A Rite of Passage


Every summer, the Open University used to hold residential course SXR260 The geological history of the British Isles at Durham University in the north of England. For a week’s study, you needed not just your everyday clothes but much outdoor gear (not forgetting waterproofs!) and boots, camera, books, stationery, hairdryer...  You get the picture.  You tended to gain the odd hand specimen of rock to take home for your reference collection as well; not many, of course, but choice.  If you’re interested enough to be reading this you have probably been on a good few residential and field trips (or possibly on the same course) yourself so you know what I’m talking about!

Durham Station did not have lifts.  At the end of my week (I was there in 2005), there was me struggling to carry my case down the stairs and across to the other platform - I’m not tiny but the case was really, really hefty.  Bang on cue, this chap and his girlfriend overtake me and said chap takes the chance to impress her with his gallantry. “Can I help you with your case, love?”  “Yes, please!” said I in my most pathetic voice.

Chap picks up the case, which is clearly much heavier than he expected. “What’s in here, rocks?”  “Funny you should say that, I’ve just been doing a week’s geology...”  The look on his face clearly said that he couldn’t have made up that story if he tried.  I know I couldn’t have done and I am still laughing at his expression nine years later (Nine years! Already!!).

One of the visits during the week, where I saw so many landscapes and so much geology that were totally new to me, had been to Shap Quarry in Cumbria.  I had never been to Cumbria until that week but I had heard so much about Shap granite during the previous 18 months that it had assumed almost numinous status and I had probably been looking forward to this visit more than any other day of the course.  I was certainly not disappointed! I took this photo soon after we arrived (again, with the plastic-lensed APS camera), while drinking in all that our tutors were telling us.

I came away carrying my own small piece of Shap to take home in my suitcase thinking “Yes, I am actually going to be a geologist. It feels real now.”  Visiting the quarry had felt like a rite of passage.

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