Thursday, February 18, 2016

Rhizocarpon geographicum - Map Lichen

My annual Scottish winter trip was based in Tongue, Sutherland, at the end of January. Our time was bookended by two storms: Gertrude and Henry. Consequently we enjoyed spectacular weather: howling winds whipping the skin off the sea on Loch Eriboll; stinging rain on our coastal walk; spindrift off the mountainsides; snow; hail; sudden shafts of sunlight and cloudscapes to rival the dramatic scenery below. 

In the middle was a day of peace and an opportunity to walk upwards. We set our eyes on Ben Hope, the northernmost Munro and an easier walk than the lower, but more imposing, Ben Loyal. We returned to Tongue via Altnaharra on the longest single-track road segments devoid of passing places that I've ever been on. Quite what we'd have done had we encountered on-coming traffic I don't know. 

Just south of the starting place for the Ben Hope walk is a ruined broch: Broch Dun Dornaigil. Brochs are unique to the north of Scotland, the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Most were built around 2000 years ago in the late Iron Age. Archaeologists still don't agree on their nature, although it is generally agreed that they are not militaristic. 

This one had an impressive array of lichens on one of the large stones on the southern side. There are a number of species but the obvious one is Rhizocarpon geographicum forming the appearance of a map of English counties. 

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