Kelburn Landslide Reveals Secrets of Scotland’s Past

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A devastating flood at one of the west of Scotland’s biggest tourist attractions has uncovered a fascinating insight into the country’s prehistoric past. A landslide at Kelburn Castle and Country Centre last winter, which send thousands of tonnes of rock crashing down the hillside, has revealed a rare sighting of the juncture at which two geological eras met almost 400million years ago.

We very rarely get the chance to see so clearly how the surface of the earth was formed in that part of the country hundreds of millions of years ago.

A devastating flood at one of the west of Scotland’s biggest tourist attractions has uncovered a fascinating insight into the country’s prehistoric past.

A landslide at Kelburn Castle and Country Centre last winter, which send thousands of tonnes of rock crashing down the hillside, has revealed a rare sighting of the juncture at which two geological eras met almost 400million years ago.

Geologists who have inspected the site at Fairlie, near Largs, say it shows graphically the point at which a thick layer carboniferous lava, a result of prehistoric volcanic eruptions in the area, overlaid deep red sandstone which covered the surface at the time.

It provides a snapshot of a time when parts of Scotland, at the time located south of the equator, were overwhelmed by hot volcanic eruptions formed, among other local landmarks, the Kilpatrick Hills and Dumbarton Rock.

Stuart Fairley, of the Strathclyde Geo Conservation Group, who has studied the site following the flood, said it provides a rare glimpse of Scotland’s topography at a time when its climate was similar to what is now the Caribbean.

“It’s rare to see such a good example of the point where two geological periods meet,” said Stuart, who is a member of the Open University Geological Society.

“In the years since, the land has been covered in rock and vegetation so we very rarely get the chance to see so clearly how the surface of the earth was formed in that part of the country hundreds of millions of years ago.

“Scotland then was more like a desert, hence the predominance of red sandstone. It was subsequently covered in black rock following a series of lava flows from volcanoes. The geological plates moved and Scotland began to edge northwards.”

Staff and volunteers have won a battle against time to ensure the country park, which attracts more than 60,000 visitors a year, is open tomorrow, in time for the start of the new tourism season.

Heavy rain last winter brought thousands of tonnes of rock crashing down, destroying the main bridge across the Kel Burn which linked centre buildings to the castle, and denying access to many of its attractions.

A rescue team worked around the clock for four months to clear the devastation and rebuild the bridge. Because of access problems, all of the excavation and rebuilding work, including moving 50 tonnes of rock, had to be done by hand, causing further delays.

The castle, country centre and 3,500 acre estate is one of the area’s most popular tourist venues. Its attractions include a secret forest, an adventure course, a falconry centre, an animal park and one of Scotland’s biggest stables.

The castle, home to the Earls of Glasgow since the 13th Century, features a world famous Brazilian graffiti project.

Failure to re-establish access to all the facilities would have meant the closure of the estate for the first time since it was opened to the public in 1977. But, with just days to go before the launch of the new summer tourist season this week-end, work has finally been completed.

Patrick Boyle, the 10th Earl of Glasgow, said the landslide caused the most damage to his family’s estate than at any time in its 800 year history.

“There was a particularly bad storm and the flood was like a tsunami, rolling down the hillside, smashing everything in its wake,” he said “Overnight the entire topography of that part of the estate changed. We knew then that, even if we worked flat out, it would be touch and go as to whether the glen would be able to open on time for the 2011 season.”

Lord Glasgow added: “Without access for modern mechanical equipment, the work could not be done by contractors. There was no way to get a JCB in and so everything had to be done by hand.

“We would have needed a helicopter to bring materials in and, even then, it would have been problematic because of the height of the trees.

“Along with the ranger staff, we had about 12 volunteers who helped us to move 50 tonnes of rubble in total. Laying the buttress required us to move about 25 tonnes of rock and we had to clear a further 25 tonnes to make way for the bridge.

“The area where the previous bridge crossed the burn doubled in width. We were pulling rocks with ropes using pre-mechanical methods. At times the techniques we used were no more advanced than Egyptian slaves building the pyramids.

“Each rock had to be selected from within an area of 200 yards. The main supports for the new bridge were provided by nearby trees that we cut down.

The life peer said he was confident the forthcoming season would be among the most successful for the estate.

“After enduring a winter that came close to destroying all the hard work that has gone into building Kelburn over the past four decades, we are determined to move into a brighter future.

“Fortunately the storm failed to cause lasting damage and our many attractions remain intact. We have some fantastic events planned for this year and we hope visitors will continue to come and enjoy what we have to offer.”

Notes to Editors:

  •     The secret forest includes a number of attractions including a gingerbread house, a secret grotto, a giant’s castle and a crocodile swamp.
  •     During school holidays it runs daily family fun events with seasonal themes and there are ranger guided walks and environmental themed events, provided with funding from Scottish Natural Heritage
  •     It hosts a number of annual events including a Brazilian festival, a music festival featuring emerging bands and a Country Show. The estate has been used by event organisers to host events including Scout and Guide jamborees and an annual Shakespeare production by the Charterhouse Theatre Company.
  •     It operates educational services, hosting trips from parties of pupils from primary, secondary and special schools. There are plans to host corporate events, private dinners and weddings at the 13th Century castle, occupied by the earl’s family, and to market the estate as a film location. A pavilion, currently being renovated, will also provide a venue for private functions.

Photocall Sunday, April 3 at 3pm: Photographers and film crews are invited to attend the opening of Kelburn for the new tourist season. There will be an opportunity to photograph and film the area which was damaged by flooding and the newly built bridge. The Earl of Glasgow will be available for interview.

The address is Kelburn Country Estate, Fairlie, Largs, KA29 OBE. Tel: 01475 568685

For further information and high resolution photography, contact: Carlos Alba on 0141 637 6399 or 07880 505647.
Email: carlos(at)carlosalbamedia(dot)co(dot)uk

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