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Donald Robert Shelley, 1933-2002

Don Shelley, Sutherland geologist extraordinary, born April 25 1933, died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Golspie on April 9, 2002.

Don became a geologist by a very unconventional route. At 34, after 10 years in the African Colonial Service, he joined the Nature Conservancy Council to become the first warden at Knockan, on the Inverpolly National Nature Reserve, by Assynt, Sutherland, NW Scotland. Here, Don discovered a passion for geology and rocks that was to influence the rest of his life. Having left school at 16, Don had no formal geological training. However, his interest in rocks at Knockan was encouraged and tutored especially by Tom Robertson, retired from the Geological Survey and living nearby. With his newly gained knowledge, it was Don who established the popular Nature Trail along Knockan Cliff and later inspired the beautifully illustrative little stone wall containing all the rocks of Assynt in their correct positions, which happily is still preserved in the new Knockan Visitor Centre.

In 1970, Don moved to Golspie on the east coast of Sutherland and, with wife Anne, set up the Orcadian Stone Company Limited for no other reason (it seems) than that he loved rocks. It is a tribute to both Don and Anne that this business has flourished and continues under their son Bruce. Their ‘Rock Shop’ is visited by many geologists both professional and academic and by school children and interested tourists. Over the years, from this business, Don built up a magnificent museum of rocks, minerals and fossils especially from the north of Scotland. Whenever Don acquired specimens, instead of selling them, he always kept the best for his museum, much to Anne’s dismay. It was always a great pleasure to be shown around the museum by Don with his contagious and enthusiastic explanations of his newest additions.

Apart from his museum, Don has left the far North of Scotland with some fine outdoor geological displays at Ardgay, Lochinver, Durness, Kilmallie (Fort William) and Lybster as well as the wall at Knockan. His own favourite was the rock display at Ardgay. Here, massive pieces of rock representing all the ages of outcrops found in Sutherland, from Lewisian Gneiss to Jurassic sandstone, circle an engraved central display and explanation. It is typical of Don that he knew just where to find such huge, beautifully weathered pieces of each rock type.

In addition to these displays, from his excellent field knowledge of the far North West, Don compiled and with the Sutherland Tourist Board the Assynt Geological Motor Trail (1985), an excellent guide for the layman with a clarity of explanation that can only come from a largely self-taught geologist.

Don loved rocks, their feel and their look, perhaps more than the academic ideas they could provoke. In this he was a true geologist like no other and his lovely rock monuments are a witness to this. He is survived by his wife Anne and children Hugh, Bruce and Jane.

Malcolm Rider