Sunday, 17 August 2014
On a day of perfect summer weather I set out from the tiny harbour at Whitehills for what would be my last day of kayaking prior to a four month spell at work. There are two harbours at Whitehills, a large one built originally for fishing vessels and now the largest leisure craft harbour in the Moray Firth, and this very small one which served Blackpots brick works which operated between 1786 and 1971 and produced clay pipes and tiles along with bricks. Part of the works occupied the ground which is now an outstanding children's play park, the rest of the site is occupied by a caravan park. Brick fragments can still be found on the beach next to the harbour.
My plan was very simple, a few hours rockhopping west past Portsoy, then return to Whitehills with no specific goal other than to enjoy the weather and the paddling. Rockhopping on the stretch of coast immediately west of Whitehills can sometimes be difficult, the rock here is jagged black stuff running out to sea in sharp ridges which can easily damage a boat. There is variety though, the small headland of Stakes Ness is a large tilted bedding plane - an interesting place in a big swell!
About half way to Portsoy is a beach of pale sand which would make an ideal spot to stop for a while except for one small thing; actually many large things..... This beach is much favoured by Atlantic Grey Seals, in part because access by land is not so easy. I could see seals hauled out on the beach itself and the surrounding rocks so headed well out in order not to cause any disturbance. Despite giving the beach a wide berth I was spotted and a group of seals crashed into the water to investigate me more closely.
Several of the seals surfaced nearby and did the characteristic thing of throwing themselves sideways as they dived again, making big splashes. One young bull was, however, determined to make an impression and made a couple of fast runs towards me before surfacing and snorting noisily. Grey Seals(Halichoerus grypus) are Britain's largest carnivore and bulls can reach well over 3 metres in length and weigh over 300 kg - they deserve respect. The cows give birth from September to November and the bulls can be very territorial. The young bull wasn't the biggest of the seals present, but persisted in trailing me, on one occasion he crashed into the water close enough behind for me to be splashed and to smell his breath. Although I didn't feel threatened at any stage, it was abundantly clear that I was being escorted off his patch; as soon as I passed the rocks at the far end of the beach he pulled alongside, gave one last snort and disappeared.
A little farther on is another sandy beach, this one not favoured by the seals - a much better luncheon spot!