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The Seven Hills of Edinburgh (2-day version)

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

Edinburgh's landscape is dominated by the Seven Hills, each with a hard core of igneous rock that has been altered and eroded over millions of years by natural forces and more recently by human activity. We will visit Blackford Hill, Braid Hills and Holyrood Park to explore what they tell us about the past, and how they contribute to today’s city.

Please note, the field trips in this course involve walking for approximately 6km at each field site over uneven terrain which will include some steep inclines.

Course Details

Content of Course

Excursions to Blackford Hill, Braid Hills and Holyrood Park will illustrate the unique character of the seven hills of Edinburgh and the common themes that unite them. This area has experienced a wide range of volcanic activity in the past, including surface eruptions of different types of lava and underground intrusion of magma. It is unusual to find evidence of such a variety of geological processes in a small area and this diversity is reflected in the different shapes and characters of the hills.

The hills have been shaped by natural processes, especially erosion by ice over the last two million years. It is this slow natural erosion, augmented by human activity in some places, which results in the topography of the hills as we see them today. On-going rock fall illustrates these processes haven’t finished.

The Seven Hills have had huge influence on the development of the city, in guiding where people have settled, how the land has been used, and the resources available. By following in the footsteps of previous inhabitants we can gain insight into the impact of the hills on people over thousands of years, and how the use and importance of these areas has changed with time.

Teaching method(s)

This course gives the opportunity to visit and appreciate key rock exposures and vantage points that illustrate the range of activity that has taken place in the past and the way that natural processes have shaped the hills over long time periods. By directly experiencing the rocks and landscapes of Edinburgh, students will be able to engage with the processes and timescales and appreciate the influence these areas have had on people in the past, and the development of geological theory.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Relate the different rocks found in Edinburgh’s hills to a range of geological events that happened more than 300 million years ago; 

  • Recognise the processes that have eroded and changed the rocks of the hills to create today’s landscape;

  • Identify the different kinds of rocks that form Edinburgh’s hills;

  • Explain the important role that Edinburgh’s landscape has had in influencing the development of the city.


Core Readings


  • McAdam, D., 2003. Edinburgh and West Lothian: A Landscape Fashioned by Geology. Scottish Natural Heritage, ISBN 1-85397-327-0. Available as a free pdf download

  • Clarkson, E. and Upton, B., 2006. Edinburgh Rock: the Geology of Lothian.  Dunedin Academic Press, ISBN 1-903765-39-0.

Web Sources

Leaflets published by Lothian and Borders GeoConservation, available online at


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.