Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A winter afternoon on the Moray Firth

There are lots of arches and stacks on this section of the Moray Firth coast, but I was delighted to find this one on the Portsoy side of the West Head.  I've paddled here many times but not found this slender arch before. It's narrow, but looks like it can be paddled at most states of the tide. 

There are three narrow channels which cut straight through the West Head.  It's rare to get conditions which will allow easy passage through them all, but today was one of the rare days.  This is the widest of the three and even today the swell was being magnified through the gap.  Perhaps the best thing about these gaps is that they teach observation, timing and above all, patience.  In winter the cliffs are quiet but in the Spring and early Summer the racket and smell of thousands of seabirds adds to the special atmosphere.

Around the West Head and into Sandend Bay, I landed at the abandoned croft Redhythe before paddling on to Sandend where I had a break and ate my lunch.  The harbour entrance at Sandend is tiny and faces just about north, which means that in the winter the sun will almost always be in your eyes as you approach.  Not a problem today, but in the rough conditions prevailing here it can be tricky to judge correctly.

Heading back around to Portsoy I stopped at another small pebble beach.  Although the sun was touching this section,  a frost had formed below the high water mark.  Since low water had just passed, the frost must actually have formed during the morning.  It was certainly cold - the roof straps were freezing as I put the boat back on the car at Portsoy.

The 10 kilometres of this short route had taken me over four hours - mainly due to poking around all the little features of the cliffs.  All in all a nice winter afternoon!


  1. Hi Ian
    Enjoying your travels.

    As two relatively inexperienced Kayakers would you recommend this trip as an intro to the Moray Firth (in suitable conditions) given that it is our closest port to home? or any alternatives welcome.

    Regards, John

  2. Hi John,

    The stretch between Portknockie and Portsoy is (in my opinion) the best stretch of coastline in the Moray Firth. With the caveat of being very careful of swell conditions I would most certainly recommend a paddle out of either Portsoy or Sandend as an intro to the area. The West Head can be a bit tricky at times, but is superb. PM me if you'd like more details of this area or other possibilities (Cullen, Hopeman etc)

    Kind regards

  3. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately can't figure out how to PM you

    Regards John

  4. Hi John,

    Yes, it's not easy via blogger. If you're a user of the UK Rivers Guidebook forum you can PM me via that - user name is Ian Johnston

    Kind Regards