East of Scotland

We have paddled for few days since Aberdeen, four to be precise. The landscape changed again. Cliffs are still a big part of the picture swapped by dunes at times, what changed significantly, are the towns.
Crossing from East Haven across the entrance into the Firth of Tay was interesting. The two long sand bars made the surf to rise significantly in otherwise calm sea. Reaching Fife on the other side brought the change in architecture. The towns started to look very European, a bit like Hanseatic Cites. It was probably caused by the narrow yet high buildings with red roofs. I wonder if also here the fishing boats came from across the North sea laden by roof tiles to ballast their boast before they exchanged it for fish.

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We crossed from St. Monans, it has very nice atmosphere, towards North Berwick. Again, from a distance the town looked like south Europe.

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The paddle past Isle of May reminded me of the information I read about it at Cape Wrath. Ships entering or passing the firth had to pay fee towards the upkeep of the lighthouse and its keeper. Alice from Tiderace sent us a text to go and visit Bass Rock. We stayed in a distance and admired the rock covered in carpet of white dots which are the gannets. No, we decided this time to paddle in peace rather than having thousand of birds flying around us.

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The day finished by a visit of an impressive historic port of Dunbar and passing two power stations.

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We now will have to tackle the dunes and sands around Holy Island. Today we also may be crossing the border, not only of another wind area on the Met Inshore weather map, but between Scotland and England. I can say now that we started our home run.
Looking back there are many places we would love to revisit in Scotland, but we really want to come back here, to the East. The human history of the place projected in its landscape draws us back. Even the little harbour, really just a tractor track in sand, of East Haven, which on the map had public convenience only, was once a thriving fishing village. The prettiness on Firth of Forth and the many distilleries of Moray Firth we had to miss will definitely see us again in the future.

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Pretty Moray Firth

Moray Firth so far has been hard from paddling point of view, but very pretty.

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The landscape reminds us of Czech Republic, fields, meadows, hills.

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What it has extra, are all these little pittoresque harbours. Only I didn’t know, we would have to visit them all.

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On the other hand our paths again made a circle, small but circle. It is interesting how this always happens, sometimes sooner, sometimes it takes few years. This one was a quick one, less than a month.

We ended the day in harbour of Cullen. When we landed, we were ment to just refresh, have lunch and continue the battle with headwind towards the next harbour. Then, Michal saw a sign for hostel.

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The wind was strong. The hostel was right next to the harbour. My boat needs little repair. We may still continue past the headland, yet, just in case, we went to check the hostel. So a little advice, if you want to continue paddle into the headwind, don’t go checking hostels.
We are not mad about them, but this one was very pretty. So here we are.

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Next thing we did, was to go for walk. Cullen has three magnificent viaducts. They are disused railway, built in 1886 century, because countess Seafield would not allow for the railway to cross grounds of her Cullen House. So great display 19th century engineering.

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We walked on top of them, above the village bellow. On the way back we found this sign.

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Now, Cullen Skink we had some time ago in Glenuig Inn on west coast. It is memorable as it is the first time we had fish soup. Cullen Skink is made of Finnan Haddock, potato, milk and onion and is really delicious. Well, now we know where it comes from and learnt thing or two about herrings and haddocks and so on. Great the headwind made us to stop here.

Moray Firth Adventure

We left Wick on Friday and made around the corner into Moray Firth. The next day we were facing a decision to cross or not to cross, or more precisely, where to cross. Plan for Saturday morning was to wake up at six, see what’s happening outside, pack as fast as we can and possibly decide to cross from Dunbeath towards Lossiemouth.
Well, already the first part of the plan failed. Michal couldn’t get up moving the alarm to later and later. So we were ready to launch at ten. By that time the fog settled and rain started, so not good crossing conditions. We started to follow the coast. We didn’t feel like crossing anyway.
However the fog lifted soon and we could clearly see the other side of Moray Firth. And so we started thinking, if we were to continue with our original plan, go to Helmsdale and cross from there, we would have to paddle everything back. Suddenly we felt like crossing, besides, the conditions seemed good, too.
We stopped at the next possible place. Had lunch, prepared data into GPS and left. It was just after one o’clock, estimated time for crossing was nine. Little bit late to land, but nothing we have not done before.
The wind started an hour into the crossing, little bit first, yet soon, it picked up and became strong side wind with fairly big waves. We carried on. After about four hours and 10 NM into the crossing we stopped to reaccess our situation. We slowed down, so now our estimated time went from five to eight hours. Quite late. Also the conditions were making it very tiring crossing. And for some reason my layer under dry cag was completely wet with no chance to change. So we decided not to continue. But we’re not very keen to paddle back either.
There was one more option of finding that Tarbat Point. The one we were heading to originally, but dismissed. Only we didn’t know we’re it was. Well, we knew roughly were it was on the map, but road maps are not great for open sea navigation; we couldn’t see it, and no, we didn’t have it in GPS. Sometimes it happens that you may think if something, dismiss it as very unlikely and regret it hugely afterwards. Before we left towards Lossiemouth, there wasn’t a reason to need Tarbat Point. Suddenly open the midlife of Moray Firth there was. We turned, following estimated bearing where we thought it may be, and decided to go for a hour, to see if we can see in open sea. Our speed thanks to the now tailwind increased to four knots.
Yes, we did see it and yes it was exactly where Michal estimated it to be.
So Lossiemouth had to wait.

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Today we left to cross towards Bourg Head. The crossing was uneventful from paddling point of view, but eventful otherwise. My mind just wasn’t up to it. And so the tempers flared and emotions were very high. I decided that that was it, and in Hopeman, the place we were actually approaching I am done. Finish. No more paddling. I was going home ( where ever that may be at he moment) and leaving for greener pastures.
We landed in Hopeman and while having coffee we checked comments on our blog. And there was this one from Ann:

“I’m not sure my husband and I would look such a happy couple if we’d kayaked half way round Britain so fantastic, You look a picture of harmony. I’m sure it’s not always thus!!”

Well, what can I say. What a coincidence. We finished coffee, got back into boats and saw this sign:

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I was so upset that someone dares to call my maximum speed Dead Slow, that I forgot about finishing today. We continued all the way to Portgordon. Which ended to be nice, calm, almost harmonious paddle.

Wick to Dunbeath

If I wasn’t seasick and desperate for the toilet I would have time to admire the magnificent cliffs and take photo of them to post it here.

Michal says there was long and gentle primary swell from behind and significant secondary swell from the left site. It was bouncing back from the cliffs providing us with clapoties from right regardless how far from them we were. With some wind waves from the front it created really confused sea state. It was the most chaotic water we have paddled so far on our trip.

Wick, old and new

Wick, discovered by the Vikings who used it as a harbour, has been administrative centre of Caithness for 500 years. Wick was a place we wanted to avoid, as there isn’t good place to camp, and we just wanted to be much further south. Besides we briefly visited Wick on Sunday with Andrew.
But mother nature had different plans for us and so here we are, in Wick. We heard about Wick as harbour in connection with the one in Staxigoe. When that became too small, Wick harbour started to be used. A quay was built in 1768 in order to promote the town as a centre for herring fishing. At the beginning of 19th century as many as 200 fishing boats were based in Wick and the annual catch had increased to 13,000 barrels of salted herring. The town was thriving, soon becoming the busiest fishing port in Britain.
In the second half of the 19 century there were 1100 herring boats operating out of the harbour and we were told that you could walked from one side of the harbour to the other without stepping into the water.
Herring fishing is seasonal business and during the summer period the population of the town would increase from 6000 to 15000 as many migrant workers, some from the western and northern isles, came in to help process and pack the fish, mend nets, and provide all the other services demanded by such a high level of economic activity.
But with the herring stock decreasing came the decline and by 1930s there were less than 30 fishing boat in the town.

Spending two days in Wick, we could see and admire its former glory.

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Wick today is very quiet, although in at its busiest times the town had 47 inns selling 800 gallons of whisky each week. This became a concern for clergymen and in 1920 licensed grocers and public houses were banned from selling alcohol. This of course lead to establishment of illegal drinking dens – Shebeens.
However local distillery, Pulteney, founded in 1826, survived and still produces its whisky.

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To put all this in perspective, Wick’s total population today is around 8,000.

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Our stroll today took us to yet another tidal pool. As we realised during this trip, these were very popular in Britain, mainly in Victorian era. This one is still used till these days and is regularly maintained and painted by “Friends of Trinkie”.

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We also had a quick glimpse at the sea and no, not a paddling day today for us.

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Turning South

This morning was calm and beautiful so knocking down our campsite and packing our boats was almost an enjoyable affair. We didn’t have to rush as flooding tide was about to start at around 10am. Having the opportunity to see the tide turning the day before did help, since it was happening more than one hour earlier than what’s written in Almanac.
Just as we were leaving the fog came, and soon the visibility was very poor. We set off and closely followed the coast hoping for the fog to clear, fortunately it did. With the fog lifting we not only saw Stroma and more of Orkney but four kayakers, too.

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Soon we were passing John O’Groats were it was a must to stop and take The photo. John O’Groats is so commercial that   you have to pay to use the toilets, we climbed under the barrier, and they serve Costa coffee, not in the toilets, of course. That one was hard, but we gave it a miss, too. Here it proofs what a hardy kayakers we became. The thing is, Natalie can really only have soya milk in her cappuccino and that has been really hard to get in those various cafes we stopped at on the way. The last soya one was at Mowgan Port! (Cornwall), so missing Costa, which serves soya was a real sacrifice. All this to save time to explore Duncansby Head. It is an amazing place full of caves, tunnels and birds.

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There we also met the same group of kayakers, they were local. We received  a recommendation from Bill to head straight for Staxigoe. Apparently a nice place where Joe camped, too, or so Bill said. With no good spot in Wick and the next one 20 km further down cliff coast we decided to see it.
He was right, slipway, picnic table, rubbish bins, flat grass, all that circumnavigators need. So late lunch became our final stop. We pitched tent, then met Bill again, he came to see us. Then we had one of the delicious cakes, thank you Andrew. Then we felt asleep, proofs how tired we were.
Yet we had to wake up from our nap and go to the house on top of the cliffs to get water. It all ended up in a nice chat with the man, we forgot to do formal introductions, but shared whisky, beer, tea and more cake. Later we met his wife, too. While we learnt about the history of the place. It used to be a first herring port in Britain. Here ships from Holland would come and bring red roof tiles (ballasting their ships) and take barrels of salted herrings back with them. We found out that not only did we have pickled herrings from jars, but that kippers are also herrings. Well, you have to learn something new every day.
In return we shared names of all the circumnavigators who may pass this place in the future, closer or distant. The people said they would be there, waiting.

Pentland Firth

We wanted to leave on Sunday. But whole night I just could not get out of my head the feeling of not going. So waking up Sunday seeing the wind was still strong and trees moving like mad, was a bit a relief. We didn’t have to go.
Andrew, who came to see us on his way back to London, and brought millions of cakes, took us on little sightseeing trip. We went to see Dunnet Head, the Merry Man of May and Duncansby Head. What we saw looked a little reassuring, we may be able to do it in similar conditions next day.
This morning we were woken up by fire alarm, fortunately a false one, burnt toast. This time it was Michal who was nervous. He doesn’t do great when nervous becoming controlling, over sensitive and needs to use bathroom more than normally. He even decided to put a dry suit on (first time since Porthscato). Still we packed quickly and caught bus to the harbour. There we had to pack all the cakes, thanks Andrew, and other lots of food in the boats. During that time we received invitation for a cup of coffee to the RNLI station, which eased our anxiety, however there we could admire many pictures of the Pentland in its full glory. Not very reassuring.

Pentland Firth in shorthand

Mist
Fog, bearing 60degrees
Sighting of Dunnet Head
Fog slowly lifting
Waves
Big waves
Stroke, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, brace, stroke
Stroke, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, brace, stroke
Stroke, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, brace, stroke
Check for Michal, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, stroke
Stroke, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, brace, stroke
Stroke, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, brace, stroke
Check for Michal, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, stroke
Stroke, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, brace, stroke
Stroke, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, brace, brace, stroke

Lighthouse, brace, brace, stroke, stroke, brace, stroke, brace
Don’t surf me, please don’t surf me, back stroke, brace, forward
Don’t surf me, please don’t surf me, back stroke, brace, forward
Don’t surf me, please don’t surf me, back stroke, brace, forward

Paddle, paddle, paddle, faster, faster, hold it hold it hold it hold it!
Ahhhhh, wee break.

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We stopped at Brought Bay. Very nice place with seals. The sun came and we could enjoy a bit of calmer sea, even went past a stack.
Later it was livened up by side wind and waves, but within reasonable limits.

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We rushed to make it through the Merry Men of May before the tide turns. We could see the huge tide race on our left. Fortunately we reached the May Point during slack and could paddle through without any dramas.
We landed in little harbour right after the point. As soon as we pulled the boats up and climbed up the cliff the tide turned and the tide race was picking up again the opposite direction.

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Glad we went today, now we know we would not like it at all yesterday. Besides now we have great camping spot under the sun with fantastic view of Orkney, Stroma, Skerries, Duncaby and Dunnet Head.

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Thurso

We have been in Thurso since Thursday afternoon. The weather forecast has been closely watched. Every evening we decided to leave the next day and every morning we decided not to go. The wind force F5 and 6 is stopping us, Enjoying coffees and cakes.

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However in the same time we closely followed John’s blog. He had similar weather to ours and still was making ant 50 miles a day. I guess being closer home helped. We are just very wary of what Pentland Firth may have in store for us.
So today again, being ready to go,we decided to stay. Andrew from London came to see us, yes all the way from London. Wow. Ok, he was on holiday in Scotland, yet still. He brought us lots and lots of cakes and offered a lift to the harbour. But remembering these words from John’s website: “I’d rather be 100% below the ‘in big poo’ line than 1% over it”. We are going to spent another day of sightseeing.

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On the other hand the time on land wasn’t wasted, what we thought was broken VHF after serious drying and charging showed to be broken battery only.

Odyssey of the North

As we have not been able to upload stuff for a while, this one is a long one. So, please, sit down comfortably, best with something to eat of drink, and enjoy!

So we were stuck for three days in the  Summer Isles (not a bad place to be stuck), staying at Port a Bhaigh campsite, near Altandhu. It’s right on a beach, it’s new, it’s cheap, it has great facilities and what’s more important for stranded circumnavigators, it has some indoor area with tables and chairs! and WiFi. Pub is just across the road, too.

But good things have to finish, and we are here to paddle and not to do hiking or backpacking or sightseeing, we had to leave on Sunday. The wind calmed down, not completely, but enough to get us moving. The morning was hard, wet and motivation had to be sought very hard.

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Passing Rubha na Coignah with its seascape and sea conditions improved the mood. Little swell was coming from north making it interesting but not worrying (always a bonus) and Michal admired the cliffs and projected many new climbing routes.
But then it stopped raining, the sun came and we couldn’t complain anymore. The paddle towards the Point of Stoer was spectacular. And with the lifting clouds our spirits lifted, too and we ended up making up stories and parodies about the whole Czech paddling community. Not all of them were negative, some were even funny. We made few songs. Sadly we can’t really share any of this as it was all in Czech, made sense only to those who have spent 80 days paddling together, the perspective of normality may be a little distorted, and besides we don’t remember any of them anymore.

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We decided against going inside the bay between Old Man of Stoer and Handa Island. We may have missed some nice sights, but we’re awarded with a beautiful panoramic views of mountains of Assynt and Reay Forest. We also remembered John’s posts from his time here, at the end of April, about seeing snow on the tops. It must have been really spectacular as already we could not get enough of the view in the evening sun. We wanted to paddle longer but shining sandy beach on Handa Island made the decision for us.

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Monday was an important day. It was the day. Conditions were perfect, calm sea, no wind, just the midges! One can never be pleased.
When we set of on this journey I wasn’t sure how far we would get. The goal was clear, come back to London, but how and from where was unclear. Originally I was only on the way to Brighton as thinking of the whole distance just made me scared and uneasy. Then it was Cornwall, Wales was kind of never in the picture, but I wished to make it to Scotland. The thought of rounding Cape Wrath was sending shivers down my spine, but one little dream was there. As always it evolved around food, I don’t need much in terms of extrinsic motivators. So before we left, I sent our poster to Ozone Cafe at the Cape Wrath Lighthouse and decided to go there for coffee.

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We chose the right day for the paddle. The coast and views around the cape were just fantastic. Now, I have to admit, we did one little thing. We did not go around the mainland there under the lighthouse, we went through a cave. We just couldn’t resist, we are convinced that not many people have had the opportunity to do this, considering the often conditions. But, to make up for it, you are invited on a little Cape Wrath and north west corner taster.

Then it was time to kill the dream. We landed at jetty, changed and walked the three kilometres to the lighthouse. After much ringing and looking around Kay Ure came and we could have the coffee and something to eat. We told her about our journey and received a magnet for our effort, it will go onto our fridge.
The whole Cape Wrath experience was interesting, the place is so remote, the landscape looks completely different to what we imagined while paddling under the cliffs. While we walked, we could see the peat being dug everywhere for years.
Michal was delighted, too. Not from the food or coffee or walk, but the view. He couldn’t get enough of the Hebridies, the Rhona, the Orkneys and something else. Apparently there was a big blue and silver nothing with small dark blue bumps. It all started on the left with Harris and Lewis, then there was North Rhona, then Sule Skerry and Orkney far right. It has made him unbelievably happy, still.

That day we finished in Kearvaig bay and the bothy there. It is owned by MoD and in the middle of firing range, but apparently people are save there. The bothy was the nicest from all three we have seen so far. Definitely worth the trip.

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Tuesday morning started as a wet day, of which Michal said to be a dry suit day. But since those were in boats on the beach, we ignored that and got ready in our trousers and cags.
On the beach we were met by “There will be tears” type of dumping waves. And sure, there were tears. I just don’t like dumping waves. And little while later we finally left, me changed into dry drysuit, wet cag and trousers in the hatch.
That day we passed the highest cliffs on the mainland, Clo Mor, 281m high, but they did not look like it. They are on that clip, too. At the end of them was a small island, An Garbh-eilean, used as shooting target, but fishing boats and yacht made us confident that there would be none of it that day.

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Our next stop was Durness. We hoped to get some WiFi or 3G and lunch. No such luck. The pub we visited wasn’t a place where people should go for food. From the menu pie and chips looked as the safest option. So we decided to try John’s diet and went for it. Well, we survived. On the other hand they had Czech beer, Kozel, served by Czech waiter with whom we had long chat. He (we forgot to ask his name) told us about fishing and surfing and climbing in Durness, we told him about our paddling, surfing and climbing in Cornwall. A typical Czech conversation. The pub’s name was Sango Sands Oasis, well the only oasis there was the beach itself.

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The pie and chips, although disgusting, gave us enough energy to paddle and paddle and paddle till sunset at 11pm. I know now, why John called his journey a Pie and Chips Tour.
There was big, long swell which gently lifted us up and down. It was cool, till I realised that us and the swell were heading towards the same bay. We didn’t have a map of the area apart from our road atlas page, but managed to find a reasonable sheltered cove to land and camp. Landing so late has one disadvantage, too late to cook.

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Wednesday morning saw us up at six. There was a tide to be caught to go around the Strathy Point. The conditions were not lady friendly, so we had to land before rounding the point and crossing across the bay. Yet again this need brought us to a wonderful place.
There was also a sheep on the cliff ledge, but we didn’t know how to save her. Do they swim? Can you tow them behind your kayak or do you put them on top of the kayak? Where do you report this? Do we report it to the coast guard? As in “Aberdeen coastguard, Aberdeen coastguard, Aberdeen coastguard. This is homeseahome kayak. There is a sheep stuck on the rock. Over”? Well, we decided to report it on police station or ask at post office (they usually know everything) in first village, only there were none that day.

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During the crossing towards Ushat Head the headwind came and picked up. And so we were diverted inshore, soon I needed to stop, stop as soon as possible, we ended up having a lunch break right in front of the Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment. From there we just fought the wind till we found a suitable place where to stop. No Thurso for us, yet.
We paddled around cliffs made of Caithness Flag stone. The place we found sounded romantic on the map, Brims Castle. Well there was a ruin, the castle was long ago turned into a farm, and a little bay to land safely. The smell greeted us on our arrival. When we came closer all we could see was lots of rotten seaweed between the sea and shore. And it was deep, too. On the other hand, once we managed to get through it, getting the boats to the shore was quite easy, no heavy lifting required.

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Today we were lucky that the wind wasn’t too strong in the morning and we set off towards Thurso. It was only 5 NM but with the wind already F5 ESE, it was a hard work. But we still found time to enjoy and explore the cliffs, in the end there and now they gave us little shelter. We finished at Scrabster. It has a harbour and we decided it may be easier to leave our kayaks there than in Thurso. We were right, the Harbour Master let us to leave them behind his office. We then packed essentials and took a bus to Thurso to stay under a roof as the forecasted wind for the next day or two is not suitable for us to tackle Pentland Firth.

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