Knockan Crag

National Nature Reserve
Creag a Chnocain Tearmann Nadair Naiseanta
Scottish Natural Heritage
Dualchas Nadair na h-Alda

about knockan crag


Knockan Crag and Scotland's first Geopark - "The North West Highlands".

A considerable part of north west Sutherland and Wester Ross received this accolade in October 2004 at the annual meeting of the European Geopark Network in Sicily. Stretching from Achiltibuie and Knockan in the south to Cape Wrath and Loch Eriboll in the north, this 2000 km2 area encompasses some of the finest mountain and coastal landscapes in Britain and contains a wealth of geological interest.

What is a Geopark?

Loch A'Mhuilinn NNR (foreground) with Quinag in the distance.  P & A Macdonald / SNH.

A European Geopark is clearly defined area with a particular geological heritage in terms of scientific quality, rarity, aesthetic appeal and educational value. The key functions of a European Geopark are to protect geological heritage, promote geology to the public, and to use geology and other aspects of its natural and cultural heritage to promote sustainable economic development, normally through tourism. Other areas that have secured Geopark status have seen considerable benefit from it, through increased nature-based tourism. Established in June 2000, the Network now consists of 17 members in nine member states of the European Union. In February 2004 the European Geoparks Network was formally integrated into the UNESCO-endorsed Global Geoparks Network.

Why North West Highlands received Geopark status

Geopark status was awarded to the North West Highlands on the basis of its outstanding geology and landscape, the strength of its partnership approach to sustainable economic development and its existing impressive geological interpretation facilities especially SNH's visitor centre at Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve and their "Rock Route" interpretative trail.

About the Geopark

The Geopark contains some of the most important and diverse geological and geomorphological features in Britain. Geologically, the area is dominated by the internationally important Moine Thrust Zone, which runs from north to south. In the past, the Moine Thrust Zone puzzled geologists in the 19th century when they found that older rocks were seen to be lying on top of younger rocks, a situation they then could not easily explain.

Lochan and Suilven from Inverpolly NNR, Sutherland.  Lorne Gill / SNH.
A unique landscape

The North West Highlands have a unique landscape, which strikingly reflects the underlying geology and geomorphology. There are the craggy peaks of Torridonian sandstone and Cambrian quartzite, shaped by the action of glaciers during the Quaternary Period and secluded glens, some of them floored by the largest areas of limestone in Scotland. Caves in the limestone have yielded fossil evidence of Pleistocene 'ice-age' fauna: reindeer, polar bears and wolves. The typical rugged 'cnoc-and-lochan' landscape is a result of the underlying Lewisian gneiss (some of the oldest rocks in Europe) and where this rock forms the coast, there are numerous small coves and craggy headlands with occasional areas of machair sands which support a rich flora. In contrast, high cliffs and occasional sea stacks such as the Old Man of Stoer characterize a coast formed by Torridonian sandstone. East of the mountains is the wild, boggy country that has developed on the Moine rocks - named after A' Mhoine which lies between Loch Eriboll and the Kyle of Tongue.

Historical significance

The North West Highlands was also a key area for the historical development of the geological science. Famous geologists of the 19th century, such as Roderick Murchison, Archibald Geikie, Benjamin Peach and John Horne, studied the rocks of Sutherland. Research into the rocks, structures and geomorphological features of the North West Highlands continues to this day, and hundreds of geology students from around the world visit the region every year.

It is important to note that in addition to the geological interest, the Geopark also recognises the rich natural heritage of the North West Highlands and the rich array of historic and archaeological sites.

About the Geopark Group

A local Geopark Group has been established to oversee the running of the Geopark. This comprises key advisors from five local Community Councils, The Highland Council, British Geological Survey, Scottish Natural Heritage, together with a range of local people and representatives of other organisations. Their collective aim will be to raise awareness of the Geopark locally, nationally & internationally in accordance with an agreed development strategy. In addition, the Sutherland Partnership (as the organisation who applied for Geopark status) have appointed a Geopark Officer who will identify, secure & develop community-led projects linked to the Geopark initiative. Funded by the Highland Council, Caithness & Sutherland Enterprise and the EU LEADER+ Programme, this 2½ year, part-time, post (commencing June 2005) will be instrumental in delivering the benefits of Geopark status as part of an integrated approach to sustainable economic development within the NW Highlands.

More information

For more information on the North West Highlands Geopark please contact:

Dr Fiona Mackenzie (NW Highlands Geopark Officer)
Web site:

For information on the European and UNESCO Geoparks network, please use these links: