Allan and Lorna arrived soon after I got back into Findochty harbour and we wasted no time in getting out onto the water. We decided to head east towards Portknockie and the Bow Fiddle Rock, returning to Findochty by sunset. The distance between the two harbours is only about 5 kilometres, but due to the indented nature of the coast here the distance actually paddled is much more. The rockhopping starts straight away, we threaded through narrow channels.....
...and between rock stacks and skerries. The absence of a swell is an uncommon thing on the Moray Firth coast and we made sure to explore all the intricacy of the rocky coastline which is so often not possible.
Arriving at the Bow Fiddle Rock from an unusual route behind a rock outcrop, we found it absolutely calm and each paddled it a couple of times......
Photo: Allan McCourt
....making the most of the benign evening conditions.
Continuing east brought us to a series of big caves, each with a similar diagonal formation and each possibly on the way to becoming the next Bow Fiddle. A faint gurgle from a long way back in this cave leads us to suspect that it joins to another one nearby, but it was too narrow to explore the full extent.
As we turned the headland into Cullen Bay we passed from warm sunshine into shadow, but there was one last cave to explore.
By far the largest here, not marked on the OS 1:50K map but well known locally as "The Whale's Mou", it's a 100 metre long tunnel which at HW can sometimes be exited at the rear. I've paddled in this cave numerous times and even used it as a shelter from heavy rain, but it had a surprise in store for us on this occasion.
As Allan passed under the centre section, along with the usual Pigeons and Shags resident in the cracks of the roof, one narrow diagonal fault erupted into noise and movement as hundreds of Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) emerged and flew out of the cave. When Lorna and I followed, yet more emerged from the same crack - it must go a considerable way back and it was packed with the birds. As we paddled out into the evening light again the flock of Starlings took off from the cliffs and performed a small version of a "murmuration" before heading back towards the cave.
We'd spent longer on the outward leg of our evening paddle than intended - which is often the case on this varied bit of coast! As we headed back towards Findochty, MRV Alba Na Mara was steaming into Cullen Bay. Although looking like and indeed mostly performing like a fishing trawler, Alba Na Mara has information as her primary catch as she is the smaller of the two Scottish Government fishery research vessels which gather data on fish and shellfish stocks as well as carrying out environmental assessments for the FRS laboratory in Aberdeen. Her crew of eight can be supplemented with up to five sceintists and she has onboard laboratories and work areas. While she works on both west and east coasts, Alba na Mara is quite close to home here in the Moray Firth as she was built at Macduff, just 20 or so kilometres from Cullen Bay.
We decided that due to the time we'd spent rockhopping and exploring caves on the outward leg, our return paddle would need to be pretty much straight back to Findochty if we weren't to arrive well after dark. By the time we passed Tronach Head the moon was already bright in the evening sky......
....and ahead the embers of a slow sunset silhouetted the houses of Findochty as the Moray Firth took a bow. We'd been on the water only around three hours and paddled less than 14 kilometres, but what variety we'd enjoyed!