Crystal Mountains – Minerals of the Cairngorms


Crystal Mountains - Minerals of the Cairngorms cover imageCrystal Mountains tells the story of the early crystal hunters who roamed the mountains and glens of the Cairngorms during the 18th and 19th centuries in search of Scotland’s famous gem – the smoky quartz or cairngorm. The book provides a comprehensive history of this arduous and uncertain quest, and explains the geological background to the occurrence of the gem minerals. Lavishly illustrated with photographs of the wild and rugged scenery of the Cairngorms National Park, the text invites exploration and discovery. The author has been privileged to have obtained unprecedented access to both private and public collections, resulting in the inclusion of numerous previously unpublished photographs of mineral specimens, gemstones and artefacts made from them. The book will appeal to all those interested in the natural and social history of the area, to Park visitors, mineral collectors, gemmologists and members of the antique and jewellery trades.

Running to 184 pages, the book follows the now well-established format of Minerals of Cornwall and Devon, Minerals of the English Lake District-Caldbeck Fells and Minerals of Northern England, page size 276 x 218 mm, and is lavishly illustrated with 229 colour photographs, 4 colour maps, 2 colour diagrams and 17 monochrome images. An extensive list of over 300 references complements the text and a comprehensive index is provided.

Price: Softback £25 plus postage and packing. A facility to order a copy online and pay securely using PayPal has now been added to the site. Please click on the Book Orders tab. You will receive a confirmation email notifying you when your book has been despatched. If you would like the book signed, or inscribed with some special greeting, I’ll be happy to oblige. Just make sure that you include the instructions when you order it via Paypal.

The following sample pages give you a look inside the book (PLEASE CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO SEE A LARGE VERSION):

Crystal Mountains - history sample page p13

Crystal Mountains – history sample page p13

Crystal Mountains - sample page topaz p84

Crystal Mountains – sample page topaz p84

Crystal Mountains - sample page topaz p89

Crystal Mountains – sample page topaz p89

Crystal Mountains Jewellery and Artefacts sample page

Crystal Mountains Jewellery and Artefacts sample

Crystal Mountains - sample page beryl p74

Crystal Mountains – sample page beryl p74

Please take a look at my video of the Cairngorms, especially if you have not yet visited the area Crystal Mountains video – a celebration of the Cairngorms

If you’ve watched the video and bought the book, you might be interested to know that I shall be doing a number of illustrated lectures on the “Minerals and Gems of the Cairngorms” at various venues around the UK over the next few months – see the “Crystal Mountains the Tour” T-shirt (below) for details. If you are interested in coming along to one of these events please send me a message via the contact page and I’ll let you have full details of the host organisation, venue etc.

If your club or society would be interested in booking me for a talk / lecture, just drop me a message via the contact page and I’ll get back to you.

It has been a really busy first year – starting with the launch of the book in Edinburgh on 25th September 2014. This was followed by a talk to the local community in Braemar the following Sunday, a catch-up session with the Braemar Castle team and visits to various people on Deeside who have been involved with the project. Then it was back down south to take a table at the Bakewell Rock Exchange, followed by the Russell Society’s Maisemore Event in Gloucestershire. After a short break in activities the Sussex Mineral Show and Mindat Mini Symposium provided additional promotional opportunities. Talks to the Russell Society Central Branch, Midlands Branch of the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, the Norfolk Mineral and Lapidary Club, and the final Oxford Mineral Show of 2014 rounded off the year.


Iain Thomson’s classic biography of the legendary Scottish climber Jock Nimlin May the Fire be Always Lit has just been republished in Amazon Kindle format. Jock features in Crystal Mountains, and I’m delighted that this long out of print, and hard to find book is available once more.

The Kindle version includes additional material not published in the original Ernest Press edition. The new edition includes an appendix of articles and essays of Jock’s that do not feature in the biography itself and a significant number of additional photographs. It is great to see this splendid work back in print, and available to a potentially much wider readership than the original book. If you are not familiar with the original, and even if you are – do take a look. Jock was one of those true mountaineering heroes and his story is well worth a read.

Congratulations to Iain for launching the new edition! You can download a copy from the Amazon website for  $9.00 ~ £6.


See here for a review of the book by Mark Griffin for the Geological Society’s Geoscientist


During a recent trip to the Cairngorms, Roy met up with Mark Stephen, presenter for the popular BBC Radio Scotland programme Out of Doors. The interview took place at Braemar Castle and Roy discussed aspects of the project to produce the book, the Farquharson mineral collection and other topics of interest. The programme was only broadcast in Scotland but was available for 30 days on the BBC i-player – here
until 5th April.

Roy Starkey and Mark Stephen walking in to Braemar Castle 03 March 2015 - Copyright Laura McMeekin

Roy Starkey and Mark Stephen walking in to Braemar Castle 03 March 2015 – Copyright Laura McMeekin


Roy Starkey and Mark Stephen at Braemar Castle 03 March 2015 - Copyright Laura McMeekin

Roy Starkey and Mark Stephen at Braemar Castle 03 March 2015 – Copyright Laura McMeekin



















A new review has just been published in the leading British mineralogical journal – see


My good friend Hamish Johnston is Matthew Forster Heddle’s Great Great Grandson and for the past several years he has been working to compile an authoritative biography of the great man – arguably the greatest mineralogist that Scotland has ever produced. I have been helping Hamish with various aspects of the project. The book is now available from NMS Publishing.

Hamish has a Facebook page to publicise the book so do please take a look.

If you are a Facebook user Hamish will be very grateful if you ‘Like’ the page so that we can generate as much publicity as possible for the book. Please also pass on the link to your friends who may be interested, and of course – BUY THE BOOK!

The cover for Hamish Johnston's forthcoming biography of Matthew Forster Heddle

The cover of Hamish Johnston’s biography of Matthew Forster Heddle










New TALK DATES added

I’ve added some new dates for illustrated talks – (see the “Crystal Mountains the Tour” t-shirt image below for details). You can catch-up with me in Haywards Heath on 2nd October; Liverpool on 17th November; Cardiff on 20th February; Aviemore on 29th February aTee shirt ppt slide for editing updated 24 09 15nd Inverness on 2nd March. I look forward to seeing you!







New reviews

The last few months have seen several more reviews published e.g. Gems and Jewellery May-June 2015; and Rocks and Minerals magazine (USA)

Cairngorm in the news!

The famous large crystal of smoky quartz presented to Queen Victoria by James Grant back in 1850 has been in the news recently. The coverage has been rather confused, and not particularly accurate, but I’m told that there is no such thing as bad publicity – so remain grateful for anything which brings the Cairngorm story to the attention of the public. See, for example

25th September – 1st Anniversary of Publication – tomorrow!

The 25th of September 2015 marks the first anniversary of the book launch in Edinburgh, and it has been an exciting and interesting year. The book has generated a lot of interest, and I’ve had plenty of positive feedback which is great. A big thank you to everyone who has purchased a copy!

My annual pilgrimage to the Cairngorms this year was marked by a spectacular overnight thunderstorm which lead to serious flooding, and at least one helicopter rescue and I was camping high up on the flanks of Ben Macdui on the night of 23rd July, and it certainly made for a memorable experience! The picture below shows our camp site before the storm came in overnight.








Talk to South Wales branch of the Geologists’ Association – Cardiff 20th February

I shall be giving a talk in Cardiff “Minerals and Gems of the Cairngorms” at 11.00am on the morning of Saturday 20th February. Tea and coffee will be served from about 45 minutes before the start of the meeting. The venue for the talk is the Department of Earth Sciences at Cardiff University, in the “Main Building” (see map here ) The building location is No.5 on the key. Meet in the Earth Sciences staff room. The talk will be in Lecture Theatre 1.25.

See you there!

Talk in Aviemore – Rothiemurchus Estate Public Lecture Series – 29th February

I shall be travelling north to give a talk as an invited speaker in the Rothiemurchus Estate Public Winter Lecture Series. This talk will be at the Rothiemurchuis Tennis Club Pavilion – postcode PH22 1QH, starting at 7.00pm. Contact Julian Orsi at Rothiemurchus Estate for details Tel: 01479 812345.

Talk to Highland Geological Society – Inverness 2nd March

Following on from the Aviemore talk I shall be in Inverness on 2nd March to give a talk to the Highland Geological Society. The venue for this talk is Millburn Academy, Diriebught Road, Inverness, IV2 3QR. Contact Dr Alison Wright via for details.

I look forward to meeting you in Aviemore or Inverness.

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23 thoughts on “Crystal Mountains – Minerals of the Cairngorms

  1. John & Catriona McInnes e-mail me saying to let you know if interested in attending the launch . Also look forward to getting your book.

  2. I poured myself a Dalwhinnie single malt as a small personal celebratory drink and then opened my emails. There I found the link to your absolutely stunning video. What a coincidence is that! The scenery and the music blend so well it made every sip of the “aqua vitae” just taste of the Cairngorms.

    Slangevar Roy.

  3. As a Scot in exile for 25 years in England, I was immediately transported home (and back in time) to so many happy memories. The mountains of Scotland are truly a wondrous place. Did I see the Lairig Ghru with its famous boulder field in the background? And how lovely to show some of the very special birds, animals, plants and lichens as well, they are all part of the story.

    Beautifully filmed Roy – the music, so often a distraction, in this instance the perfect accompaniment. I cannot wait to get my copy of the book.


  4. “Where rainbows are born and the angels play”.,,,. truly wonderful Roy.
    Looking forward to seeing you and “the Gang”. on the 25th.

  5. Roy….received the book today, had a quick glance through and the level of detail you go into is truly impressive. The pictures and specimens are immense and you know me…I crave one of those Scottish topaz specimens!

    Well done on the book and wish you every success with it!!


  6. Having spent a couple of wonderful mountain days with Roy during our own Scottish Munro odyssey in 2010-11, I know first hand of Roy’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the Scottish mountains and the wee gems that it hides beneath its rocky mantle. I’m sure that “Crystal Mountains – Minerals of the Cairngorms” will be the next best thing to having Roy accompanying you on your own mountain foray.

    I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.


  7. I visited those places with my bicycle and I always remember all of them willingly! But I have no book of mineralogy in Britain and Ireland! I know there are many very interesting mineralogical deposits (Cornwall, Scotland, the Lake District, Amtrim etc.), but… nothing specialized on mineralogy in the UK and Eire!
    Greetings from Italy by Riccardo.

  8. I would be interested in a copy of this book when it is released – is there any chance of a signed copy? (how much is the book)?
    When I was studying at Aberdeen College (Clinterty/O-Ed) in the 80’s, I did some research on ‘The Cairngorm Crystal’ and the lady who found the biggest crystal on the shores of Loch Avon in the Victorian era- but I have never been able to track down any jewellery made from this semi-precious stone – have you?

  9. Two months after the launch in Edinburgh more than 400 copies of the book have now been distributed worldwide – Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Wales and the USA. Thank you to everyone for your interest in, and support for, the book!

    Best wishes


    • I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but it’s visually very impressive. I think there is something here for everyone interested in minerals, whether for their beauty or for more academic reasons, and also the irresistible allure of accounts such as the great August flood of 1829. A pity the Glenmore Lodge courses are not still going. And doesn’t it freeze your blood to hear about these Victorians collecting huge amounts of whatever (minerals or game) and just wasting a lot of it! Hope I’m not giving too much away. Thank you for a great book. Anne Morton.

      • Thanks very much Anne – I’m delighted you are enjoying the book, and that you see a broad appeal for the content – this was very much my goal when I put the book together.

        Best wishes


  10. Congratulations Roy on such a great publication – an interesting and informative read with just the right tone, beautiful images and produced to such a high quality. What’s next?

  11. A great reference book, a must have for anyone interested in the Cairngorms.
    Wish I had a copy 35 years ago when I first started tramping the hills on my doorstep.
    Thank you


  12. where do I buy my copy ? Just been listening to Out of Doors .broughty Ferry
    is my home but some of my best books have been bought in Scottish Tourist offices in Highlands etc eg.Strontian If one had it I would go there.if I knew.
    retired vw campervanner SCOTLAND

    • Hi June

      You can order a copy directly from me via the Book Orders page. If you order it today I’ll get it in the post to you on Monday. The book is not available via Amazon and other online retailers. If you are passing through Ballater, Deeside Books have some copies.
      Look forward to hearing from you


  13. Attended your talk at The South Wales GA this morning.
    I was the person who asked you about your cut outs.
    What an interesting and informative talk.
    I learnt a lot.
    For example, I didn’t know The Cairngorms were a National Park.
    I had a feeling that Balmoral Castle would figure in the talk,as you pointed it out on the map.

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