A Brief Taster of Mainland Scotland’s North East Coast

Plan B, or was it C (B having been dropped almost immediately), was to seek shelter from Hurricane Bertha’s leftovers on Scotland’s north east coast with a final destination on the west coast. Something that involved some hasty map printing and planning at the last minute, but it looked like a worthwhile alternative.

After a real drenching as we wrestled gear and food in to our boats, we set off past moored oil rigs, under grey, but drier skies and enjoyed the sheltering effect of the cliffs just outside Cromarty all the way up to our first camp a couple of hours north, by Shandwick.

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Next day, after again being largely sheltered, we had our first taste of the strength of the winds when we rounded the headland, Tarbat Ness. There was little chance of crossing direct to Brora or Helmsdale in such winds, so we hugged the west side of the peninsula, ending up at Portmahomack for the evening after a shorter, but harder day than expected.

Rejuvenated by an easy afternoon and evening, we set off through cold, splashy surf, retracing our way back up towards Tarbat Ness where we set off on our three hour crossing north to Helsmdale. Winds were kinder than on the day before, but it was still quite bouncy and just as we were short of arrival in the town, which had been looking comparatively warm and sun-kissed, a squally shower unleashed itself on us, albeit briefly, chilling us a bit. Soup and coffee soon warmed us though and then we were off again up the coast to camp at a basic site with … hot water. Lashings and lashings of the stuff, followed by sunshine and dinner. Perfect!

We rose to greyness, but thankfully it was dry – the memories of our first launch were still raw – and soon we were heading to Brora for with breakfast and coffee firmly on the agenda. A nice little town, we were soon indulging ourselves to good coffee and hot rolls and chatting with others on their own journeys north, one by bike, the other a mix of walking and paddling, carrying a pakraft along with all his other gear on his back.

Breakfast over, we were in for the most scenic leg of our mini-trip. For the rest of the day, we paddled alongside, below and through stunning cliff scenery; stacs, caves and arches all dotted with numerous birds and seals aplenty too, plus a huge waterfall plummeting directly on to the sea (and us). Slow, but enjoyable progress as we enjoyed the scenery, ending with our arrival in the picturesque little village of Dunbeath where we were to spend the night camping and socialising.

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Continuing winds and swell forecasts for the north coast stopped us in our tracks at this point, after three and a half days on the water, but that small taster of these parts really whetted the appetite for a return visit some time in the future. In the meantime though, and after an enjoyable wander up Dubeath Strath and a visit to the village museum, the west coast beckoned (by car) and the search for anywhere suitable to do some paddling.

Dunbeath Broch

Dunbeath Broch

Dunbeath Water

Dunbeath Water

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