About this series:

On 23 June 1838 Charles Darwin set out on a journey to the West Highlands of Scotland to study the mysterious "Parallel Roads" of Glen Roy. He traveled by steam packet (a mail boat) to Edinburgh, from there to Glasgow, then on to the Glen Roy valley. This valley is located just northeast of Fort William, in the West Highlands of Scotland, and directly north of Roybridge.

How the terraced "roads" developed was a mystery at the time. Based on his observation in South America during the Beagle voyage (mainly in Chile), Darwin thought the roads may be the result of the uplifting of the valley when it was covered by a large lake, and that the roads were in reality extinct shorelines. He traveled to the Glen Roy valley to investigate this mystery, and was there from 28 June to 5 July.

He published a paper on his observations the next year in "Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society" (1839 pp 39-81). Unfortunately, his theory did not stand the test of time, for in 1840/42 Louis Agassiz had published more convincing papers that theorized that the parallel roads of Glen Roy were the result of a retreating lake behind the ice dam of a glacier. This has now been shown to be the case.

"This paper was a great failure, and I am ashamed of it. Having been deeply impressed with what I had seen of the elevation of the land in South America, I had attributed the parallel lines to the action of the sea; but I had to give up this view when Agassiz propounded his glacier-lake theory." (Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters. Francis Darwin (Editor). New York: Dover Publications, 1992, page 33)

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Road to the Valley

Valley of Glen Roy

Parallel Roads

Parallel Roads

Parallel Roads

Long Horn Rams

View of a "Road"

Parallel Roads

View to Roy Bridge