Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Heading South

Up slightly later than yesterday and on the water about 9.45am. There was no particular rush as the door south at Duncansby Head wasn't due to open until late afternoon.

We had a minor hicough when one of the tent poles broke as we were taking it down. Not sure why it went. The winds hadn't been particularly strong overnight so that was unlikely to be the cause but we have noticed that the alu poles don't seem to like the salt water environment much and have corroded a little. The wee repair tube provided by Vango did the trick, but we're trying to source a replacement pole from them rather than rely on the repair for the rest of the trip.

With a N F3-4 blowing across us we made our way slowly round to Sannox Bay just to the W of Duncansby Head. With our boats in position ready to go when the time came we wandered back to John O Groats in search of a shop. We found a few, but wedding dresses, candles and sea side rock weren't really what we were looking for. Tony was particularly impressed with the place and plans to take his holidays there every year.

Back at Sannox Bay we still had time to kill so we walked up to the headland for a peak preview of what was to come.

On the way back as we cut across the grass back to where we had left the boats a pair of curlews started up in alarm. Clearly there must be a chick nearby so we started to watch our step. Not a moment too soon as it was there immediately in front of us doing a grand imitation of a stone and very cute with it. We moved away quickly before the adults became any more stressed.

Back at the beach we put on just after 3pm and started nosing round the point against the last of the W going tide. Despite the N F3-4 the sea state was slight promising a good trip around the headland.

The rock architecture was magnificent and our early arrival at the point gave us time to explore some of the geos and have a good look around.

Aside from the geology the place is also sea bird central, with a competition clearly underway to see how many Guillimots you can fit on a single ledge.

Then we moved on down past the Knee and the Stacks of Duncansby. More spectacular rock scenery, more sea birds at 9" centres and a great place for a paddle.

Then it was 4pm and time to go. The south bound Pendalino had arrived and was already rolling. We jumped off briefly to explore Wife Geo, another amazing rock feature, before settling down for the non-stop fast service to Sinclair Bay.

We ended up stopping a little short of the bay and hauled out just south of the ruins of the old Castle Keiss.

A short but great days paddling. In many ways we were sad to leave the N coast. Never having been there before we came away with the impression of a beautiful area with some pretty special boating venues.

Distance travelled today: 27km
Total distance so far: 420km
Midgee ferrocity: nil. Too windy am and too cold pm.

Aerial View - Edge of the Land

Thanks to Gavin's Dad for putting me onto these programmes by STV for those with a spare half hour but a quick view gives a feel for what they are passing at sea level.Enjoy

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.