides and Wester Ross; landscape of knock-and-lochan; a moment in the Malverns.

4 The Monsters of Torridon

Sandstone lands of Wester Ross; buried landscapes; the origin of our oxygen.

5 Quartzite

Beinn Eighe and the Grey Corries; the Moine Thrust

6 Grey for everyday wear: Schist in Scotland's central Highlands

The Mountains of Moine and the Dalradian; metamorphism, rocks cooked and crushed; shale to slate to schist

7 Greywacke and the ruggedness of Rhinog

How ocean-bottom sludge became the rock of the Rhinogs

8 Southern Uplands: shales and mud

More ocean sludge; the life and times of the graptolite; Charles Lapworth in Dobbs Linn.

9 All-terrain Lakeland

Volcanoes and slate, grey shale and granite; four different sorts of country but only one Lakeland

10 Red-hot flying avalanche: ignimbrites in Snowdonia

Various cataclysms above Llyn Idwal

11 Finding Fault

Faults, and a walk along one in particular, the Rossett Gill Fault of Lakeland

12 Andesite and Rhyolite

More volcanoes, at Ben Nevis and Glen Coe; collapsing cauldrons

13 Granite Lands

Cairngorms, Dartmoor, Arran, Mourne, Galloway Š very different but all of them a bit grim; the cause of Tors

14 Being Intrusive: Dolerite

The Whin Sill in the north Pennines, ArthurÕs Seat in Edinburgh and God vs Mr James Hutton

15 The Sands of Time

The Old Red Sandstone of the Brecon Beacons; the New Red Sandstone fails to make mountains

16 Mountain Limestone: Millstone Grit

Yorkshire and the Peak District; lime to grit to shale: the Yoredale Series

17 Gabbro lands: the Skye Cuillin

The Black Cuillin, and other effects of the opening Atlantic; the Tertiary Volcanic Province

18 Back to Basalt: Mull and the rest of Skye

Mull, and some more of Skye; a round-up of the red-hot rocks

19 A Two Hundred Million Year Walk over Dufton Pike

Breaking the Law of Superposition behind Dufton Pike, with a visit to the Great Whin Sill


My country, your country, further reading and more things to see; glossary