Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Big Paddle. Turning South

It was late afternoon in John O'Groats and I had only a short distance, about 2 km, to go to reach my planned camp. Looking out to sea I very suddenly became aware of the Boars of Duncansby. This is a fairly notorious tidal feature, one of very few named on Ordnance Survey maps (the only other I know of being the Corryvreckan Whirlpool).
A visit to the Boars looks both very exciting and a shortcut to Norway.

They did look quite far out to sea, though, and I didn't think they would bother me much. There is, however, a small headland just to the east of J o' G. The tide was moving round this very quickly and for a short spell I was dodging rocks at about 15 mph and paddling hard to avoid being pulled further out to sea. Suddenly the Boars seemed quite close! Luckily this didn't last long, and I soon had a good camp within walking distance of the pub, which was full of cyclists celebrating the end of their journeys.

The following morning I rose early to catch what I hoped would be a big tide to carry me a long way south. In a few minutes I was racing round Duncansby Head, the most north easterly point of the Scottish mainland. I then seemed to come to a standstill. I presume this was due to a massive tidal eddy, but the upshot was a couple of hours of very strenuous paddling to gain only a short distance.
The north east coast doesn't seem to get a lot of mention in the paddling press, but in many ways is very spectacular. There are massive geological features, and the birdlife is more abundant than in any other place I have visited, other than St Kilda. It's very hard to capture this in photographs, particularly paddling solo.
It is also potentially a very serious place to go paddling. I was fortunate to have calm weather for several days, as there are long stretches where landing could be impossible in rough weather.

My first camp on this coast was in Sarclet bay, once a herring fishery harbour. This is one of the easier places to land!

Further south the landscape softens a bit. Dunbeath was a more relaxing spot to stop.

This seems to have been a bad year for sea bird breeding, but the sea and cliffs of this area were teeming with guillemots, razorbills and puffins. They seem to find kayaks fairly unthreatening, and it is easy to get close.

Four days from John O' Groats I hove into Dornoch. I was badly in need of a rest, having not had a day off since Ullapool. The campsite was remarkably pleasant for a large commercial site full of residential homes, and the owner went out of his way to find me a spot as close to the beach as possible. It was still a carry of about 400 yards, however, and that night I was exhausted.

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