The landscape of Orkney has been shaped over thousands, if not millions of years. The Devonian flagstones are the building blocks for landforms on the islands. The processes which operate today to break down and erode the rocks are very different from those of the Ice Age when intense cold gripped the land and ice sheets periodically advanced to cover Orkney. The ocean penetrates the land, with storm waves undermining the great cliffs and the calmer waves of the firths carrying and depositing sand and gravel on beaches and bars. Most recently, people have started to modify and even create new landforms. The land persists but the form changes, oft times ever so slowly, but sometimes in a single, stormy, rain-drenched day.

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  • Orkney has a stunning array of coastal scenery which is amongst the most impressive in the British Isles. The wonderful variety reflects the interaction of rock type, glaciation and sea level change in one of the highest energy marine environments in the world.

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  • Orkney is a sandstone lowland moulded by the passage of ice sheets. Glacial erosion has smoothed and rounded hills and ridges on land and excavated the major firths of Hoy Sound, Eynhallow Sound and Westray Firth and to establish the archipelago. Local glaciers developed at intervals on Hoy to carve striking corries and valleys. ...

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  • Active periglacial features are confined to the hill tops of Hoy and reflect a prevailing environment of high wind speeds, heavy but now short-lived snowfalls, high ground moisture levels, and frequent freeze thaw cycles in winter.

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  • Around 15 thousand years ago, the last ice sheet disappeared to leave a barren, scoured terrain. As temperatures rose rapidly, pioneer plants arrived from the south and the low ground was soon carpeted with a rich herbaceous cover.

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  • The landscape of Orkney before the Ice Age can be reconstructed from the fragments of ancient landforms that have escaped erosion by the great ice sheets.

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