Wednesday, 1 June 2016

A Transatlantic (sea kayak) Session

When Duncan and Joan were joined in Scotland by a Canadian friend, we hoped to give Linda the opportunity to try some Scottish sea kayaking. A settled weather forecast for the Moray Firth on a day when we were all available was too good a chance to pass up.......

...and so a colourful small flotilla headed out from Sandend under a blue sky and in warm sunshine, which of course is the normal state of affairs in Scotland........well, mostly anyway!

Heading west, our plan was to explore the intricate coastline around towards Cullen, and if time allowed to paddle across Cullen Bay to see some of the rock architecture.  Almost straight out of Sandend it's possible to link up small channels which weave among cliffs and outcrops......

....right among the seabird colonies.  The birds are quite tolerant if paddlers move slowly and quietly - these Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) watched us carefully but showed no sign of alarm.  An almost exclusively maritime gull, Kittiwakes spend most of their lives at sea, coming to land only to breed on cliffs - though there are a few small colonies which utilise buildings and bridges in coastal towns for nest "ledges".  Alongside the Kittiwakes were Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags, Cormorants and other gull species; a noisy and somewhat pungent seabird metropolis.

After breaking out of the tight system of channels at a particularly narrow cleft only slightly wider than shoulder width we emerged back into the sunlight and headed along the cliffs........ another great little feature; a tunnel-arch into which the afternoon sun shines and creates a lovely quality of light -the water seemingly lit from below rather than above.

Next up was another highlight of this stretch of the Moray Firth, the dramatically sited Findlater Castle.  Most of the visible remains are 14th century but it's known that there was a castle here as early as 1245.  At first glance it seems to be an odd place for a castle, but Findlater is sheltered from the prevailing weather, has a beach below it for launching boats and commands a long view across the Moray Firth.

The lack of significant swell for several days had led to a lovely clarity of water, the seabed pin-sharp for many metres below our boats in the bright sunlight of a northern Spring day.

A little way past Findlater is the beautiful (and well named) Sunnyside Beach.  Despite the idyllic setting, landings here are seldom easy - a series of reefs lie in wait for the unwary and the swell can be unpredictable.  It's a great spot to stop for coffee though......

Once back on the water we paddled across the broad Cullen Bay on a mirror calm sea, heading for what I assured Linda, Joan and Duncan was a spectacular rock arch, well worth the extra kilometres of paddling.  We arrived at the Bow Fiddle Rock - and I asked what they thought of it.  "Well, where is it?" was the question.....

"Oh - there it is!"  Seen from Cullen Bay the arch isn't easy to make out against the supporting slab until the corner is turned and you arrive under the improbable bridge of rock.

Most days it isn't possible to paddle beneath the Bow Fiddle, swell is magnified along the sloping slab and there's often clapotic conditions in the bay on the landward side.  We were lucky to be able to not only paddle through but to stop and drift to look up to the graceful arc of the "bow".

On our way back towards Cullen there was one last treat, a large slanting cave which is in the process of being weathered in the same manner as the Bow Fiddle, perhaps one day in the distant future it will form a similar feature as the layers of rock forming the roof are prised away one by one under the tremendous hydraulic pressure generated by winter storm waves rolling into the contricting space.

We'd shuttled a car ahead to Cullen and so were able to finish our own version of a "transatlantic session" on the small sandy beach inside the outer harbour after a cracking paddling day on the Moray Firth.


  1. Ian, it was simply amazing, thank you again so much for the planning and prep and carrying out a perfect paddling plan. Linda goes back tomorrow and very happy to have have had such a marvellous experience on the waters here. I'll be back in touch very soon. Warmest wishes to you both.

    1. Hi D & J, I'm so glad that the weather, particularly the swell, played along with us and that you were able to get out and share a lovely day's paddling!

      Warm wishes

  2. A cracking stretch of coastline and beautiful sea colours. Always good to get a nice day when friends visit for a trip. It's been an excellent spring so far for extended sunshine this year.

    1. Thanks Bob, on a day like that the Moray Firth coast is a pure delight - let's hope the summer turns out to be, well, a summer this year!

      All the best