The character of the beautiful North Pennine landscape has its foundation in the underlying rocks, and is the result of millions of years of Earth history.
Millions of years in the making
The North Pennine landscape has been nearly 500 million years in the making and its rocks, minerals and fossils tell a remarkable story. The rocks which underlie most of the area were formed in ancient tropical seas, river deltas and rainforests. The dramatic Whin Sill was once molten, and the area’s mineral deposits crystallized from hot fluids deep underground. The rocks along the North Pennine escarpment tell of a long-vanished ocean, volcanoes and deserts. In the more recent geological past, vast ice sheets smoothed and sculpted the landscape. And in the last few thousand years – just the blink of an eye in geological terms – North Pennine people have further shaped the landscape with settlements, mines and quarries.
UNESCO Global Geopark
In November 2015 UNESCO – the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture – announced a new programme, which created UNESCO Global Geoparks. This is the first new UNESCO programme to be established in over 40 years and puts the Global Geoparks alongside UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Previously operating with the informal support of UNESCO, the status of Global Geoparks is formally recognised under the new programme.
One of only seven in the UK
This new designation was conferred on the existing UK Geoparks, including the North Pennines. The UK is home to six other Global Geoparks, stretching from the English Riviera in the South to Geopark Shetland in the North, and including two Global Geoparks in Wales and a cross-border Global Geopark shared by Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The UK sites are part of a growing international network of Global Geoparks – areas of outstanding geological interest which use their unique geology to drive local development.
All of the UK’s Global Geoparks have internationally significant geology. But what sets Global Geoparks apart from other designations is that it comes without any restrictions on development and the primary focus is on using Earth heritage to support sustainable economic development of the area, primarily through geological and responsible tourism. In the North Pennines, this has included holding geology festivals and events, developing geological trails across the landscape, creating displays in local museums and visitor centres, producing educational resources, working in local schools and more.