Monday, July 27, 2015

Rock hopping the delightful and sublime mysteries...of castles and caves.

Rock hopping: close quarter paddling amidst rocks and skerries, weaving and manoeuvring through narrow passages and caves.

Castles: large buildings, usually very old, strongly fortified against attack, with thick walls, battlements, and towers.

Caves: hollow or natural passages under or into the earth.

One of the perks of sea kayaking in the "old world", is that it's not unusual to find oneself paddling through history. Anything can appear around a headland...such as a medieval castle, or an ancient cave.

Some castles are fully intact and even occupied, others are in ruins, a magical shadow of a mystery-filled past glory. Findlater Castle is one such castle that occupies a lonely and rugged promontory, near the village of Sandend, on the Moray Firth.

The clifftop ruins date back to 1450 but incorporate earlier works dating back to as early as 1246. (The parish church that I currently serve, arguably one of the most historic Romanesque / Norman buildings in the UK, was built between 1183-1187 and is still in use!)

The Vikings occupied the site for a time but very little appears to be known about that period of the castle's history.

The remains that can be seen from the kayak cockpit, are thought to have been built by Sir Walter Ogilvy. 

In 1560, the castle was passed on to Sir John Gordon, son of the 4th Earl of Huntly. The real estate market must have been hot, the castle was returned to the Ogilvy family in the early 1600's. They then opted for more upscale and modern digs in Cullen. Perhaps the need to "keep up with the Joneses" has been around for some time!

A little rock hopping, in the gentle swell...

...takes the paddler to the next stop, a most inviting and intriguing gully, between steep cliffs.

The high and precipitous walls are home to a community of birds, nestled comfortably into the nooks and crannies.

Nearing the end of the breeding season, they seemed so a peace and at ease with one another, and the two curious sea kayakers below...

...who were about to glide through a natural passage in the headland, and then back to the vast expanse of the North Sea.

It is always a surreal thrill that is granted by Mother be permitted to pass through the cliff walls.

Inside the earth, there is a coolness and a silence, a comfortable and peaceful eeriness that bids welcome to the paddlers of narrow boats...but only on certain days when the capricious and unforgiving sea permits. 

In these brief moments, between sea surface and cavern ceiling, time pauses.

And then we are released, gliding back into the sunshine...emerging almost reluctantly. 

For these moments and places are both precious and rare.

Mystery is a wonderful thing. It can be birthed in the ancient and crumbling ruins of a once fortified building, high on a cliff. It can come to life in a dimly lit space, inside the earth, created by tens of thousands of years of waves and tides.

The mystery of objects and places such as castles and caves can as delightful and sublime as anything else in the world. Both could tell a thousand thousand stories from their static place on the land and seascape.

Rock hopping the North Sea certainly can...well, rock. :)


  1. Hi Duncan, You remind me how much I love a good mystery! When I was young, the idea of coming upon an ancient castle would give me goose pimples - it still does! :>) Thank you for the reminder that mystery still exists, and that it's OK to get goose pimples at the thought of all the stories the castle walls could tell! Cheers. Gen.

    1. Hi Gen, thank you for that. I know what you mean. The "child" within me gets excited thinking about what life must have been like, centuries ago, when such places bustled with activity. Castles are rather magical...I think for folks at all ages. :) Good to hear from you. Warm wishes. Duncan.

  2. Looks like you had a great day's weather D & J; I'm so pleased you found the cave-tunnel again :-) Did you manage to find he passage back behind the cliffs towards Sandend?

    Caves, birds, beaches and castles - it's hard to beat!

    warm wishes

    1. It's very hard to beat, Ian, but I know you'll have some good thoughts about just how to do that. :) I don't think we did find that passage. I have one more instalment to come. Thanks so much for introducing us to that wonderful coast. Warm wishes. Duncan.

  3. What a great trip and stunning photos Duncan. I do hope the weather picks up soon. On the Solway we have had day after day of F5-7 winds. I have even managed 2 days windsurfing, the first times for over 6 years when I had my knee accident.Douglas :o)

    1. Hi Douglas, great to hear from you. It was, indeed, a great trip. Unfortunately I've injured my wrist since's getting better, thankfully. :) But the weather would have made another such paddle unlikely. We having the same winds here on the east coast. Soon...we hope. I'll send you a note. Warmest wishes from us both. Duncan.