Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Back in March, a neap tide combined with relatively calm conditions - a good combination to paddle around Troup Head, one of the large headlands on the Aberdeenshire coast. I started some kilometres to the east, at a small bay near New Aberdour. If launching here, it's worth knowing that the steeply shelving pebble beach produces dumpy surf in anything but flat calm conditions. At the west end of the bay, narrow channels amongst a rocky reef provide a bit of a barrier to the swell. I managed to get away from the pebble beach, briefly considering a "seal launch" down the steep angle before common sense prevailed!
This stretch of coast is well known for seabirds and for superb rock architecture. The cliff scenery starts straight after setting out - in fact the section of coast between New Aberdour and Pennan is perhaps the best of the trip in this respect. The day was hazy and overcast; not great for photography but perfect for getting in close to the arches, stacks and caves.
Even on a calm day this coast is exposed to swell from several directions. Geos cut back into the cliffs, gaps open invitingly and caves just beg to be explored - but a constant eye needs to be kept for larger sets of waves, which are disconcertingly irregular.
My paddle was timed to start out in the last of the west-going ebb, so that the tidal stream would be just picking up on the east-going flood as I rounded the main headlands. There is a good harbour in which to take a break at Pennan, a pretty village which was once a fishing port but is now more of a tourist attraction having been made famous in the movie "Local Hero".
Immediately after leaving Pennan the cliffs change from eroded sandstones to harder igneous rocks, and get markedly higher. The nearest headland here is Lion's Head, Troup Head itself is the furthest. The dark cliffs between the two are riddled with large, low caves.
The cliffs provide great interest, and choosing a calm day allows a close passage below. From spring to late summer there are tens of thousands of seabirds nesting on cliff ledges and in the turf above.
Even at the very start of the breeding season, the air is filled with wheeling Gannets; Troup Head is one of very few places where Gannets nest on mainland cliffs, rather than on offshore islands and stacks.
Beyond Troup Head, the cliffs gradually diminish in height, but the interest continues with sharkfin stacks separated from the cliffs by narrow channels. Atlantic Grey Seals are ever-present on this section, escorting the paddler along their "patch".
All too soon, the rocky coast opens into Gamrie Bay and the tiny village of Crovie is passed. There is a small pebble beach here, but the houses are hard against the shore with their gables to the sea and it would be difficult to get boats up the steep hill to the road-end. Crovie is now best known as a village of artists, and has several studios among the strip of houses. A couple of kilometers to the east is the larger village and harbour of Gardenstown (sometimes known by its former name of Gamrie). There is a good harbour with a slip in which to land (there's also an honesty box for donations by harbour users). It's worth knowing that the road down into the village is extremely tight - we unfortunately managed to scratch our new car here....
This superb paddle is only about 12 kilometers, but packs a huge amount into a short stretch of coast. Choose a calm day and it will be a superb experience!