Saturday, 10 August 2013
An umbrella of rock
Continuing west from Portknockie, the next harbour along the coast is Findochty. A small beach immediately to the east of the village seemed to be a good place to stop for lunch but the weed on the strandline was plagued with sandflies. I decided to head back a bit to a bouldery beach I'd spotted near Tronach Head.
As I approached the beach there was a sudden commotion among the seabirds. I was sure that this wasn't a reaction to my presence and looked upwards, just as the unmistakeable arrowhead shape of a Peregrine Falcon carved through the air along the cliffs and landed on an outcrop. This was a juvenile bird, quite darkly coloured and a bit clumsy but still enough of a threat to panic the seabirds. It's really good to see these birds doing well.
After a leisurely stop for lunch I headed east back along the coast. There are numerous caves along this stretch, some perhaps destined to become arches like the Bow Fiddle in time.
From the southeast there were dark clouds looming and on the horizon I could see heavy rain falling. As luck would have it I was close to the cave I'd wanted to examine more closely; this would make a good shelter!
I've often looked into this cave, which is about 50 meters long, but the conditions have never been good enough for me to enter; either a swell has been running or there hasn't been enough water. Today everything was favourable and I paddled into the entrance, watched by several nesting Shags and Kittiwakes. The air was cooler inside and the all pervading sharp smell of seabird guano was quite strong, but I was out of the rain which had begun falling heavily outside.
There's even a slit window set into the wall part way along, so I could check on the progress of the rain shower....
The tide was pretty much near to a Spring high water and at the back of the cave the exit led to a small pool with just enough space to turn around. This back door is much smaller than the front entrance and must be a fearsome place when big swells pass down the funneling walls and roof of the cave.
My umbrella of rock had kept me completely dry through a really heavy downpour and as it headed out to sea, I did the same.
Stopping for a leg stretch on the sand at the western end of Cullen beach, the cloudscape was quite impressive and picked out nice shades in the water. A short paddle back to Cullen harbour ended the trip.
As described, this is a 13 kilometer round trip from Cullen. Allow three to four hours to explore the many caves and stacks. There isn't too much to be concerned about with tides, the flow can be paddled against even at Springs. The main limitation here is swell; anything more than a half meter swell will create uncomfortable clapotis along most of the coast.
There is easy launching and adjacent parking at Cullen harbour plus public toilets. There is also an independent hostel right on the harbour which would make a great base for visiting paddlers to explore the Moray Firth coast with super trips both east and west from Cullen.