Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Brits and stones

It’s great fun to listen to Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time programme on BBC Radio 4. The latest edition was devoted to the geology of the British Isles, and it was fascinating. I learned so much, and not just about how things were aeons ago. It really opened my eyes to a new way of seeing how they are today.

It seems that a while back – a few hundred million years, if I remember – England, Wales and the south of Ireland were stuck in a super-Continent at about the level of the Antarctic Circle. Scotland and the north of Ireland, in the meantime, were up near the Equator, and probably enjoying themselves in better weather conditions than they’ve seen any time since.

Even then, though, bloody England wouldn’t leave them alone. It seems we actually came in chase of them. So fast, indeed, that we collided with them and took firm hold not just of old Scotland as we know it, but the new version too, Nova Scotia. They apparently made every effort to get away, with the New Scots actually managing to get right across the Atlantic in their enthusiasm to put the widest possible distance – clear blue water, indeed – between themselves and us. The old bit, though, stayed firmly tethered.

At that stage, England, Scotland, Wales and the whole of Ireland were part of a new landmass, though up in the northern hemisphere this time round. Being part of Europe wasn’t for us in England, as you’d imagine, so at the earliest moment we put a gap between us and filled it with water, forming the Channel. We didn’t actually get away, of course – England is still firmly attached to the Continent – but we can kid ourselves we did.

Ireland was just as keen and just as unsuccessful: it got the Irish Sea between us, but underneath, they’re still as firmly tied. Of course, Ireland’s done a better job of holding on to the North geologically than politically.

Isn’t it amazing though? Could all our troubles in these little Islands really be nothing more than the expression of the great geological tensions underneath our feet?

If that’s so, all we need is a bit of patience. We’ll all soon be part of the Continent again: in just a few tens of millions of year. The mere batting of an eyelid, in fact – in geological terms.

1 comment:

Mark Reynolds said...

There's a snappy maxim in there somewhere: "Geology is destiny?" "You are where you peat?"