Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Dounreay to Dunnet Head

The temperature overnight plummeted from yesterdays exteme weather event and we woke early to spring like temperatures, but also light winds.

We were on the water by 8am with the first leg being to descend the river Halladale from our campspot back to the beach. An entertaining start to the shift.

Swinging out of Melvich Bay we headed East along a coastline of gently sloping Caithness slabs and relatively low cliffs. Since rounding Strathy Point yesterday the scenery had changed notably from the massive blocky headlands and deep cut kyles of the NW, with the Torridean sandstone mountains of the Far North behind, to a much lower lying land edged by sandstone cliffs. Passing Strathy had also brought the Orkneys into view with the Old Man sticking his head above the Hoy skyline.

After an hour and a half we reached Sandside Bay with Dounreay beyond it. As we crossed the mouth of the bay to continue up the coast past Dounreay itself we noticed a barge and a fishing boat further into the bay. We hadn't gone very far when the fishing boat motored over to us to explain, politely, that the barge was recovering radioactive particles from the sea bed, that an exclusion zone was in force, that we were in it, that we would have to move further out and that he would have to see us off the 'premices'. We duely moved further out however this exposed is to the full strength of the W going tide we were fighting against and our ground speed dropped to 3km. After what seemed like an age we were finally clear of the 'zone' and able to move back in and make headway again.

3 hours after we had set out we pulled in to Crosskirk for a break and an early lunch.

From there we headed out around Brimms Ness and the superb cliffs of Holborn Head. Well worth a return visit another time. The sea was like glass with only light winds and a slight swell. At one point we spotted a dark object floating in the sea. We thought perhaps it was a dead whale but on closer inspection it turned out to be a Fresian cow. The poor beast must have either taken a header over one of the cliffs or lost her footing in a local river at some point..

After hauling out on a rock shelf at the edge of Thurso Bay for a break we headed across the bay to Dunnet Head to catch the second half of the E going tide. As we crossed the bay the wind picked up a little to a steady N F3, but fears that we might suffer a repeat of yesterday and have to beat a retreat back into the bay proved unfounded.

The seas at the NW corner of the head were confused and pretty lumpy but once through these things settled down nicely so that we could properly admire this impressive red sandstone headland.
Around the corner we encountered a powerful back eddy on the edge of the main flow, but were able to avoid it by keeping in tight to the cliffs, as we had been told we be the case.

We pulled in at Brough slip for a breather before heading on E past Castle Mey on our way to our appointment with the Merry Men of Mey.

We had been advised that it would be best to tackle the passage past St Johns Point and the MMoM on the last hour of the E going tide. This worked well with enough water to allow us to sneak through the skerries at the point without having to venture into the race proper.

From there it was a short paddle round to Scotland's Haven, a beautiful natural bay, where we decded to call it a day, 11.5 hours after we had started.

Distance travelled today:52km
Total distance travelled: 393km
Midgee ferrocity: 1/5 am. Nil pm - too windy.

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