Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Big Paddle. The North

The family left me at Durness, and I set off again straight away. A day's rest would have been good, but the weather was fair and I wanted to press on to reach the Pentland Firth before the biggest of spring tides. I was feeling a bit low, despite the spectacular scenery. Partly it was being on my own again, partly it was the anticlimax of having just completed an astonishing week which I didn't think could be bettered. In his one week holiday, Angus had done five of the routes in the "Scottish Sea Kayaking, Fifty Great Voyages" book.
A fine island campsite with a glowing sunset helped.

The north and north east coasts are full of caves and rock features. This is possibly the most wonderful part of the coast to go exploring by kayak. Journeying along, I passed more caves than I had ever seen in my life before, but there was only time to go into a fraction of them.

Strathy Point is a grand headland, but as I turned round it I had my first glimpse of Dounreay's nuclear golf ball and the vast windfarms close to Thurso. This dampened my mood even more, as it seemed that my camp in the Melvich dunes, with their view to the Orkneys, was to be the last in the truly wild parts of Scotland. The scenes of the following day were very contrasting.

Just outside Thurso I turned to pass inside a sea stack. Suddenly my stern rose and for a brief moment I thought I was going to be surfed into the rock wall in front of me. Then nothing happened. It was, in fact, an optical illusion produced by the sloping strata of the rock. The water in the channel appeared to be on a slope. Just another bit of the strange geology around here. The rocks have historically been good for making flagstones.

In search of a shower, I took a long detour into the Dunnet Bay campsite. This turned out to be quite posh, and my wee tent was rather lost among the camper vans. It did make a change to be one of the youngest people on the site, though. I had a look in the cemetery of the old church close by. Disconcertingly, a lot of the folk there had been drowned at sea.

Dunnet Bay was nicely placed for entering the Pentland Firth with a following tide. This swept me down to John O'Groats, where the compulsory photograph had to be taken. The place was hooching with cyclists, and I seemed to be the only person not dressed in lycra.

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