Saturday, July 26, 2014

Apparitions and "gloups"...a subterranean paddle through the mists of time.

Into the mist, from the ruins of Arbroath Harbour.
Back home, the sun was blazing in the clear skies. The temperature was unseasonably hot for this part of Scotland. 19.2 miles to the east, it was much cooler and the meeting of the chilly North Sea waters and the summer air were creating foggy conditions along the Arbroath cliffs. There was hardly a breath of air. The sea was unusually calm - a perfect day to be on the water.

Leaving the harbour at Auchmithie, a sandstone headland that overlooks Castlesea Bay draws the eye - the site of an Iron Age defensive fort, known as Lud Castle. A narrow spur or "neck" of land connects it to the mainland proper.

Gliding beneath what was once an ancient fort some 2000+ years ago, in a narrow craft whose essential design is possibly 5000 years old, gives one a perspective on the passage of time. My sleek new kayak, a red Valley Etain 17.5, has significantly older roots than the "blueprints" of an ancient hill fort. Imagine. A case could easily be made that our tiny, one-person vessels are "pre-historic", at least in design.

The site of Lud Castle, an ancient promontory fort...
and a narrow vessel with a history, twice as long.
On this day, the North Sea was relaxed, as if in a pensive mood, even moody. Perhaps it was contemplating the violent, wind-whipped, winter storms it will have to accommodate in just a few short months. Its silky surface parted cleanly and effortlessly as we paddled along the cliffs and around skerries.

"Skerry" is an Old Norse word that means "a rock in the sea" - and that's exactly what they are. Massive skerries or reefs, such as the nearby Bell Rock require lighthouses. Even these tiny ones, when submerged, require a vigilant eye for breaking water.

Around the skerry.
A small pod of five dolphins passed by going in the other direction. It was all rather magical.

Dolphins and sea birds.
Approaching the dark form of the Deil's Heid, we saw, in the distance, a ghostly apparition coming towards us, out of the mist. Could it be? Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "ancient mariner"?

"A speck, a mist, a shape, I wist!
And still it neared and neared:
As if it dodged a water-sprite,
It plunged and tacked and veered."

"Someone" on the horizon?
As we paddled along, we were clearly on a "confliction" course...but it was by mutual design.

A fellow mariner!
It was a serendipitous encounter on the sea - three paddlers, two in kayaks and one on a SUP board. It was enjoyable to share a few moments together on the gentle swell. Can't imagine where the paddling fisherman was going. Auchmithie? Points north?

The passing "fisher" on a SUP.
Wishing each other well, we parted company, the "ancient" mariner to the north, and we to the south.

For several years, we've walked along the narrow clifftop path, around the deeply cut inlet, Dickmont's Den. Looking down, we had imagined what it would be like to be at sea level in this great chasm, a haunt of 17th and 18th century smugglers.

Dickmont's Den, from the path on another day.

Paddling into the "Den", the sandstone cliffs rising on either side, was exhilarating. Mixed with the screeching of sea birds was the deep sound of the sea's slow "breathing". It came from deep inside a dark cleft in the rock wall. This planet is so very much alive.

Inside Dickmont's Den, looking out.
There was one more place to explore before returning to the old harbour. A dark and broad opening in the sandstone cliffs invited, at the very least, "closer" investigation. Was this an invitation to the curious...or the foolish? The sea was calm, the tide was sufficiently high. The slight swell did not indicate any submerged obstacles at our minimal draught.

Tentative paddle strokes into the darkness.
Drifting into the entrance of the cavern, it quickly became eerily quiet. 

The mouth of the cavern.
It was very dark. Water dripped from the roof of the cavern. It was easy to wonder what else might be lurking in there - above or below us. A slight chill ran down my spine. Nothing like a vivid imagination. We were gently rising and falling in a subterranean world.

Paddling inside the earth...literally.
There was light at the end of the cavern...but we had not seen any exit on the other side of the headland. How could light possible penetrate? From above? But how?

Shaft of light from "above".
We sat in our boats, trying to take in all in. Time seemed to slow down, even stop. It was another realm, neither land nor sea. The tide was beginning to fall. We elected to have a closer study of the charts and maps from the less-mysterious comfort of home.

Paddling back to the mouth of the cavern and to the screeching sounds of hundreds of sea birds, we felt that we had been permitted a unique glimpse of nature's handiwork. It had been from inside the earth and through the mists of unfathomable time. 

We are always deeply grateful for such opportunities. A new "connection" was made to the planet that was both stirring and deeply emotional, on so many levels.

Back into the the "beginning of the tunnel".
Later, after checking the maps, the cavern certainly did appear to lead to the giant blowhole, the Gaylet Pot. We must have walked by it, on the trail above the cliffs, countless times - and never noticed it. Formed by the collapse of a sea cave, it's located in the middle of a farmer's field. It was astonishing. We'd been 300 feet inland, and 150 feet below a farmer's field - in sea kayaks.

It is this giant "gloup", or hole in the earth, that permits the sun to shine through to the end of the sea cave. Through tens of millions of years, the cave has grown landwards and into a vertical shaft...and into the rays of the sun. A thrilling account of how stormy seas can penetrate this shaft and rise high into the air, can be found here

Apparitions, "ancient mariners", smuggler's coves, caverns, and gloups - another routine day, paddling on the North Sea, between Auchmithie and Arbroath. ;)


  1. Beauty of a cathedral you have there in scotland Duncan and Joan!

    1. Haha! Thanks for that, Lee. It's certainly "built" to last an eternity! A little "out of the way" though to draw a large, regular congregation. ;) Warm wishes to you. Duncan.

  2. Right you two, that's settled it..... when can we do this paddle?!

    Wonderful stuff - and do I detect some new boat decals there? :o)

    Warm wishes

    1. Monday sounds great, Ian! :) Decals? Yes, I have a bit of a problem with such things - can't get enough of them. Haha! I've shown restraint - a couple of Celtic circles and and pair of dolphins. Seemed only appropriate. :) Warm wishes to you and Linda. Duncan.