Sponsored by Jane Fanshawe
Behind the flapping door of my tent I lay in a flickering dance of light. I watched the surf rolling rhythmically under the morning sun to the sands of Shandwick bay. Joggers cast puffs of gold sand behind their feet, dogs chased frisbees with energetic ecstasy and fishing boats chugged from the small harbour pier. It was a great day to cross the Moray Firth. A woman’s silhouette passed across my tent; Debbie had arrived. Dressed in bright tight jogging gear she handed two small Tupperware boxes into the tent with a familiar rosy cheeked smile exclaiming a cheery “Good morning!” before running back onto the sand and away to start work.
Excitedly peeling back the lid of the box of porridge the tent filled with steam and an overwhelming sweet scent of honey, the second box was crammed to capacity with soft raisin cookies; fresh out of the oven they were still gooey and warm to the touch…if only every day could start like this!
Washed down with a sandy mug of coffee breakfast was far great in both quantity and quality than I was used to, buzzing with a honey fuelled sugar rush I was ready to go. Laying in the flattened grass where my tent had been I gazed south across the hazy channel; what space was left between the porridge was filled with anticipation.
From Shandwick bay it was 19km of open sea to reach Findhorn bay on the far side. Like all large open crossings I had allowed myself to dwell upon the risks through daydream and nightmare as I had approached. Delusions of collisions with tankers, monstrous storms materialising within minutes, unfixable leaks mid crossing…being unable to relieve that third cup of coffee in time! Like each and every crossing I would set off slightly nervous thinkig do I really want this? over and over. I knew now that this was normal, once underway the perception of danger would fade into the dull monotony that is the reality of open passages, left blade, splash…right blade, splash…
Setting off from Shandwick however was easier said than done. Bow to the sea on the sand Sula waited for the push to set her free, rushing to clamber into the cockpit to squeeze and cram legs and bags inside and pull my deck I struggled to escape the low surf. I was too slow and with the first wave was lifted and turned gently back to the sand now side onto the shore. Unable to push 100kg of boat and kit back around against the water to point seaward I was forced to clamber back out, turn and repeat the entire process. This repeated three times.
At last! With an almighty shove and frantic scrabble for the paddle I escaped the grip of the wet sand, I was afloat and powering out of the surf with a rising splash of waves and excitement. Drifting outside the breakers I turned 180° due south and started to paddle. I returned to wandering about tankers and storms. Blue sky stretched ahead, the wind barely rippled the sea which was creased by a singular small fishing boat gently chugging in the distance. No risk of storms, no sign of tankers…the day begun.
Once into a rhythm progress across the firth was fast, two hours after leaving Shandwick I had escaped the shipping lane and was nearing the sandy southern shore. Rafts of seaweed, driftwood and leaves started to appear bobbing in the calm waters, seagulls dipped and screeched “mine!” at each other as they hoisted fish between the flotsam. Pine trees stood at the edge of a white line of waves on the shore, their rumble muffled in tall yellow sand dunes. Rooftops peaked behind a sandy spit ahead of the bow where a narrow channel concealed the entrance to Findhorn bay. Between the harbour and I a collection of small yachts and dinghies drifted optimistically hunting for a breath of wine; by now there was none what so ever. The smug delight as passing faster than the larger craft was counted with jealousy to their captains who stretched out over the decks, gin and tonic in one hand and mainsheet in the other; three hours being cramped and squished into the cockpit later I longed to join them.
It was perhaps this longing desire to stretch and explore that lead to the oversight of other forces at play as I approached the harbour. Deciding to avoid a steep surf by poking around the corner of the inlet to land at Findhorn itself I completely forgot that the huge inland estuary open to the sea by barely 100m of inlet was subject to a phenomenal tide.
Several kilometres of inland water opened to the sea with an entrance 100m wide and just a few metres deep the tremendous tidal race into Findhorn bay should have been obvious. Realising that I was moving into the harbour considerably faster than I had intended I was quickly fighting the boils and rush of the tidal stream. Aiming for shore I drifted into the sand with a pshh of sand to leap out and drag the boat out of the water before it was pulled further inland. Panting I burst into laughter; I had landed on the wrong side of the rip.
It would be two hours before the tide turned to push me back out. I would simply have to lay in the sand and relax until then. Not on the town side of the estuary I found myself instead on sun baked sand dunes at the edge of a wonderful pine forest, not a bad spot to kick back and take amusement as other boats made the same error I had.
I was soon in the company of several others; A young french family in an open Canoe, A small rowing boat helmed by a red faced and giggling old man and a small sailing dinghy helmed by a young family were soon beached around my kayak.
Helping the young family to pull their dinghy onto the sand I found myself in the roll of babysitter for their four and six year old children. Aspirations of relaxing were lost into careless leaping, cartwheeling and bounding around the dunes. The wait passed almost as fast as the boats helplessly drifting past into the bay; the family staged an attempt to cross the harbour and left me to the sand with a large bag of Meringues and home made brownies.
By my third meringue the tide had lessened enough to seem fightable. With a plan to hug the shore and sneak up the tide before paddling like hell to reach the far side before I was sucked back in I set off. Punting the kayak along the sand barely an inch below my hull I moved up stream. With an almighty shove I turned the boat into the current and paddled as hard as I could.
Back where I begun panting and damp from furious paddling I tried again. The second attempt faired better, I pushed an extra 100m upstream than before to give an extra few seconds to escape. Push, turn, PADDLE!
Attempt two was more successful: I made it to the other side. A loud cheer erupted from shore; I didn’t realise but my attempts to escape had the audience of about 20 sunbathing beach-goers, slightly embarrassed I waves cheerily and paddled out into Burghead bay.
My unscheduled beach stop meant it was already mid-afternoon. But I had planned the day short with intent on paddling only as far as Findhorn before camp, I was eager to make progress in the perfect conditions. Out in the wide bay the swell rolled beneath the boat in gentle undulations the wind blew astern barely a force 1 and visibility was excellent. Abandoning the plan to hug the coast I aimed directly to Burghead lighthouse in the distance with hope of finding an evening camp.
The sea soon became its normal confused mesh of triangular waves clashing in every direction a phenomenon I had now become accustomed which half an hour either side of the turning tide. Sure enough the effect was short lived and passing buoys as I approached the lighthouse I watched the tide flowing reassuringly east. As the headland approached the tide increased over the shallow water, heading with my direction of flow it was a welcome push to weary arms.
Walled in concrete with a steeply breaking swell onshore Burghead promised little hope of a campsite. Not a patch of grass could be seen near portagable distance from the harbour and continuing onward to the next settlement of Hopeman faired little better. Landing on the crescent moon of sand bordering the town I dragged the boat to the top of the beach into the dunes, within minutes I had been told to bugger off
by the owner of a caravan park which dominated the beach. Stubbornly refusing to negotiate to let me camp in the dunes despite my offer to pay the price of a tent in his grounds he insisted I portaged 200m into the campground and paid a premium. The village of caravans had also meant a literal minefield of dog waste in the sands, dogs too also bounded about the boat constantly. I decided to return to the sea and paddle on into the fading light.
Unsure where the next sheltered landing from the surf would be I nosed into the harbour itself, greeted by a much more friendly reception of sailers I was assured there was a bay nestled in the cliffs a few hundred meters east of town.
Sure enough the cliff lined coastline opened out into a beautiful sandy inlet. The surf broke in rocky skerries making the landing smooth and dry, at the top of the sands a pristine flat grassy camp beckoned. From the top of the bay three figures approached. A mother and her two teenage daughters can oui ‘elp? they offered in a thick French accent. A dry landing, perfect campsite AND help with the boat by three attractive french women; I couldn’t believe my luck!
I caught the shy youngest girl staring at my salt stained arms when she thought I wasn’t looking, was she checking out my biceps or wondering when I last had a bath? Probably the latter I decided.
Watching a pod of Bottlenose dolphins leaping across the bay I sat in my tent to watch the sun slowly creep down the orange crags. Swallowed into a dark crevasse the light sunk deep into the Gipsies Caves a long shelter cut far into to rock. The grass beneath my feet was mown by hungry sheep to a quality better than many campsites, barefoot I wandered around the shore exploring rock pools and caves in the fading light.
* * *
A dazzling blaze of light shone like a razor through the dark. The tent glowed bright, dazed I checked my watch – 12.30am. Was I dreaming? Was it the police? “Oi yoos guys…doon here” I lurched bolt upright. I was definitely awake now! The broken glass, the graffiti on the rocks and scarred fire pits in the grass suddenly seemed more significant. I had been warned there were places not to camp by the locals, were they the rough kids I had been told to avoid. I could hear footsteps now. The light was getting closer.
Frantically throwing on boots and grabbing a large stick beside my tent I waited for trouble. Glass shattered and tinkled musically over the rocks nearby. I could hear voices, I lay silent as the grave counting how many people lurked in the dark. Shouting pierced the peaceful silence “Were’s the feckin’ poles!” They sounded young.
Plucking up courage I grabbed the pole You just kayaked round Scotland, you can take them! I turned on my headtorch. The tent blazed into light, not from my torch but from the outside, there was no going back now. I unzipped the door. . .
My heart was thumping in my chest, throat dry. My fingers clasped white knuckle on the stick as I stumbled into the beam of light like a rabbit in the headlights. What do you want? I stammered. Silence.
From the light an outstretched arm extended in greeting, the lights turned off. They were just kids! Harmless teenagers out for a late night beach party with some beer. The relief welled over me, they were friendly and struggling to pitch their cheap festival tent for the first time. The tension had been mutual, they had expected a telling off. The bay was small, and unable to stop them loudly partying through the night I returned to my tent and fished the bottle of whiskey from my bow. If you can’t beat them join them.
Alone I tend to see myself as a child pretending to be an adult; sitting in a small tent filled with 16 year olds drinking budget vodka from the bottle Just because I suddenly felt very old. Handed a can on Tennants Lager I wasn’t used to the drink, just two small cans later I was rather merry. The next thing I knew I was lying like starfish beached on the shore, collapsed over my sleeping bag with a fuzzy but brutal hangover, the sun was rising behind the cliffs.
The sea rolling onto soft sound grinded like a chainsaw in my head, the seagulls squabbles echoing like a banshees scream around the bay. The ground rocked under my feet, for the first time it wasn’t the sea legs. “You alright man! you look like shit” a depressingly un-hungover kid laughed as he approached kicking an empty beer can into a bag as he went. Feeling guilty for scaring me the night before the kids kindly helped to haul Sula to the waters edge, the cold water reviving some life into my hungover consciousness. Sorry you thought we were going to kill you! a young girl called as I set off I think you succeeded I mumbled back.
Passing stacks and crags I vowed never to mix parties and paddling again. Concentrating hard not to capsize I followed an otter along the shore. The sea was calm and with each kilometre past I felt my hangover sinking into the sea. Passing the open sandy beach and Covesea lighthouse I felt back to my usual self, all was well again and I could laugh at the absurdity of the nights events.
Countless stacks of concrete jutted from the soft sands, a reminder to the vulnerability of the eastern seaboard to German invasion during the wars. Still defiant and unbroken the blocks had stood the sands of time.
Jets roared overhead, the modern defence tactics far advanced to the subtle concrete barricades. Lossiemouth harbour approached. Dominated by the R.A.F airfield nearby Lossiemouth harbour was one of the cleanest most organised costal communities I had visited. Crisp white walls, shining steel and polished glass windows exuded a high standard, the military influence prominent throughout. There were no battered slipways with rusty shackles but scrubbed wooden platforms and silver rings to tie neatly between a flotilla of luxury yachts. The only way out behind a locked gate and a toll booth.
In need of water I tied upon the pontoon and clambered up a steel girder to avoid the berthing fee. My mud stained, battered and torn overalls, salt stained skin and unkempt hair felt very out of place in the crowd of pearly white crisply ironed uniforms. On leave from duty soldiers perched elegantly with their wives and girlfriends drinking wine at their tables in-front of high status restaurants. Unashamed I squelched past disdainful glares to the door to usher a waiter outside. I don’t want to trace water inside, would you mind? I asked handing her a tatty water pouch to fill up, the young lass stood, stared up and down and realising her position turned inside muttering professionally Certainly Sir!
A sizeable crowd started to gather, shamelessly staring and gossiping to each other not one person approached to say hello. I felt a tug at my dripping spraydeck. A young boy giggled and ran back to his fathers arms, Daddy! He smells! An eruption of stifled giggled burst out. With tension broken a barrage of questions fired from young cadets, I explained my journey. Wait there! one lad marched off to fetch their superior. A man in crisp uniform, tidy moustache and wealth of medals arrived to shake hands with a firm grip. ‘What sort of craft is it?, Do you camp wild?, How many clicks in a day?, What are your Rations?, What is your finishing ETA?. The questions I had been asked many times all around the coast continued…hungover I just wanted to get back in my boat and leave.
I started to shiver. RIGHT! Thats enough! the superior beckoned to the crowd ushering me back to my boat. I thanked him, without his help I would have remained for some time. He even turned a blind I as I clambered back past the berthing fee booth. Turning from the sheltered harbour walls I watched the young boy who had tugged my skirt run along the walls waving frantically as I left. The crowd lined the railings and much to my amusement clapped me out of the harbour. The applause quickly faded to be replaced by rolling swell and a still tailwind.
I turned one last time to wave back to the young boy now teetering precariously to the absolute edge of the pier. The wind was directly on my stern, stiff enough to push progress east but not enough to rise fetch in the water; the rarest and most perfect paddling conditions.
Sand durned to a shingle to my side, tall pine trees lined the waters edge. Nestled in the woods relic gun turrets and coastal defences peered out to sea. Loudly singing Jimi Hendrix songs to myself I paddled hard to cover as much coast as possible before an approaching bank of fog arrived.
With a last glance at my compass for a bearing I was swallowed by the fog just 4km from Buckie Harbour. The swell suddenly muffled in grey silence an eery murk lurked around the boat the wind dampened in the mist into calm water. It is a strange sensation being alone at sea in the fog, just 100m of grey haze to fix ones eye upon the open water suddenly seems held in a bubble. Sound seems amplified, a single splash in the mist travels far and distant boats seem concerningly close. Fixed on the bearing I followed my bow through the bubble.
A hiss burst into the silence somewhere in the harr. I stopped paddling to glide in silence on calm mercury ripples. Just meters from my bow a silent fin rose from the surface, like a hot knife through butter the glistening slate grey skin sunk back to the depths. Silence.
In an explosion of spray a tiny dolphin no more than a metre long erupted in a tremendous leap to my side. Clear of the water it spun in the air flicking crystal droplets of water high into the mist. With an almighty splash the baby Bottlenose dolphin crashed back to the sea. The pod of four invaded my little bubble to circle and explore the kayak. I felt mixed with awe and concern as the largest adult came worryingly close to collision as it swum past, I gazed below to see an eye looking back from the dark beneath.
As quickly as they arrived the pod sunk into the mist and all was silent. Returning to my bearing I wondered how far I might have drifted on the tide as I had sat to watch. With a pencil I marked on my map case the exact bearing from Lossiemouth to Buckie, in dashed lines I added estimated eastern travel on the tide at 30 minute intervals. I hoped to remain somewhere between the two lines to arrive safely.
Fishing boats emerged from the mist in a low thud of diesel fumes and clinking chime of halliards. Surprised the crews would call “You ok pal?” and “You on your todd?’ (are you alone) as they past. Returning a thumbs up I left them to the mist. 40 minutes of travel later I started to worry, I should see land by now. . .or at least hear it. The increasing scent of diesel and fish was the only hint I was growing closer.
Paddling onward a faint outline appeared in the mist. Mistaking the white pillar in the sky for the bridge of a large boat I paddled off bearing to avoid collision. As I grew nearer however I realised it was Buckie lighthouse. Somehow despite the pause to watch cetaceans I had arrived just 50m off course to the harbour. Through the mist the sun glowed as a soft golden orb in the sky, it cast a heavenly aura over the rainbow mounds of fishing nets, rust red chaos of chains and creel pots and towering fishing boats perched on trailers in the ship yard casting their long shadows out to sea.
Hugging close to the shoreline I no longer needed to navigate, so long as I kept land to my starboard I would be headed the right way. Running on the eastern tide which flowed smoothly in an unexpectedly powerful stream between Craigenroan island and shore I emerged from the fog. The coastline stretched ahead in sharp shards of battered grey stone. It was growing late and drifting in a small bay to watch an otter I looked at the map for a landing.
There were two options. Option A. Secluded, remote but sheltered – no sign of water. Option B. public campsite , sheltered but busy – easy access to water. I had one litre left, I was tired and the thought of company seemed as appealing as the extra cup of tea I could brew in the camp. Passing the remote bay I turned to land in Findochty camp.
Immediately upon sighting houses a mouth watering waft of cooking meat floated through the air. My stomach grumbled like a whale in the deep, the smell emanating straight from the campsite I landed eagerly.
I had barely pulled my spraydeck before being greeted with a loud American “Hey There!” From the top of the beach five figures approached with a friendly wave. Without question they immediately set about hauling the boat onto the grass beside a large crowd deep in merry chatter.
For the second time in the day I was surrounded by a crowd, . ‘What sort of craft is it?, Do you camp wild?, How many miles in a day?, What are your Rations?, What is your finishing date?. Familiar questions, same answers. An elderly man clinked his glass “ATTENTION EVERYONE” the chatter stopped. “This man is kayaking around Scotland” Suddenly the focus of 30 staring eyes I wanted to bury my head in the sand and hide, the silent gazing awkwardly long. Leaning on a cane a grey haired man strode from the group stretching out his hand, “Well then! You’d better join us…we have far to much food anyway” I had landed in paradise.
Warm, dry…even showered I found myself plied with wine and a paper plate filled to bursting point with sausages, burgers, potato salads, tomato salads, crisps, olives, chips…all care of the celebrating Hash House Harries; a local running group who describe themselves online as “A drinking club with a running problem” looking around the merry gang they had kept true to their word.
Seldom have I met such an eclectic collection of characters. There was a wacky New Yorker and her gangly Glaswegian friend who danced like no one was watching all night. There was the Hebridean grandparents dressed in their traditional woollen sunday best who tried to coax me into speaking Gaelic by randomly blurting the dialect at me as if to surprise me into learning all night. There was the exhausted marathon runners tired after a long run and there was the parents middle aged and merry on wine who laughed heartily all through the night. For once I didn’t feel out of place, a foreigner in my own country. Well lubricated on wine and stuffed with plate loads of food my days diary read only five words…Great Company. So.Much.Food!
News of the strange kayaker nestled between the caravans had spread throughout the camp by morning. Like all good Chinese whispers the I had become The man kayaking around Britain, I spent most of the morning explaining it was just Scotland. Elderly campers emerged from their luxury motor homes bearing gifts of Coffee, Bacon & Egg rolls and the usual barrage of ‘What sort of craft is it?, Do you camp wild?, How many miles in a day?, What are your Rations?, What is your finishing date?
Licking egg yoke from my fingers I clasped the paddle and left Findochtry turning only to shout a loud THANK YOU! to the campers eating their breakfasts on the seaside benches. I vowed to make a habit of occasionally camping near town simply for the sake of company – it can get quite lonely on your own.
It had been a late start to make best use of the tide. Leaving shore at the leisurely hour of 11am I rode the slick flow past the little village Portknockie which perched over the waters edge. It was a morning mixed with exploring cliffs and easy open paddling. Riding on a wave through a large arch under the aptly named bow fiddle rock I turned to bounce past the town of Cullen dominated by a tremendous aqueduct which hung above the houses.
Keeping a hopeful eye out for Skiff rowers I past Portsoy on a strong eastern tide to round East head. Paddling against a slight headwind I aimed toward a distant cluster of houses faded grey in the haze the community Whitehills promised a sheltered landing for lunch.
Paddling with determination I had set the goal to reach Pennan, it would make a long day finished late into the evening but would give a good chance at rounding the corner and heading south the following day. It was an exiting prospect, since rounding the north to first turn south the thought nearly there had been calling louder and louder in the back of my mind. I could taste the finish – the end of a chapter was approaching and a new adventure awaiting. With each days paddle I noticed I was mentally striving to push further south, with the border becoming for the first time a conceivable distance and the journey no longer feeling endless I developed a desire to race for the line. But there was still a long way to go, each day I aimed for places new and exiting to explore from camp – Pennan was one of them.
Huddled on a wooden slipway in Whitehills I ate my usual soggy oatcakes and cheese before following a large wooden yacht back to sea. The red gaff rigged sails flapped in the light wind which had turned east in our favour, the three crew dressed in traditional woollens scampered on deck to commands shouted through the captains thick beard and smouldering pipe. The boat and I were moving at the similar speed and I found myself pushing hard to catch up. It was a game made for no other reason than motivating fast pace and perhaps a little showing off.
Your fair shiftin’ Hollered the captain when I eventually past some 4km later, trying not to show that I was completely out of breath I paddled alongside to say hello before they tacked back to Whitehills. It was a disappointment to loose the boat to race but in the excitement of the chase I had almost crossed the large open bay to Macduff. With an eerie sense of Deja vu a wall of mist descended. It was the same time as the day before, I travelled on the same 120° bearing and just as before I was quickly swallowed in misty silence.
Yet again the map and pencil were drawn on deck, plotting a line of my position and the tide. This time however there were no dolphins to distract from route, only the flapping sails of another yacht somewhere nearby. An hour later I arrived with yet more Deja vu to sight land directly in front of a tall white lighthouse.
The mist had started to become lighter. In front of my bow a tremendous silver arch glistened in the air – a fog bow! Wondering what treasure a leprechaun at end of a fog bow might guard I chased the light east. The rumbling surf on jagged rocks nearby seemed exhilaratingly close. The air was filled with salt to saturate all my senses. Almost in an instant the wind turned south, blowing over fields inland the air became immediately warm like the blast of a hairdryer. Dust and pollen washed away the salty mist to leave blue skies, blazing sunshine and a lot of sneezing. The air was rich with the scent of barely and filled with insects blow out to sea. It was 5pm the deadline I usually set myself to land before each day, far ahead along a line of towering ochre red cliffs Troup head defiantly jutted north into the ocean. It would take an hour to reach, perhaps more but in the warm breeze and sunshine I was in no rush. I would definitely reach Pennan, I allowed myself to sink back into enjoying the journey.
A fishing boat bobbed on a sea of gold, light glittered across its shimmering nets and rusting halliards. Flocks of seagulls squabbling Mine, Mine, Mine! chased behind hoping to snatch a fish. To my side the precipitous settlement Gardenstown clung to the rocks behind a thin veil of whispy blue mist. At my bow to The cliffs were golden in the fading evening sun. Strangely, Troup head was white.
Approaching the rocks on the choppy turbulence of the turning tide I realised the entire cliff was painted in Guano. Hundreds if not thousands of Gannets nestled on every ledge or crevice. The cacophony of squawking, screeching bird calls erupted from the face. In a deafening batter of startled wing beats gannets took flight en masse as I approached. Feathers floated like snowflakes from their perch. Daring to gaze upward into a drizzle of guano I almost lost balance trying to follow the incredible number of birds soaring all around me. Young chicks who hadn’t quite got the hang of the whole flight thing crashed with a splash just metres from my boat before bobbing to the surface looking perplexed, their brown plumage desperately trying to lift them from the sea. Crisp white wings with coal black tips whooshed past at eye level, the beautiful adult birds in full glory gliding past to inspect. Beady blue eyes gazed behind smoky yellow heads. The sun was setting over Gardenstown at my stern, the entire scene becoming a magical wonderland of wilderness and wildlife. Had I not been aware of the fast turning tide I would have drifted at Troup head until dark. Alas it was time to move on.
Pennan appeared around the corner, just a few kilometres from the headland. The narrow line of white houses already lurking in the evening shade were so close to the waters edge they seemed to touch it, surrounded by towering red cliffs the last light cast a purple hue onto the gnarled walls. White puffs of spray blurted from a small blowhole nearby with a rhythmic rumble and hiss, caves lined the crags topped with curious sheep grazing salty grass. I hoped to land in a small bay to the west of town, it was perfectly sheltered from the swell allowing easy access with a gentle thud of sand.
Boat rolled onto the grass, tent up and dinner cooking I watched the light creeping down the rocks nearby. I had travelled over 40km, my legs were stiff and would cramp in the night; I decided in a post dinner amble into town before bed.
Winding narrow roads curled between waving fields of barley and grazing sheep, a deep blue sky faded softly into a vibrant violet like a painting on tissue paper. Wandering into the little community I shared a beer with a local fisherman on the shorefront wall and watched sheets flap gently in the breeze along strings of washing lines hung along the edge of the street. There were no fences, no gardens but the open beach; benches lined with eclectic painted plant pots and clothes pegs added a dash of colour to the evening gloam.
The elderly chap started to walk home, I rose to leave only to be invited by his son for a quick cup of tea up the road. An hour later filled with cookies, tea and questions to answer from his curious young daughter I ambled back to camp. Tomorrow I would round the corner!
Baked from my tent I relished the cool splashes of water on my face as I pushed sula from the shore. Cloudless and sunny it was already warm at 8.30am. I gently paddled into Pennan harbour to land and explore the town by day. Just as the night before sheets flapped in the wind, the old man was back on the wall his beer replaced with coffee. Elderly women sat in a line on the wall to knit and read in the warm breeze. Famous for its feature in the cult film Local Hero Pennan is a popular tourist destination, as I explored the houses often literally cut into the cliffside it was a pleasant surprise to find the town had remained untainted by commercialism.
Back offshore after a leisurely morning I hugged under the tall red cliffs east of the bay. Deep black caves swallowed the light, stacks teetered at the waters edge and urchins splashed dots of pink under the glinting water by the wall. I wished to hug the coast all day, but with a local bombing range ahead I wanted to cross the “Danger Zone” quickly and chose to head to Rosehearty harbour direct on a bearing.
Against the wind I paddled as hard and as fast as I could reaching the sheltered harbour covered in dried salt from splashing waves and still humming “Highway to the danger zone.” Around the point the wind grew unusually strong, I had almost become accustomed to easy paddling over the sheltered few days of the Moray firth.
Landing on a sandy slipway behind the sheltered walls I wandered into town to return with a cheap coffee and greasy hot dog care of the local corner shop. Lazing in the sunshine to stretch and eat a second breakfast I poured over my map looking for somewhere to land around the corner. I hoped to land at St.Combs and celebrate rounding the final major turning point of the journey with a fish and chips.
Leaving the harbour walls however I instantly found myself struggling to push on. Hugging what little shelter I could between low rocky skerries a battle between an increasingly stiff wind and my arms commenced. I could see Fraeserborough and the lighthouse on Kinnaird head, it was the turning point south. Reaching it should have taken just 60 minutes, instead it was an agonising 2 hours of furious paddling. Panting, soaking and with burning arms I arrived into a patch of welcome sheltered water behind the headland. I knew as soon as I rounded the corner the relentless wind would return, blowing directly from the east I knew too that my landing at St.Combs was out of the question.
Taking the chance to have one last look at the map I settled upon the harbour at Inverallochy, a small community just 4km further. I hoped I could hug the sandy bay for shelter and paddled my bow around the point. Wind roared through my ears, whistling around my guy lines. Hugging what little respite I could behind the harbour I bounced on a tall fetch ricocheting off the walls. In fluorescent vests and orange helmets two builders hung over the edge scraping mortar into cracks in the defences, the waves rose remarkably close to wetting their builders bums. Err Hello! I called out in passing, not expecting visitors from the sea they both lurched around with a wail of surprise before helplessly spinning on their ropes cursing.
Giggling I left the walls and aimed straight for the sand. Paddling as hard as I could against the wind I moved demoralisingly slow. Waves erupted along my bow to hit my deck bag and launch cold spray into my face, I could taste salt, it burned my eyes and stung my skin. Head down I paddled.
It took 30 minutes to reach the beach and a further hour of fighting to reach Inverallochy harbour. Choosing to land just south of the harbour on a soft sandy bay I summoned what remaining energy was left to roll Sula onto the grass. The campsite was nothing other than perfection. Perfect sheep mown grass, sheltered from all sides by tall marram grass and with plenty of space to spread and relax it was ideal. Still dressed in wet gear I lay down in a star to catch my breath.
“WOAH!” I opened my eyes, You gave me quite the fright young man! An elderly man approached with his dog. He hadn’t expected to find a salty kayaker completely asleep in a star amongst the dunes. Checking my watch I was shocked to discover the brief rest had become a 2 hour snooze…at least my gear had dried out.
Re-awakened to take a short wander into the tiny township in search of water I soon returned with 2 filled bottles and a crumpled newspaper filled with a steaming fish and chips. Listening to the crackled melodies of radio 2 I lay on my therm-a-rest in the sun. Devouring the fish and chips I chatted to a steady stream of dog walkers before settling into a deep slumber for a second time. I was on the home run, nothing but south from here!