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The Seven Hills of Edinburgh (Online + Field Trips)

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 each of the hills to explore what they tell us about the past, and how they contribute to today’s city.

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

Pre-requisites for enrolment

Students will need to be able to confidentially use videoconferencing software be comfortable with using websites.

Special Information

In order to participate in this course, you will need access to a computer with a speaker and an internet connection.

Normal outdoor clothing and footwear.

Content of Course

1. Online session: Why does Edinburgh have hills, why have they formed, how have they influenced the development of the city?

2. Online session: Introduction to the volcanoes of south Edinburgh, which erupted lava and ash around 410 million years ago.

3. Braid and Blackford Hills excursion: Tough volcanic rocks have been eroded by ice to create low, tapered hill shapes. Evidence of ice erosion at Agassiz Rock.

4. Online session: Volcanoes of central Edinburgh, active in the early Carboniferous Period 350 million years ago.

5. Craiglockhart Hill excursion: Visit impressive columnar jointing and explore the impact of fault movement in helping to create the landscape.

6. Calton Hill and Castle Rock excursion: Geology influences the city centre. Crags and valleys.

7. Arthur’s Seat excursion: Exploration of the complex volcanic remains in Holyrood Park, including basalt lava flows and well-preserved volcanic vent.

8. Online session: final acts, magma intrusion forms tough dolerite that is now found at Salisbury Crags and Corstorphine Hill, and a long period of erosion to create today’s landscape.

9. Corstorphine Hill excursion: A hill with a very different character from the rest of the Seven Hills, due to the type of rock and the direction of tilt of the rock slab.

Teaching method(s)

A blend of 4 online sessions and 5 excursions.

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.