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Whin win situation

sdfOne of the most iconic pieces of British geology is about to be celebrated by a new National Landscape Discovery Centre – ‘The Sill’, write Peter Styles and Ian Jackson*.

The Northumberland National Park Authority and the Youth Hostels Association (it prefers to refer to itself simply as ‘YHA’ these days) have teamed up to build a new visitor centre and hostel on the site of existing facilities at Once Brewed (south-west Northumberland). The centre will sit unobtrusively, just a few metres south of the outcrop of the Whin Sill near the well-known viewpoint at Steel Rigg.


There can’t be many members of the Society who, as students or professionals, haven’t stood on and marvelled at the raw and rugged landscape created by an intrusion that gave its name to all other sills worldwide. Here, perhaps as well as anywhere else in these islands, the relationship between landscape and the underlying geology is clear for all to see. As the rock that defined the edge of an empire in AD 122, it and the Roman remains that run along its course now draw over three million visitors every year. Where better to build a facility designed to inspire and engage people in their landscapes?

kljThe Sill is planned to be in operation by the end of 2017. It aspires to be a world-class visitor centre and experience that inspires a new generation to discover, understand, interact with, and care for the landscape. Building it will cost about £12 million, of which £9.5 million has already been pledged. It will support approximately 180 new jobs locally; an invaluable boost to a rural economy facing tough times. Estimates predict that the all-weather, all-seasons facility will (initially) attract 100,000 visitors a year. It plans to provide 23,000 individual educational & training activities each year and offer an international research facility for understanding and sharing best practice on landscape, land and water management. Its vision is to have an impact well beyond the borders of Northumberland and even the UK.


Given the pivotal role that geology plays in The Sill, its exhibitions and activities, the Northumberland National Park authorities have approached the Geological Society (and other organisations in the geological sector) to enlist their support. As two Fellows who through birth enjoy a very close affinity with this region, as well as with the Geological Society and UK geoscience generally, we feel this is an opportunity that the Society should grasp with both hands.

The chance to influence the displays, to promote geology, to have access to an in-field facility adjacent to an internationally renowned geological locality for meetings, field trips and teaching - but most of all to inspire and encourage the next generation of geologists - is too good to miss.

* Peter Styles is Editor-in-Chief of Geoscientist and Professor of Applied and Environmental Geophysics at Keele University.  Ian Jackson was formerly Head of Operations and Director of Information at British Geological Survey.  Below - Architect's vision of the new interpretation centre.