Friday, 30 November 2012

Back to Cornwall

It's great to be back in Falmouth, and walking the Cornish cliffs and cycling the narrow country lanes again.

Our two conference venues, Cape Town and Falmouth, have a lot in common, apart from outstanding natural beauty. They are both great walking areas, Cape Town particularly for its mountains, as the coastal walks do not compare to those on the Cornish coastal path. Cornwall's famous coastal scenery favours the walker rather than the motorist, while the opposite is the case in the Cape, exemplified by the magnificent Chapman's Peak Drive between Hout Bay and Noordhoek.

Cornwall's coastal path
Chapman's Peak Drive, Cape Peninsula
Late-Carboniferous granite, Cornwall
In both areas the dramatic scenery is a result of very ancient geological events. Cornwall has some of the oldest rocks in England, Devonian sediments of around 400 million years old, which were intruded by the Cornubian batholith around 280 million years ago, during the Variscan oregeny, and metamorposed by the hot granite which crystallised. Subsequent erosion produced the high cliffs, coves and sandy bays which make Cornwall unique in England.

Pre-Cambrian granite, Cape Town
The geology of Cape Town is much more ancient, the pre-Cambrian Malmesbury sandstones, shales and greywacke being the oldest rock formation in the area. This was intruded by a huge granite batholith about 630 millions years ago. Initially at great depth, subsequent erosion has exposed the granite, and what remains of this and the similarly eroded Malmesbury group now forms a basement for the later sediments of the Table Mountain group.

The granite-Malmesbury contact at Sea Point
Last week Barbara and I walked the 6 miles from Camp's Bay to the Cape Town Waterfront. It is not a great walk as it follows the busy main road from Cape Town to Cape Point. From Camp's Bay to Sea Point, passing through Clifton and the dreary Bantry Bay, huge, extensively weathered, granite boulders dominate the landscape, and at Sea Point the contact between the intruded granite and the Malmesbury group can be seen, where slivers of dark coloured Malmesbury rocks, metamorphosed by intense heat, are intermingled and folded with the light coloured granite to form a complex mixed rock.

It is impossible to compare Cape Town and Cornwall, both of outstanding natural beauty and both so different. One thing that they have in common is that they do not typify their respective countries. Cape Town is an incongruous gem at the foot of Africa, and Cornwall, due to its unique geology and remoteness, has a history, culture and landscape very much different from anywhere else in England. What I can say is that we are very lucky to have these two stunning locations as venues for MEI Conferences.

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