Fraserburgh to East Haven
Sponsored by Alastair Forbes
“Oh, hey friend!” Reaching into my boot I plucked a small crab from beneath my heel. Watching as it scuttled for the nearest rock I wondered “How in hell did it survive inside my shoe all the way from tent to the shore? Pulling my skirt on I pushed from the shore casting the only ripples into a perfect calm. The gentle chug of a nearby fishing boat chased with the cries of eager seagulls filled the air.
Scraping past a reef beside the harbour with a swish of kelp against my hull I turned east for the last time; Today I would turn the corner and head south at last. A lone fishing boat cast against the shallow reef lay on its side, a rusted tangle of rigging torn metal and shattered decking the gaping hole in the hull served better warning than any marker. Claimed by the ocean the rusting shell had become shelter to the local otter which floating nearby smashed muscles against a stone on its chest.
Eager to ride the tide I didn’t linger on the reef. Bouncing upon its turbulent flow soon found myself drifting into deeper water. Loosing sight of Fraeserborough I rounded the corner, catching sight of a small church tower and St.Combs I thanked myself for the early landing the day before. The surf still rolled tall and white into the sand, it would have been a tricky escape. In the distance a hazy needle jutting against the sky marked my way, Rattray head lighthouse; the pin on my map. It was a corner to a new chapter of the journey, 180° South.
As I had found on much of the east coast, a dark brooding sky hung inland. The ominous threat of rain held back by the eastern breeze to fall in etherial veils over distant fields. In the rains shadow I relished gazing in land while sat in the warm comfort of coastal sunshine.
With 7km of open sandy shore stretching to a thin green line of open pasture the landscape accentuated the beauty of the sky. Without features to gauge speed or progress I found myself drifting into an unconscious rhythm to which I went upon my imagination to venture into daydream. Sometimes stirring back to reality I would feel I had moved no-where, the distance to the lighthouse no less than before. It was a frustrating sensation but soon was lost back to the rhythm.
With the tide pushing me along in the blissfully calm water I made fast progress even though it hadn’t felt like it. No more than an hour after leaving St.Combs I was gling with a soft pshhh onto the sand. Gatecrashing a beach party of sunbathing seal my arrival was announced with a splatter of wobbling blubber and subsequent eruption of spray. I now had Rattray head to myself. Watched by the beady eyed stares from the raft of curious heads bobbing in the water I strolled into the radiating warmth of the dunes.
Clambering through swathes of gently swishing marram grass I caught sight of my last cardinal point to the south. Peterhead, Scotland’s most eastern corner was just visible in the distant haze at the end of another long strip of sand. Rattray lighthouse nearby was just offshore, I had hoped to walk out to it but opted instead to ride the fast tide through a narrow channel flowing at its side.
Travelling at 6km/h I floated past Rattray lighthouse allowing the tide to do the effort while I gazed up toward the towers tall white walls. Standing defiant against the testament of time and the elements the lighthouse had fought and survived many ferocious storms, the exposure seemed hard to imagine on such a calm day.
The water deepened as I left the lighthouse behind no longer forced to weave between lone boulders or pick kelp from my blades I watched the sea grow dark beneath my hull. Back to a rhythm, back to staring the the western skies, back to my imagination . . Peterhead Here I come!
Passing tall chimneys topped with a lick of flame like an Olympic torch I had reached another gas terminal and was surprised to find I was already half way to Peterhead. I had expected two hours to pass the 13km distance between headlands but had only been paddling 45 minutes. The strength of the flow only showed its power when the unstoppable current met an immovable object, in this case Peterhead.
I had arrived at the peak flow of the tide, a fast river of head height overfalls blocked my way to the headland. 200m wide and moving far faster than I could paddle curling flicks of white foam drifted out to sea.
After the featureless coast and monotonous rhythm I relished the speed and excitement carried with the waves. In a spray of cold sea and carefully placed strokes I crossed into the train of beautiful blue arcing water which rippling into explosions of white. Shouting in excite with water streaming down my face stinging my eyes and filling my mouth with salt I arrived into the sheltered eddy at the far side.
Back in settled sea I was lead to Peterhead by an escort of curious seals. The excitement fading and my breath returning the anti-climax of the eastern point took me by surprise. There were no tacky tourist signs proclaiming “Furthest East” or “Closest place to see the sunrise”, there were no car parks or even a simple path. Just an unassuming rocky headland. Ringed in a tall spiked fence enclosed to an industrial complex the headland was untidy and unkempt. Tattered rope entangled in snakes of rusting iron chain, torn green mounds of fishing net and bright orange streaks of rust lined the un-landable rocks. The sound of clanking metal, hammering and the grind of power tools filled the air between a stench of exhaust and fish. All in all it was a little disappointing.
Looking South to a tall red & white striped lighthouse on Boddam Ness the promise to escape the bustle of Peterhead’s industry was granted. I decided to consider Boddam as my eastern point instead.
Dodging a large tug boat towing a larger ship from a noisy harbour to distant oil rigs on the horizon I paddled fast to cross the shipping entrance. Dominated by the fishing and oil industry Peterhead was defined by the towering chimneys of the local coal power plant. Traditionally known as the “Blue Toon,” a reference to the blue socks worn by the early fishermen of Peterhead the town had evolved from small fishing to succumb to the booming oil and gas industries. Perhaps it was the oily harbour or the smokey industrial chimneys but I decided Peterhead to be more the “Black toon” than blue.
Nearing Boddam the tide surged once again. Small rippling waves, gentle swirling uprisings and gurgling whirlpools bubbled around the boat. Enjoying the speed I lingered to look up to the lighthouse which painted like Dr.Seuss’s Cat in the hat’s headwear lead to a flashing light above. The colourful walls and lush grass to which it stood contrasted ominously against the dark sky which was approaching from inland. As I left island a blinding flash engulfed the coastline. A tremendous boom chased after to echo across the cliffs ahead. A storm was approaching.
8km of un-landable cliff replaced the sandy shore I had followed all day. The thought of turning to fight the tide and land back to Peterhead wasn’t appealing, nor however was being barbecued by lightening. Hugging as tight as I could to the base of the crags I paddled as hard as I could and aimed for the shelter of Cruden bay. A stark contrast to featureless sand the coast was interesting, dynamic and exiting to paddle alongside.
Another flash, another heart rumbling roll of thunder, I paddled harder.
The sky was brooding, the air charged with electricity; I was sitting in the flattest place I could find and was holding a stick. Wincing with every flash a buzz of adrenaline preceded any anticipated zap I feared I may receive. The booming rumbles seemed to vibrate to my very core before echoing from the rocky amphitheatre to my side like the thud of bass at a rock concert. Atop the cliffs the derelict shell of Slain castle perched defiantly above the sea. Silhouetted against the darkening clouds its crumbling walls, empty stone arch windows and broken towers echo’d to a past grandeur lost to the elements of time. I didn’t linger to enjoy the sight, Cruden bay was just around the corner and so was the storm.
The sea went eerily calm. A silky grey in the silent wake of the front. The fast patter of my blades breaking water suddenly seemed loud in the total silence of Cruden bay’s quiet harbour.
Swiftly scraping ashore and hauling the boat up a slipway I made camp hidden behind a string of nets hung out to dry. Like a freight train clattering on the tracks thunder rolled across rooftops nearby. Throwing my kit into the tent and frantically changing to dry clothes I left to seek refuge at the local inn. 10 minutes later I was sat by a fire, pint in hand and watching curtains of rain lash the road. The barman joked “At least your tent will get a good wash!
The flashes through the canvas slowly faded through the night and the patter of rain washed to silence. In the morning calm the only reminder of a wind which so violently whistled through the nets overnight was a gentle lap of swell on the shore. A soft grey blanket had tucked in the sky to sooth all temper from the storm. No longer in a hurry I lazily packed from one of the best campsites I had enjoyed in some time, a rare combination of short grass and close proximity to the harbour. The added luxury of nearby toilets was the cherry on top.
A gentle paddle across Cruden bay and another stretch of cliff line brought Sula and I to Collieston harbor for breakfast. Although calm the air was surprisingly cold, by the time I had pulled Sula onto the sand and wandered to the top of the bay I was shivering. Taking pity perhaps I was immediately summoned by a young mother into her shop to be handed a large coffee and box of pink frosted donuts. Apologising for dripping water onto the floor I greatly enjoyed chatting, munching and playing hide and seek around the shop with her toddler daughter.
Warmed with a little electric heater and fizzing with donuty energy I set out along the 20km long sandy bay Aberdeen.
The wind had stiffened to a force three to four. Directly in my face the cold air pierced my skin like an icy dagger and the skin on my arms quickly went numb to the bitter cold. There is a saying which goes “The Aberdeen accent comes by speaking through your teeth, for if they open their mouths the wind will get in and they will freeze from the inside out” …I started to relate.
Any progress had become slow, at least the effort to move forward was enough to stop the shivering but looking ahead Aberdeen seemed a long, long way off.
The constant rumble of helicopters shuttling to and fro from oil rigs thumped over the wind. Passing every few minutes it was a reminder to the influence the oil industry had on the eastern seaboard. Signs of wealth it had brought were everywhere from grand homes to fancy cars. The next grand attraction however had little to do with oil, the infamous Trump golf course appeared ahead. Of courseI am in no way against golf. However I would not describe myself among Donald Trump’s fan club and I certainly did not agree with the bullying tactics which lead to the course’s construction. On the side of the once beautiful natural dunes to which it replaced I decided It was time for a little petty revenge.
The course was approximately half way to Aberdeen. I had taken several hours to reach it against the waves, I was soaking and exhausted. Hobbling against the wind onto the links with my paddle I quickly scuttled back onto the water to break the waves giggling like an immature schoolboy. I had left a giant phallic carving in one of the course sandpits…Take that Donald! Its the little victories that count.
Every 10m a buckets worth of cold water crashed over the boat saturating every pore. The shallow sands meant the waves were tall and steep with the wind. My arms hurt, my eyes were red and salt filled my nose and mouth. I was shivering constantly and hindered by a forced landing every 5km to bail out the kayak which was slowly filling with water under a constant dousing. On the third landing Aberdeen still seemed an age away, I wandered to the top of the beach desperately hunting for a place to camp. . .no luck. . . I needed to be warm soon.
I inched forward; Stroke, hit wave, duck, cold soaking, loose momentum, shiver, repeat.
Approaching town I watched a man on the beach boxing the air, I won’t land here! I decided and fought on. With every kilometre closer to town the wind was gradually becoming sheltered, at last it was getting easier. A line of tower blocks and a ferris wheel topped the low horizon, behind the town a soft yellow band of evening light cast their profile in silhouette beneath an otherwise cold grey sky. Aiming for a small beach near the harbour entrance I put my head down once more, the wind had almost dropped entirely.
Without warning a high pitched pip, click, pip emanated just meters below my hull. I stopped dead. Peering into the murk I gazed down, What was that!?
In a sudden explosion of spray a bottle nose dolphin erupted from the water just ahead of my bow. With a graceful twist it flicked its tail which glinted in the light it crashed back into the depths. It happened so fast I wondered if I had really just seen it at all. A puff of spray from a blowhole to my side announced their presence. Fins quickly appeared all around the kayak. Passing low under the hull I watched shadows deep beneath me to the mesmerising pips and clicks of their calls audible even atop the water. Although enthralling I was a little un-nerved at how close they came, they were almost the length of the kayak.
Putting my ear to my paddle I sat, watched and listened as the pod curiously explored my boat. As a particularly large dolphin passed exhilaratingly a puff from the blowhole bringing a pungent fishy smell against the breeze.I was so immersed in the display I forgot that I was shivering, I forgot that I was tired, I was immersed in the moment. I was barely 500m from the shore of a bustling city but here on the sea it was just I and the dolphins. I could hear cars roaring on the roads, the beep of horns, streetlights already burning onto concrete paths stained the sky and huge ships passed in the harbour, the dolphins didn’t care and nor did I.
Eventually growing tired the pod left me to remember the cold in my arms, it was time to land. I had set foot in Aberdeen twice in my life, the first to fly young and scared to New Zealand, the second I arrived by train having missed my stop from Perth to Inverness, both had been a logistical nightmare. This time the challenge was to find safe camp, not an easy task in the high walls of a busy harbour. Sheltered by the south breakwater the beach at Battery head was not an ideal campsite but the small strip of sand would be good enough. I felt uneasy being so close to the urban sprawl, an echo’d reminder perhaps from the bad experience in Wick.
Pitching tent in a narrow band of grass I sheltered beside a tall concrete wall lined with razored iron spikes. I picked a hypodermic needle from the sand and flicked discarded broken glass over the wall and hoped that Wednesday night would be quiet night in Aberdeen.
Whitcha cookeen?…..”Bacon” Three young girls who had taken an interest in my camp and decided to snoop around. “Can we have some?” the chubbiest girl snapped almost forcibly, “No”. Exhausted and still cold I was not in the mood for inquisitive visitors.
I guessed the girls were no older than 13 and after a barrage of questions they decided it would be funny to try to get inside my tent. This was not on! Forcibly restraining the kids and almost having to drag them back onto the beach I found myself snatching back bits of gear which they snatched like trophies.
“Whits thees? My Stove! Ken we heeve it? NO!, and thees? My Headtorch, Oooh I need thees!, NO! And thees? My food! “Ken we share it?” NO! ‘Why Not! Because its my dinner! I was growing concerned that an angry older brother or equally obtrusive parent would show up and cause a scene. Eventually negotiating that if I lit them a fire they would leave me alone I set the kids far and wide to look for wood.
With a small handful of sticks I lit a little fire in the far corner of the beach, as far away from my tent as I could. “Happy?“…”Yep” They grumpily replied. I turned to leave just as all three kids extracted their very own pack of cigarettes and each lit one on the flames. “Its ok! Mum says that if we give up when we are 15 its ok!” ….“How old are you?” ….12.
They had burned my last straw. Kicking sand over the fire I extinguished the flame. “RIGHT, THAT’S IT!, GO AWAY” I wasn’t going to have any blame affixed should a police officer appear. With a hail of abuse the kids stormed off from the beach, their final call “Thanks for no cigarettes” …”Your Welcome” I called back in the most annoyingly cheery voice I could muster.
With the kids gone a few other families arrived to play on the beach, I must have arrived at the wrong time; every other person I met for the rest of the evening was absolutely lovely and proved great conversation. The locals of Aberdeen were incredibly friendly and hospitable after all and each one unanimously agreed it would be a safe camp for the night
* * *
Avoiding a steady stream of large tankers I moved fast to warm up. The southern breeze had returned carrying a bitter chill and promise of a hard day on the water. Passing Girdle Ness lighthouse I left Aberdeen behind as I weaved through the brightly painted pillars of an experimental oil drilling platform.
Wind flurried around the craggy shore to cast dark cat’s paw gusts amidst the fetch. Hugging tight to the rock and accepting the extra chop in the waves I managed to avoid the worst of the gusts. It was a surprisingly entertaining coast with small caves and arches to regularly explore.
The camp in Aberdeen had left me without water, I landed in Cove bay with a mission – find a drink. There was no familiar scrape of rock on gelcoat as I beached, I arrived instead with a loud squelch. Wading, squishing, slipping and trying desperately not to fall over I made it to the top of the beach through a layer of condensed jellyfish. With each step the beach seemed to wobble like a giant translucent trifle.
Passing a line of colourful wooden boats tied upon the harbour I snuck into a nearby garden to fill my bottle on the garden tap before returning back to the boat with yet more stomach turning squelching.
Trying to out paddle the smell now repulsively wafting from my shoes I aimed straight south toward Stonehaven. Soon realising the fight against the wind and cold the day before had left its mark I found I grew tired quickly. The wind seemed to sense weakness and picked up against my face once more. Not fierce nor with big fetch it was just enough to sap what energy and warmth I had left – Head down. Think of the border. Paddle.
Although out of sight I knew I was getting close to Stonehaven, a delicious waft of vinegar soaked chips hung on the breeze. My stomach rumbled almost as loud as the waves on the rocks. By the time I landed amongst a flock of seagulls I was starving. Following my nose I stumbled up the beach to see a now familiar sign ‘Best chip shop in Britain.” It is rarer to find a chip shop without such a sign than it is to see the bold claim, however the little chip shop in Stonehaven actually lived up to its word. The ensuing bloated, sickening paddle to camp was entirely worth the most delicious fish and chips I have eaten before or since.
Just 2km further south I set camp on a perfectly smooth patch of grass in the shadow of Dunnottar castle. The discovery of a narrow channel between the rocky skerries to the north of the castle had been the ideal sheltered landing. A proper fairytale castle built upon the edge of a rocky precipice Dunnottar was the ultimate defendable castle. The crumbled shell of a medieval fortress loomed above the tent, dungeons and towering walls lined the wind blasted rock. It was a social campsite, tourists wandered past in regular procession for conversation and the usual barrage of questions.
As evening fell I was joined with a group of fellow paddlers. Seeing them pass I waved eagerly out to them to promise a cup of tea upon their return along the coast. Sure enough a half hour later I was enjoying talking to Rebecca from Aberdeen and her fellow paddlers. Clearly experienced they were a local group, over hot chocolate and cups of tea we shared stories of kayak adventures and Icelandic ventures. Only when the last light was fading from dusk did the group leave. It was just I and a supposedly haunted castle left to watch in eery silence as the moon rose in the east.
For the first time ever I was paddling under head-torch. The shrinking ray of light behind giving way to darkness I scanned around under the torch’s narrow beam. Each tap on the water echo’d amongst lonely drops of water falling in the dark. I was deep in a cave. With a narrow entrance forcing a ducked glide to enter the tunnel lead 50ft into the rock, the silence muting the wind outside. My light cast green rays in the deep water beneath me, I couldn’t help but think about the “haunted” dungeons of the nearby castle.
Just centimetres from my hand the calm water rippled, my heart stopped. Wheeling round so fast I almost capsized in the dark a fin broke the water. Nope, nope, nope, nope!! I was out of there! Despite the narrow channel I turned the kayak with surprising speed, Oh god, I’ve disturbed the water!!….Theres a monster! Its amazing how irrational dark claustrophobic places can make oneself.
Thumping with nervous adrenalin and racing for the entrance my way was blocked. A seal pup rose its head bringing from the depths the dawning sense of stupidity…ohhhh theres no monster after all. Now aware my cracken was a playful seal pup I watched as it swam just feet below to twist and turn in the torch light, no longer frightening the seal was rather magical in its lair. The detour suggested by Rebecca was a superb start to another day on the sea.
Back outside a fierce western wind had built overnight. For the first 7km to Crawton I was able to shelter in the calm of steep cliffs but dreaded turning the corner to the full brunt of the elements. The shoreline had become an enthralling tangle of towering walls, narrow tunnels, caves, stacks and arches. In the shelter I made slow progress south choosing instead to weave in and out of every arch and cave I could fit my boat. The red rocky walls were stained with the mark of hundreds of seabirds sheltering from the wind and a lush green from covering of moss, algae and grasses clung to the face vibrantly beneath a perfect blue sky. It was the most interesting and stimulating stretch of coastline since the far north east.
Leaving the perfect calm at the base of the cliff I turned south west and into the wind. Instantly the sea was rough with a steep chop. A force four constant rising as much as force 6 pushed against my nose. Changing into a slow but powerful stroke rate I crept past rocky outcrops and shingle bays under the spray. The wind was relentless, with each thud of fetch on the hull my momentum washed to a standstill. Inch by inch, mile by mile I crawled toward the next sheltered haven.
Reaching the small harbour at Catterline I landed upon a large sweeping shingle bay to collapse in the sunshine. Phoning Paul in his office to check the weather I realised I couldn’t hang around, “Storms are coming” crackled through poor reception. Looking out to sea the white horses were growing larger, dreams of reaching Montrose were blown away, instead I would aim for Inverbervie to weather the winds.
Taking advantage of the large boulders scattered across the sea below the cliffs I wound my way south in 100m sprints. Bouncy, wet and tremendous effort I would fight the wind in short stretches before weaving between the shelter of the boulders, they became welcome pit stops along the way. A full hour of the sprint and sneak approach brought progress only 3km further. Panting and drenched to the skin I sheltered beneath a small tower on the cliffs; Whistleberry castle.
Landing on a wave with a loud crunch I rolled onto a steep shingle bar. It had taken 2 and a half hours to travel just 8km but here at last was Inverbervie. Dragging the kayak up and over the sand bar was as punishing as the paddle. Skidding sliding and grunting I inched Sula from the water resorting after 15 minutes attempted drag to empty the contents to the top of the beach. Alas had the tide been higher I could have simply paddled straight up the small river and right to a nearby campsite.
It was a luxury to camp in a real campsite once again. I enjoyed my first shower in weeks and a short explore to the shops later returned with a warm loaf of bread and fresh veg to mix into the usual dried sludge. With a cup of tea in hand and reading in the sunshine I listened to the waves roar under the wind and wondered what to do in the upcoming storms. . .my phone rang.
“Hello Will, its Pippa!” My aunt and uncle were visiting my cousin Fiona in Dundee nearby. “Do you want to come and stay?” It was perfect timing and a wonderful alternative to two days sat in the tent, a plan was made. I was off to Dundee.
Clean and well fed I was scooped from Inverbervie by Pippa & Allistair. It was the first time we had seen each other since I left their home right at the start of the expedition, of course plenty of jokes about my new mop of hair, sea madness and smelly clothes passed my way. The speed of a car was a strange sensation, in less than an hour I had travelled what would normally take two days even though we stopped to look about along the way.
Dundee seemed a daunting metropolis compared to weeks of small coastal towns and empty coastline. Although Aberdeen was large I had never left the bay into town itself, I found myself transfixed at the chaos of cars and people as we wound through town to Fiona’s flat. The world seemed in such a rush compared to my own selfishly relaxed schedule.
Sneaking into the flat we left Fiona to sleep, nightshifts as a young doctor made my own adventure seem easy, she was justifiably shattered. Pippa & Allistair headed home to Dumfries leaving Fiona and I with a huge bag of M&S goodies and the kind gift of “Crackle II” a replacement to my broken radio/best friend. Fiona left for work and I settled in for a quiet night alone in the flat to watch movies and relax. . . it was absolute bliss.
Spending a day to chill out and relax was a welcome change of pace. Fiona emerged from her room recovered from another long nightshift, we ventured out for a brief explore before returning to hibernate behind the curtains in front of a film with a tremendous steak dinner.
Returning to Inverbervie via the scenic route Fiona pointed out the sights of Dundee from “The Law” before continuing to explore the beach at Lunan bay. We were in no rush, the wind in the bay was re-assuringly strong despite the clear skies and warmth of the sunshine. The effortless pace of the day meant a late afternoon arrival into Inverbervie. Re-united with the kayak I hugged Fiona grateful goodbye, I didn’t realise when I stopped but I had needed the rest. She had also treated me to an enormous indian supper in town, needless to say I was no longer concerned about returning to the sea but whether or not I would fit inside the cockpit.
With a more energy and less wind I was well on the way to Montrose despite a slight southern breeze. Stopping in the shelter of Johnshaven’s pretty cobbled harbour to treat myself with a £1 pork pie and a coffee I watched the wind growing yet again from the south. A local fisherman appeared with the invitation of a “tour of the crab pond” – an opportunity not to miss! Inside a huge rusty warehouse and wondering whether I was about to be unwillingly cast in the next chainsaw massacre series I was lead into a dank back room. Thankfully a large tub filled to the brink with a writhing pink clawing mass of edible crabs was real. It was the friendly fisherman’s highlight attraction and somewhere I would never dip my fingers.
A long, wet and tiring two hours later I had passed Montrose. Only just passing Scurdie ness lighthouse before being sucked into Montrose basin on the rising tide I hunted for somewhere to camp. Hoping to land at Lunan bay a few kilometres along the coast I struggled against a force 4-5 wind, progress slowed to a crawl. The shallow rocky water meant the fetch had grown higher and steeper than normal, each wave doused the usual refreshing spray into my face. Taking shelter I landed onto a rocky wave-cut platform in the lee of a small peninsula, I was 1km short of Lunan bay.
In relay I emptied the holds and carried Sula onto the grass. By the time I had set camp in the warm sun and strong wind I was almost dry, a rare luxury indeed! Safely ashore I set out to explore the small fortress like lime kiln which crumbled at the end of the peninsula. My vantage on Boddin Point gave superb views across Lunan bay, enhanced with a glowing sunset it was a superb camp. Inland a small cemetery was on the “hit list” to visit.
**Doctor Who fans look away now**
The small graveyard hanging atop the cliff had a unique attraction, The stone of George Ian Ramsey born in 1859, died 1840….Was this the resting place of a time lord?, Was Doctor Who actually Dr.Ramsey? I’ll let you decide.
Debating the discovery I returned to the tent to eat dinner and watch a pod of bottlenose dolphins playing in the steep waves, tomorrow was an exiting day; it was the last day I would paddle alone!
Passing Lunan bay in calmer seas I looked out to the small red walls of the same castle Fiona & I had explored just days before. At the end of the bay sand rose to steep grassy cliffs, the sea flowing in fast overfalls around the headland. Enjoying the exhilarating speed and excitement of the tide race I rounded the corner heading south once more. The coastline was a spectacular steep wall of rock, caves and small tunnels provided amusement along the way. The scenic coastline was enhanced by an escort from the dolphins I had watched the night before, periodically the pod would appear, investigate and disappear all day.
The tide was surprisingly strong and progress south was quick. For the first time I found myself reflecting on the enjoyment of solitude in paddling alone, it was both an exiting and yet strangely daunting prospect to gain company on the water. I had my own rhythm, a selfish freedom to go as fast as I wanted and to stop where I wished, I enjoyed being alone. Of course I enjoyed company even more, I had simply forgotten what it was like to paddle alongside friends. As the day grew on those doubts turned into genuine excitement.
Deep red sandstone stacks and cliffs past by with the tide. The wind died almost entirely leaving only the hiss of blowholes to fill the air as each wave lapped the rock. Sheltered inlets harboured seals and seabirds who relished the sculpted hollows on the walls. Passing the unmistakable Deils Heid a stack with a feature akin to an upset face in the rock I was re-joined by the dolphins. Waving upward to dog walkers who eagerly waved back I pointed ahead to the splashing fins with delight.
Passing the Deils Heid (Photo Jayne Gandy)
The cliffs petered back to sandy shores, pulling into a small slipway on the outskirts of Arbroath I sat on my deck to reset the map.
Taken aback I looked up bemused, had I really been recognised? Behind beaming smiles Jayne and Vic were stood in the door of their caravan. I hadn’t seen the couple since meeting them three nights in a row in the Solway firth. Their simple gesture of hiding a cup of tea in my wet gear so many months ago swam fresh in my mind. Inside the caravan with a plate full of ham sandwiches and a scalding coffee I mused what are the chances? As it turns out our meeting hadn’t been entirely co-incidence. On their holiday tour they had checked my tracker and figured out where I was likely to be, Jayne & Vic had been looking out for me. I had been spotted by Jayne as I passed The Deils Heid she had waved but enthralled in the dolphins I had missed her calls. Sharing stories of our adventures it was a wonderful way to end the solo chapter to the journey, they had been in the first week and now on my last. While I had been paddling they had been all over the country by road with just as many wonderful tales of their own.
It was with reluctance that I left the comfortable soft seats of the caravan, I had to go before the tide turned. We waved our departures and I set upon the sea once more. The warm air and still sea made for delightful kayaking along the open coast past Arbroath. I aimed to land at a small inlet in the rocky skerries at the far side of the bay, a small community known as East Haven. I had not prepared for the high tide, the rocky skerries were entirely underwater. A thin strip of sand met the shore, it was a perfect landing but unless I found the now invisible inlet I wouldn’t be able to escape the 50m of rocks in the morning. Lone rocks were hidden in the murky waters, I hit several in my search for the harbour before eventually taking a gamble and landing. Stumbling to the top of the beach I decided, “This must be it!”
Setting camp in the grassy dune atop the beach I lay out to dry and watched the sun slowly sink into the sea. In just a few hours my solitude would be over at last. . .