Thursday, July 17, 2014

Puffins, caves, tides, and dolphins...and the long-lost piper?

Sandstone and seabirds.
Nearing Arbroath, we turned around and enjoyed the warm sun on our backs for the return leg to Auchmithie. Last autumn, we stayed in a self-catering flat in Arbroath and frequently witnessed the power of the North Sea waves as they released their immense energy against the sea walls and cliffs.

On this day, the sea state was benign and welcoming. We are always, after all, "guests" here. Passage in such narrow boats is granted only when wind and waves permit. Conditions are dynamic, change is normal, and nothing is ever taken for granted.

The cliffs are home to numerous colonies of sea birds - herring gulls, fulmars, kittiwakes, rock doves, and puffins. Their habitation is well "marked". We wondered if even the driving rain of north-easterly winter storms could wash these cliffs clean?

Cliff dwellers with an amazing sea view!
Did you know that puffins sometimes make a "purring" sound when they fly? In their burrow, on land, they make a sound like a revving chainsaw! Most impressive!

The handsome fellow, who paddled along with us on the water, spoke with a delightful Scottish accent. We asked him to demonstrate his "chainsaw" voice. He just winked, and paddled on. ;)

Puffin in a trough!
(Canadian connection: The Atlantic Puffin is the provincial bird
 of Newfoundland and Labrador)
At high tide, countless passages between the rocks are open. A game of "follow the leader" could not be resisted.

There would be no entry here at low tide.
For three years, we've gazed upon the "Deil's Heid" ("Devil's Head"), from the path along the top of the cliffs. This time, the view of the impressive sea stack was from the water. Rock climbers will be interested to know that a route up its seaward face was first accomplished in the seventies.

The "Deil's Heid".
An eroded arch at the south end of Carlingheugh Bay marks the trail down to a marvellous pebble beach. It's a great place to discover tiny pieces of sea glass, the frosted shards of glass, now weathered by tides and waves and the chemical processes of sea water.

The arch at the south end of Carlingheugh Bay.
The Forbidden Caves are tucked into the cliffs at the north end of the beach. Smugglers once hid out in these caves - there would be stories to tell! There is also an account of a piper and his wife who once ventured in, "regardless of the prejudice about entering its precincts". They never returned.

At low tide, we entered one of the caves a few weeks ago with a friend from Vancouver Island. She ventured further in than we did. Happily, she did return. :)

Listening very, very carefully...was it possible to hear the faint sound of bagpipes, deep within the cave? After all these years? Could it possibly have been...the lost piper?

Yours truly, inside Forbidden Cave, several weeks ago.
(Image, courtesy of Linda.)
Paddling back, along the caves, we came upon a couple of individuals "perched" on the rocks outside the mouth of one of the caves. It was immediately clear that their route back to the beach had been cut off by the high tide. This very scenario has resulted in many lives lost over the years.

They were, however, fine and in good spirits, although clearly appreciative to see someone! Had the seas been stormy, they would have had good reason to be very anxious. The tide was now going out and soon they would be able to retrace their steps back to the beach. Sea caves and tide tables make for very good mates in these parts.

Joan, sharing the water with some friends.
Just to the north of Auchmithie, there is another eroded arch in the sandstone. It's really quite surreal to occupy the same space that rock once did. Did this sculpture take hundreds of thousands of years to form? Millions? Tens of millions? We human beings are here for such a short time on this planet. Every moment is so brief...and so precious. Why is that so hard to remember?

Paddling through "time".
It had been a very good day on the water and there was a reluctance to return to the launch spot. Paddling well out from the shore, to prolong our loop back to Auchmithie, there was a suddenly a startling "chuff"! A dorsal fin and a sleek black-silvery-shiny body surfaced and was quickly sliding, soundlessly, back into the water - only a few metres away. Dolphins!

It was delightfully surprising...completely amazing, and so very beautiful. The camera, of course, had been zipped securely back into the pocket of the PFD in preparation for returning to the harbour. By the time the overly-excited and fumbling fingers began to actually function together in a meaningful way, the pair of dolphins had moved away.

We did get a couple of images, quickly snapped by excited hands. It was more important, however, to take a deep breath and simply enjoy the experience of sharing time and space with these marvellous creatures. They demonstrated such grace and beauty. They seemed happy to share their world. We posed no threat to one another. Perhaps they even gave an affirming nod to the sleek lines of our tiny, seagoing vessels.

Cropped images of Auchmithie and two transient companions.
We felt most fortunate indeed, for this gentle encounter with nature.

Returning to the harbour, there was one more surprise, this time on the grassy bank above the shoreline. There had been the faint sound of the pipes, while watching the dolphins. It must have been our imagination?

It wasn't. There, by the ruined harbour, was a piper, playing his heart out. A young woman sat nearby. The emotion-filled tune felt as timeless and ancient as the sandstone cliffs before him.

Could this have been the same piper and his wife, long lost in the Forbidden Caves of the 400 million-year-old sandstone cliffs? After all...

"Everything you can imagine, is real"
- Pablo Picasso

Maybe, just maybe. :)


  1. What a simply beautiful amazing day on the water to experience. Such unique creatures and land, you're very blessed to have such adventures. Continue to enjoy!

    1. Thanks for that, L. You'll recognise that the arch, on the south end of Carlingheugh Beach, is where you bravely swam in the North Sea, much to the delight of the two OAPs! Looks cool from the water side, eh? :) Warm wishes. D.

  2. Fabulous, just fabulous :o) What a cracking paddle that looks - and Dolphins as a special bonus! Great stuff...

    Best wishes

    1. Hi Ian, it was indeed a cracking paddle! :) We've discerned four good launch spots from Auchmithie to Broughty Ferry so hopefully some day we'll all get out there. Warm wishes to you. Duncan.