Apocalypse Then

Day 44 - -Stonehaven to Port Erroll – 3rd July – 31.8 nm

07:30 on the water again; it’s a bit of a drag struggling out of a warm maggot so early, but once the boat leaves the beach a slightly smug feeling develops as I get started before the world or wind-gods awake.

Out of Stonehaven paddling on an oily calm under clear skies, there’s a lazy swell but that’s all – a nice start to the day.

The tide is running and the low, green cliffs slide by peacefully – the map displays some intriguing location names: Tilly Tenant, Grim Brigs, Brown Jewel, Through Gang Point, Arnot Boo and the best of all – Blowup Nose. It’s a pleasant and uneventful paddle, and I'm happy about that.

I clear Girdle Ness on a food-break drift, but my laziness is spotted by Team Manager and I receive a quick ‘morale-boosting’ call to ‘help’ me on my way. Next I have to work my way through the fleet of moored platform support vessels. I'm slightly on edge as some seem to hold position without anchors – so there is little warning when they decide it’s time to suddenly head in to Aberdeen for a brew. The last time I crossed here I was impressed by, and eventually weary of, the number of helicopter movements. There was a constant thrumming beat in the air – Apocalypse Now. Today the skies are much quieter, just the odd cab heading east to make a black-gold shift change. The price of oil is low now – Apocalypse Then perhaps?

Back to reality: the sun is still out, but the tide is starting to fade now, it’s another split-shift day of course. Just ahead lies the Black Dog Range, it’s not a big one, only just over a mile wide but I can’t make out the buoys on the far side. In fact I can’t see anything on the far side; everything lies hidden beneath a great example of a North Sea Haar. The fog starts in a perfectly vertical grey wall, it creeps slowly and slightly ominously towards me. It reminds of the sort of film where nothing good comes of the variously hapless characters. 

I reckon if I can’t see the edge of the range then the chaps with guns can’t either – it’s nearly Friday lunchtime anyway, they’ll all have nobbed off home by now. I head in towards Balmedie, where the plan is to sit out the tide for a few hours in the country park.

I disappear into the chilly fog, it’s strangely choppy and breezy inside, outside it was a still calm – a sudden and slightly unnerving contrast. Balmedie lies behind a long featureless beach according to the map. Visibility is down to less than 100m now, if we don’t get this right I can see a comedy afternoon as Team Manager and Fatboy stumble around in the fog inadvertently avoiding each other for a few hours. ‘Excuse me. Have you seen a guy dragging a kayak on a trolley – a grumpy and soggy looking guy?’

 A quick call and the brief is for Team Manager to stand at the end of the stream, while my end of the bargain is just to get my act together and find it. I sneak through a premature sand bar of surf and then hit the beach just a few metres to the side of the stream (got to handrail you see?), at the feet of Team Manager – she’s well impressed! Thank-you Mr Garmin.

We haul the boat past the burnt-out shell of a Fiesta, a nice beach decoration, and then along a convoluted walkway to the van. We sit out the afternoon accompanied by the coming and going of a wide-ranging selection of society. Some of them are a little unnerving. I enjoy people watching now and then, but I’d rather be watching some of this lot through binoculars at least. Later on, entertainment is provided by Aberdeen’s Formula One Branch as they race around the car park. It's impressive how much effort they put into scaring grannies and trying to kill kiddies on bikes.

Eventually the tide has turned and we watch the country park flag stream as the wind increases. I head slowly down to the beach, if I move slowly enough it might all go away. I hope the wind will shift the fog, but no such look, I head out into the unknown.

There’s a bit more swell now and the S wind makes a splashy chop. It’s rather unnerving to have no visual cues at all, even with the compass and GPS I find it a struggle to maintain my heading as I zig-zag my way northward.

With the sandy beach somewhere on my left the conditions are not a problem. After Newburgh the map shows a low rocky coastline and things chop up a little, but it’s ok.  A little later things start to become more confused, the map shows cliffs along the edge and I guess the swell is rebounding out. The foggy zig-zags are becoming more pronounced now, as the boat sneakily turns to match the sea. It starts to rain, a miserable cold drizzle.

By the time I get to the appropriately named The Skares I’ve had enough. I drift blindly into the confused waters off the end, the swell is starting to break now and then and I'm not getting much warning of it coming through the fog. I turn into Cruden Bay and immediately things settle, I consider carrying-on but as I look over to the side a chunky one looms out of the fog and I quickly switch back to Wuss-Mode - harbour here we come! Once again, Mr Garmin helps me out as he takes me to the Port Erroll harbour entrance.

I'm glad to be off the water, the fog and drizzle doesn't really do a great deal to help the motivation. From the top of the sea wall I can’t see much, but the waves I can see don’t look that big, but then I'm looking at a sandy beach now I 'spose. Oh well, I'm off now anyway.

 A little drier and warmer we head up to the pub to see if we can get some food. The young staff are surprisingly rude and I distinctly get the feeling that my not-from-here accent sealed the deal when it came to not serving us. We leave empty handed.

I'm on a bit of a healthy-eating drive at the mo anyway, so we head into a rather bleak Peterhead and buy a healthy and nutritious takeaway from a very friendly Turkish gentleman - "Anything on it Sir?" - "yes, more calories please..."
We retire to the wet and windy hilltop campsite, still enveloped in the fog.

Oh the glamour.