Sunday, 8 April 2018
A speleological, ornithological, meteorological kind of day (part 2)
Continuing on past the sunny beach where the Stonehaven paddlers were taking lunch, we passed behind a stack and back out towards the open sea through a tall and narrow geo. We reflcted that things would be very different in here during an easterly gale with a big swell!
A little way north of the geo we entered Old Hall Bay beneath the striking remains of Dunottar Castle.
One of the most dramatically sited of Scottish castles, Dunottar sits atop a headland joined to the coast by a narrow neck of land and is protected on three sides by tall cliffs. It's one of the most photographed of castles, but not from the angle which sea kayakers can see it. Most of the ruins seen today are from the 15th and 16th centuries, but there's been a fortification here for much longer.
The "Dun" prefix to the place name indicates that this is a very old fortified site; and there was a Pictish fort on this headland from at least the late 400's AD when St Ninian was known to have converted the Pictish rulers to Christianity and established a monastery. Sacked by the Vikings in AD 900 and rebuilt, Dunottar was attacked again in AD 934 by Aethelstan of Wessex. Through the 11th, 12th and 13th century Dunnotar changed hands between the English and the Scots at least three times, including being taken by Edward I ("Longshanks") in 1296, and retaken the following year by William Wallace. This turbulent history is a mark of the strategic importance of Dunottar and its position dominating the north east coast.
Things were a lot more peaceful on the shore where Allan and I took our luncheon - and there was even some warm sunshine - a rare commodity over the past winter!
The pebble shore in Old Hall Bay is, like most others on this stretch of coast, a mix of rock types. Some will have been washed out in the floods which formed the conglomerate cliffs and some may have been brought down to the sea by the current river systems of the Don and the Dee fourther north. Richly coloured when washed by the ebbing tide, there was real beauty here.
We'd come as far north as we intended, and after lunch began our leisurely journey back to Catterline. Back past the geo and around Maiden Kaim, we found another beach on which to land for a short break.
Against a blue sky the lichens on the rock pinnacles behind the shoore were stunningly bright. A sudden flurry of activity among the birds caused us to look around in time to see a Peregrine Falcon arrowing across the cliffs in a hunting flight.
We met up with some of the paddlers we'd seen on the beach earlier - and it turned out that Allan and I knew two of them, a pleasant meeting. As we chatted the weather closed in and a fairly heavy rain shower passed over. With little wind, it was no inconvenience and seemed likely not to last too long. The full length of the Fowlsheugh cliffs came into view as we rounded Trelung Ness, already beginning to take on a streak of white from the seabird guano.
And there are plenty of seabirds to add to the guano streaks! The sky above us was simply full of birds, mostly Razorbills and Kittiwakes with Guillemots, Fulmars and Puffins also evident - all coming and going to the cliff faces as they establish their nesting sites. It pays to wear a hat hereabouts....and not to look upwards too often!
The scale of the cliff is apparent in this image as Allan paddled around a protuding section; it will soon be a real high-rise city of birds.
Below Crawton a small burn launches itself over the cliff edge and forms an attarctive waterfall (unless a strong eastery is blowing, when no water reaches the sea - it's simply blown back over the RSPB car park). Allan decided to try rinsing his boat before he got off the water!
All too soon we were passing the "wave" rock formation near the entrance to Catterline harbour, just as the sun re-emerged and we finished our speleological, ornithological, meteorological kind of afternoon paddle.
The trip from Catterline to Dunottar and return is a little over 16km, but more distance can be taken if you explore all the cliffs and geos. Parking is very limited at Catterline and used by Montrose Diving club on Tuesdays and Sundays through the summer. A one way trip can be done starting or finishing at either Stonehaven or Inverbervie which is a similar distance to the return trip described here.
The whole coast here is exposed to the North Sea and can get considerable swell and clapotis. Very calm conditions are recommended if you want to explore the many caves. Once the birds are nesting (usually late April to July), you should keep well out from the cliffs to avoid disturbance.