Monday, 1 January 2018
First footing on the Moray Firth
The first day of a new year, and the first day's sea kayaking of the year! Donald, Anne, Allan and I met up at Findochty to paddle a favourite section of the Moray Firth coast on a bright but distinctly chilly January morning. Having run a shuttle down the route we headed out from the frosty shade of the harbour and into bright sunshine.
Away to the north across the Moray Firth the mountains of Caithness stood out well, plastered in snow. Although the images in this post seem to show a flat calm sea, it was anything but for most of the day. A powerful long-period groundswell from the northeast kept up constant interest, to say nothing of constant noise and bursting spray. We threaded between rock stacks and channels to arrive at the iconic feature of this part of the coast....
....the Bow Fiddle Rock, which we hoped to "first foot". The rocky inlets just to the Portknockie side were full of swell and clapotis, but it seemed quiet enough in the channel under the graceful arch.
Deceptive though, as the swell was certainly running. Anne is right in the centre of the arch in this image - just her paddle visible in the trough between two larger swells.
Just as Allan was about to paddle through, a set of really large swells arrived and burst through the arch. At this point we couldn't see him at all.......
...but cannily he'd waited until the noise and action subsided before sweeping through on the backwash - this was great sea kayaking!
I hadn't expected to be able to paddle through the nearby large cave-tunnel known as the "Whale's Mou" (mouth) but in the event it was very benign, seemingly at right angles to the swell. An hour or so either side of high water it's possible to paddle through and into a bay on the other side, then back out into Cullen Bay again.
The bay is a sun trap even in the depths of winter! We'd hoped to land on one of the pebble beaches here but all had been steepened by recent storms and had swell running into them, so we decided to head for Cullen harbour....
...and enjoyed a leisurely paddle across the bay with a breeze and the sun on our backs. Luncheon was taken in a sunny corner of the harbour and featured slices of Christmas cake - thanks Anne! :o)
I took no photos from Cullen to Sandend as the swell got quite engaging close in to the Logie Head and along the rocky coast near to Findlater Castle. Donald and I managed to pass through a small cave-tunnel, but there wasn't much headroom in the bouncy conditions....
We had to squint into the low winter sun to find the correct line of approach into the tiny harbour at Sandend; but the sun hadn't risen high enough to reach most of the cottages or the harbour itself, and the temperature as we landed was barely above freezing. What a great day we'd enjoyed on our "first foot" paddle - it's set a high standard for 2018!
This is a favourite paddle and arguably some of the best sea kayaking anywhere, with sandy beaches, picturesque harbours, stacks, arches, caves and a castle too. It's around 14 kilomteres from Findochty to Sandend - we took a little less than four hours - but you can easily fill a whole day on this route in calm conditions when the features can be fully explored. For the best experience, choose a day with minimal swell; a couple of hours either side of high water gives the best rockhopping opportunities. There's little in the way of tidal effect on this section, but the whole coast is exposed to the north and east.