First Time Paddling on the Aberdeenshire Coast

Sensibly shying away from very strong winds out west led to a rapidly formulated plan B, but not disappointment. The landmass and hills between Aberdeenshire and our original planned destination tired out the winds a bit and the cliffy nature of the coastline largely sheltered us from any remaining breeze.

Two paddles on different sections of the coast, first from Cruden Bay to Boddam with an initial diversion south to Arthur’s Cave, a few kilometres south of Cruden Bay (in order to stretch out the day a bit), and second, round in the Moray Firth from Aberdour Bay west to Pennan and Gardenstown then back to start.

Cruden Bay – Suncream applied heavily, we set off under blue skies heading for skerries at the end of the bay and interest beyond which we could see on the map. A bit of swell to start made for some fun passing the skerries and negotiating channels but made a serious look beyond the entrance of the cave unwise. Turning back, we stopped at Cruden Bay and enjoyed a lunch stop beside dunes and a gorgeous blue sea – where were all the swimmers though?

Continuing on past our starting point, the focus of attention was Slains Castle sitting atop the cliffs and an RNLI lifeboat below. Soon our attention was focused on the increasingly lively seas though, swell against cliffs leads to clapotis, some of it quite chaotic but despite this we opted to stay close in and rock hop to see the cliffs and castle up close. Turns out the RNLI were training, they came to say ‘hello’ and seemed to be enjoying a stunning day out on the water as much as we were.

Interest picked up from here; caves, arches and channels and climbers above at times. Numerous havens are marked on the map and true to their name, they did offer us a bit of respite from the bouncy conditions to catch up and rest a bit.

Soon enough the lighthouse at Buchan Ness was looming large which lay just south of our end point.

Troup Head – Unbelievably, the preceding day’s paddle was probably superseded from the outset. Leaving the beach and heading round the corner, we were passing under three huge arches almost immediately. From there, caves, tunnels, more arches and long channels paved the way most of the distance to Pennan where the Pennan Inn provided a lunch stop, but sadly no Cullen Skink.

Continuing on, we were aware of time and how long all these caves etc take up when exploring but it was hard to resist the ones that followed on our way to Troup Head. Here, the interest turned from all the exploring of nooks and crannies to the bird life above and the livelier conditions below (until now just gentle swell), gannets left the colony on the cliffs to join a circling mass above us and out to sea before returning after a feed. Mesmerising to watch but made harder by the waves.

A time check had us decide to push on with the proviso that our return leg should be less exploratory and soon enough we had landed at Gardenstown. A quick cup of tea to offset the chilling wind which had picked up before leaving again. This wind and the ebbing tide, helped us along our way and we took direct paths between the headlands to speed things along.

A day which had been mostly gray with occasional drizzle, but bright, now turned to a glorious, autumnal evening, cliffs were split in two by sunlight and shadow and we did manage to re-explore some of the last section having made good time. Amazingly though, so much of what we had paddled through and under was now lying several feet above drying rock and therefore access denied to us this time.

A very bright, double rainbow finished things off as we packed up and set-off for home. Plan B had been a real eye-opener, west is not necessarily best after all.

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