Rattray Head?

Day 46 – Port Erroll to Pennan – 5th July – 32.7 nm

Blue skies and no wind – game on! As we are getting things together down in the small harbour, we find ourselves chatting with a charming couple. The gentleman was a German trawlerman who married a local lass from Aberdeen and has lived here ever since. It’s a pleasant start to the day as we ‘compare notes’ on cross-border relationships and chat about life in general. But all too soon the tidal clock is ticking and I head out of the harbour. There is only a gentle swell out in the bay, it looks like a good day lies ahead.

But as I paddle around the corner I am met by the fog once again, visibility drops to nothing as I paddle through the grey wall. An hour later I am off Peterhead and still there is nothing to see. The  rumble of heavy diesel engines drifts over from my left, it’s disconcerting, I can hear things moving but I can’t see a thing. The tide across the headland helps me cover the ground quickly, it's not the day to hang around here. A small lobster boat appears Mr Ben's Shopkeeper-like out of the mist and is just as quickly swallowed, we are both a little on edge I suspect as a quick wave is exchanged.

Eventually the throbbing diesels fade to the stern and my course continues towards Rattray Head. I was looking forward to paddling by here, it is a regular shipping forecast acquaintance and was a striking sight under dark skies in 2012. But today it’s the disappointment of another milk bottle moment, the fog means that there is nothing to see.

As the GPS shows that I am across the headland I am suddenly against the flow and the swell picks up a little over the shallows. The waves appear silently out of the fog and lift and drop me as they pass by, but it’s not a problem. I can see the sandy bottom pass beneath in the clear water, it is paradoxically disconcerting as some sort of primeval instinct looms at the back of my mind.  I find it strangely disorientating to see the sand with no sound of surf or any links to the coast, out in the fog I feel a long way from shore.

It’s now flat calm as I reach the shallow gap at the Cairnbulg rocks, here the downstream ripples confirm the change of tide. I drift over to take a look at the wreck of the Sovereign trawler, stuck on the rocks for 10 years now. The last 3 years of rocky exposure haven’t been easy by the look of things. As I start to paddle away the fog suddenly lifts and I can see the beach over to the left. It’s time to end the first shift of the day and I head in to land on the sand at Fraserburgh.

It’s another afternoon highlighting the romance of the UK Circumnavigation. We sit in the carpark and watch young boys driving up and down the road at more relativistic speeds, trying to keep up with the Ramsgate cousins. I am impressed how expensive the cars are. Every now and then they pop into the car park to wang their rubbish out of the window, before shooting off again. Team Manager goes for a walk in to town but soon returns.

As the afternoon wastes away the fog comes and goes while the wind picks up a little. Eventually it’s time to grab a few miles, the mist lifts conveniently on time and I sneak across the harbour mouth to work a little further eastwards. Everybody has been waiting for the fog to go it seems and it’s like a maritime M25 along the coast. I wonder just how they know when the fog is to clear.

There was a sailing festival further along the coast, and an interesting and eclectic mix of vessels pass me on their way back home, I get the odd wave.
The cliffs poke out of the top of the rapidly thinning mist and eventually a halt is called at the pretty little spot of Pennan – pretty from the paddling point of view, less appealing from the van driver’s point of view with the narrow road it seems.

Inadvertently we have stopped on the opposite side of the headland from Stuart Trueman who is paddling the UK Circumnav in a clockwise direction. Stuart is due to finish in Grimsby, so the end is nearly in sight now for him.

We head up the hill to camp in a cramped corner of another hilltop, I guess the view would be impressive but once again we are lost in the mist. Food is eaten in the darkness, another rushed and soggy late finish. It was a long day, 13 hrs in total for 7 hrs of paddling, but life could be worse - it was good to take the miles today.