The above snap was taken as I left Lunan Bay last week. The folk who took the pic had kindly fed, housed and entertained me on the previous night. Just before arriving at that spot, I’d met a large pod of dolphins. Must go back to Lunan Bay sometime …
I ran out of time before completing the east coast of Scotland – up to the last couple of days, the weather simply wasn’t on my side. I finished at North Berwick, which is about 30 miles short of the border. I’m now paddling in the Orkney Isles with my wife, which isn’t a bad place to be.
A rough summary of my journey below …
Day 1 – dropped off near John O’Groats by PC Cailean Macleod, my thanks to him – in the evening, paddled around Duncansby Head and south to Keiss harbour, where headwinds forced a stop. Quite impressed by ‘Wife Geo’ along this stretch, a vast interconnected series of tunnels and geos.
Day 2 – Paddled to Wick and dozed there, before heading south again. Weather and seas deteriorated fast and I was glad to make it to an early stop at Sarclet Haven, an interesting abandoned fish processing plant???
Day 3 – A wet and rocky launch through the surf saw me paddling along the best coastal cliffs I’ve seen in the UK so far; endless arches, geos, tunnels and almost continuous bird colonies. The previous nights’ storm meant that numerous hefty waterfalls were plunging into the sea, quite a sight. I didn’t want to get in close on this day, though! I finished at Berriedale, an abandoned fishing hamlet; sticking the tent up infront of a row of empty cottages was a weird experience.
Day 4 – The scenery remained pleasant but ‘wore off’ slightly as I headed south to Brora. At Brora I headed out across the Dornoch Firth to the isolated headland of Tarbat Ness. This should have been straightforward, but I got rained on beyond belief and the tides really made me fight to gain the last couple of miles to the lighthouse, just what I needed at the end of a long day.
Day 5 – I loaded up for the c15 mile open crossing of the Moray Firth; however once I was ready to go, the offshore wind had cranked right up and I was faced with one of those gut-wrenching could/should dilemmas that are a persistent feature of solo trips (I probably could survive a 15 mile ubersurf, but common sense said that I shouldn’t try). I decided to be sensible and sat the day out. The good news was that Tarbat Ness is a great place; just a lighthouse at the edge of the land, and nothing else. I met an old fisherman who regaled me for hours with tales of hundreds of boats in Wick harbour etc.
Day 6 – Oh joy, a 4am wakeup to cross the Firth before the winds built up again. The crossing went well, and I landed at Hopeman where I dozed all day (I saw a group of sea paddlers head out east, was that you?). In the evening I put my head down and clocked a few miles east to the mouth of the River Spey. The last two hours were a nightmare, as a crazy headwind sprang up and I refused to cut the trip short. Painful. The Spey was chucking out lots of water (my first freshwater surf/ferryglide in a sea kayak!) and there was a dolphin sharing the spot with me.
Day 7 – Stiff headwind all day up to F7, I didn’t launch. Nice spot though. Did some boat repairs and other dull jobs.
Day 8 – I headed a few miles to Buckie – this town has nothing to commend it, but I was able to pick up a few bits I needed. Then (after dozing on the beach, out in the rain) I did a long spurt east to the village of Gardenstown, a rather pretty fishing community clinging to a steep cliff. The coastal scenery kept improving all the way, and I arrived in time for a perfect sunset.
Day 9 – More bloody wind, but I forced a tiring passage about 12 miles to near Fraserburgh. I was surprised to find that this coast has some really spectacular cliffs (quite unique formations, impossible to describe without seeing) and bird colonies, including the biggest gannet colony I’ve seen apart from Bass Rock. Much of this was wasted on me, as I was clinging onto my paddles in scary headwinds and downdraughts at the base of the cliffs. As a rule of thumb, I know it’s too windy when my paddle blades are singing!
Day 10 – Fraserburgh to Rattray Head. The wind dropped in the evening, so I banged out a few miles around the ‘corner’ of NE Scotland. I had hoped to carry on into the night for a few hours past Rattray lighthouse, but the tide was strongly against me when I arrived (it shouldn’t have been, but it was) so I indulged in my least favourite pastime, camping in sand dunes.
Day 11 – My tent was being held up by my kayak and a discarded car seat – although the wind was pretty strong, I had to get away from the dunes! I had an uncomfortable ‘lively’ surf down to and past Peterhead, where I called it a day at a bay that was quite attractive, despite being located between a power station and HM Prison.
Day 12 – Peterhead to Collieston, frustratingly my fifth ‘short’ day in a row. Some attractive granite cliffs, not unlike Land’s End/ Lundy! The weather closed in and I stopped at a tiny bay on a rather attractive NNR south of Collieston.
Day 13 – Mad weather – I woke up to a beach covered with foam spume, and the waves were breaking over Collieston harbour wall. I went to the event of the year instead, the village gala (held despite screaming rain and wind).
Day 14 – Wind had dropped enough to launch by the afternoon. A long slog against the tide along dull dunes past Aberdeen, then the scenery picked up a fair bit. Landed 10 pm at Newtownhill, where I was unable to call the CG as someone had vandalised (and then vomited over) the public phone.
Day 15 – A rare calm morning, paddled a few hours south to Inverbervie. A strong headwind appeared and prevented me from continuing.
Day 16 – Sitting around Bervie, watching surfers.
Day 17 – Bervie to Johnshaven. Launched into nasty headwinds and chop, managed a spectacular 2km before dashing into the tiny harbour of Gourdon. In the evening, I made it another 8km before bailing into the similarly tiny harbour entrance of Johnshaven.
Day 18 – Johnshaven to Ethiehaven. This started well, with a crossing of Montrose Bay. However headwinds popped up quickly (again) and I pretty well crawled to the lighthouse at Scurdie Ness, ready to give up and sell all my gear. The good news is that the chap who lived there gave me tea and lunch. In the evening I set out again, a fairly lousy thrash across Lunan Bay. However … in mid-bay, I found myself in the midst of several dozen dolphins, seemingly spread over a wide area all doing their own thing. I later learned that they’re pretty much a permanent fixture thereabouts. I also landed at Ethiehaven, a tiny village in which all the cottages surprisingly turned out to be owned by a large extended group of friends/family, most of whom are paddlers. They gave me a bed for the night, and fed me lots of fresh food. Thanks all!
Day 19 – Ethiehaven to Fife Ness. Before departing I had to eat the largest bowl of porridge I’ve ever seen. Anyway, at last a good day of weather. I made a 25 mile crossing to Fife Ness (so have no idea what Arbroath, the Tay or St Andrews look like) and then carried on to Crail, a small harbour nearby.
Day 20 – Fife Ness to North Berwick. My wife was delayed in coming to meet me, so early in the morning I crossed the Firth of Forth to North Berwick, which seems to me to be a fairly logical place to wind up the trip – about 100 miles short of where I thought I’d wind it up, but I guess that the rest of Britain’s east coast isn’t going away anywhere soon …