12 June 2010


Paul Mc Loughlin of GBSC sent on this loveably erudite piece from “The Edinburgh Geologist - Issue no. 32, Spring 1999”.

(The name Rockallite reminded me of the Asian Dub Foundation song Naxalite. Maybe ADF would like to feature Rockall’s struggle for national identity in a remix. Hardly.)

The first references to Rockall Island appear as Rocol, Rokol, Rookol or Rochol on early seventeenth century maps although the actual location of the island on the early maps is some distance away from its known position today. Certain ferromagnesian-rich patches of the main Rockall granite were originally christened ‘rockallite’ but this has subsequently been recognised as being no more than a feldspar-deficient variety of the main granite and the name rockallite has fallen into disuse. However, many of the sea-bed sediments west of Scotland are sands comprised largely of the shells of dead foraminifera and of these, Nummulites rockallensis, one of the largest forams of its type, is a primary constituent. So in geological circles the name Rockall lives on as a major igneous centre and a tiny microfossil. In shipping circles it is known for causing the demise of several vessels as well as being mistaken (under peculiar lighting conditions) for the sails of a yacht and a submarine conning tower. Apparently it has also been used by the navy for target practice (still bearing the scars today) and as the temporary home for such inhabitants as Tom McClean, a former paratrooper who, in 1985, camped on the rock and painted a 6’ by 4’ Union Jack to “emphasise its Britishness”. In 1997 activists from Greenpeace placed a survival capsule on the rock, lived there for several weeks and declared the existence of the new state of “Waveland” for which they issued 'passports’. This action was a protest against further oil exploration on the Atlantic margin. Three kilometres ESE of Rockall is Helen’s Reef from which an unusual, but as yet unconfirmed, Late Cretaceous age has been obtained for the microgabbro recovered from it. The reef takes its name from the Dundee brigantine Helen which struck it on 19 April 1824 with the subsequent loss of 16 passengers. The crew of 12 escaped in a long-boat and was rescued. Whatever happened to women and children first?

Many shallow bathymetric features on the south-western edge of Rockall Plateau have been christened with place names borrowed from J.R.L.Tolkien’s famous books The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Hence we have the Rohan, Gondor and Eriador Seamounts and the Lorien, Fangorn and Edoras Banks. But there is only one feature which is named after a person from these novels. Gandalf’s Spur takes the name of the wizard who helped Bilbo Baggins (the hobbit) and the twelve dwarves in their many adventures as they searched for the mighty treasure guarded by the fiery dragon in a cave under the mountain.

More recently the BGS Geophysical Image Atlases have christened several igneous complexes in the same general area utilising names taken from a series of four books by Antony Swithin, a former geology lecturer at Leicester University. As a boy, Swithin was fascinated by the remote Rockall Island which, in his imagination, became a continent of magical places and beings. His novels, about the mythical continent (!) of Rockall, and written in a similar vein as Lord of the Rings, have provided names for the Lyonesse, Owlsgard, Sandarro and Sandastre igneous centres. Swithin has been honoured (?) by having a centre named after him. It is one of the larger ones in the area and may be at least partially responsible for the prolongation of the NW part of Rockall Bank