Thursday, February 26, 2015

Return to the North Sea...journey through the earth, the sea casting its spell.

It's an extraordinary planet we share, and how wonderful to get to know it better.

For several years now, we've walked above the Arbroath cliffs, on the east coast of Scotland, and marvelled at the sculptured red sandstone that built the abbeys, churches, and homes in Angus. It sparks the imagination to realise that during the Devonian period, some 400 million years ago, this part of Scotland was located below the equator. It was during that time and in that place, the warm waters of ancient rivers flowed across the landscape, depositing the sands that are now preserved as rock.

Unimaginable time passed, and through movement in the crust, the land was transported north. Glacial ice covered modern day Scotland, numerous times, the weight of thousands of feet of heavy ice pressing the country into the the molten rock below the crust. The last of these glaciers melted only 10,000 years ago and the earth is still rebounding in places, rising back up again through a process known as isostatic rebound. What was once sand, carried by rivers in the distant past, are now the cliffs we walk along.

These same cliffs are now subject to the immense energy of the North Sea's storm-created waves.

On this day, from the kayak cockpits, we watched the sea continue to shape and form this ancient rock. It's possible to see, almost in real time, what is happening. It is not mysterious at all.

One of the caves we entered presented a startling surprise. There was "light at  the end of the tunnel", but more than was a passageway to a quiet and hidden world - hidden from both land and sea.

We had entered into cavernous darkness from the sea, and found a brightly lit exit...into a deep crater. It was as if we had been transported through time to another place altogether.  

There was an eerie silence as the bow of my kayak glided towards the pebbles of a tiny, secret, "underground" beach. I wondered if I should quit this exploration while still free to paddle back to the safety of the sea behind...but curiosity, and the bright sun, warming the sides of this massive hole in the earth, were like a siren song, a temptress. 

Would I be lured on by these beautiful "voices" that called out? Joan was still in the darkness of the cavern, but not far away. Unable to resist, I succumbed to the call. Releasing the sprayskirt, I exited the kayak, and stepped tentatively onto the beach.

The air was still, and very warm, much warmer than "outside", on the sea. Imagination running wild, I felt separated from all reality. Would prehistoric, flying pterosaurs descend from these lonely skies, and carry me away to a nest, tucked somewhere into the sandstone crevices? Would I ever see Joan again? Surely, she was still nearby, in the darkness.

It's possible for the imagination to run wild in such places! It felt good to be a child again. :)

The coastal landscape that we were so enjoying is sculpted and shaped by the forces of the sea and weathering. The place where we entered the double-ended cave in our kayaks was once the face of a sandstone cliff. Waves battered that rock cliff, day and night for thousands of years. The water would have discovered a zone of weakness in the sandstone. Perhaps it first entered a tiny crack, creating a larger cavity by the hydraulic forces of the persistent waves. The water continued to push back, into the rock, creating a deeper and deeper cavity, and then a cave by mechanical erosion. 

At some point, on its inland journey, the water may have been forced upwards through a vertical shaft, creating a blow hole, and weakening the roof of the cave. Over untold centuries, or even in a single moment of time, the roof collapsed, leaving a massive crater and a view of the sea rushing up and onto a newly created shore, far from the "sea" shore...and under what one day would be a farmer's field of brussels sprouts.

We had found the Gaylet Pot, a "gloup", a collapsed cave, just a few kilometres from Auchmithie. Several days later, we would return, by land, and traverse the farmer's field to look into it from the top.

It was on this little beach, way down below, that my sea kayak rested, while I explored. On this day, there was significant swell that would have prevented entry.

There was only another hour until sunset, but sufficient time to return to the launch site. 

A sandstone face, carved by the elements, stared beyond the Deil's Heid, and out to the vast sea.

We paddled homewards, still spellbound, by it all. Jacques is correct...

The sea, once it casts its spell, 
holds one in its net of wonder forever.
- Jacques Yves Cousteau


  1. Magical place Duncan :o)

    Warm wishes

    1. Magical, indeed, as you well know, Ian. A possible paddle for the posse to tick off this summer? Warm wishes. Duncan.

  2. So Incredible is this planet we call home! I still can't figure out how we never saw it on the many times we walked the cliff trail. There must be a pathway to it as I'm sure many others go and check it out from above....ah well time. Thanks for posting all the pictures of this beautiful day on the water.

    1. Hi Linda, yes you are so right. I don't know how we missed it either. I guess we were having too much fun and not paying attention! ;) There is a path but it's really only possible to use it when there are no crops in the field. There would have been no trace in the summer. Next time, for sure! That's a promise. Warm wishes. Duncan.

  3. What a great spot to find Duncan. There is something similar on the Solway called the Bogle Hole. I paddled past it at least 10 times before I found it on a calm day.:o)

  4. Hi Douglas, many thanks for that. As I've shared with you, the Solway Firth (Silloth) is my late mum's part of the country - we'll have to check into the paddling one day. Although I know it requires extra caution. Warm wishes to you. Duncan.