Inverness and the Moray Firth

So, a flying visit…literally.

An Easyjet flight up to Inverness on a Friday night, 2 nights in Nairn and a flight back to Gatwick on Sunday evening, all with a 4 month-old baby? Sounds crazy, but we had heard about the Scottish Dolphin Centre a while back, where you can potentially see bottle-nosed dophins from the shore and decided we had to go.

The Scottish Dolphin Centre is run by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) charity, through which Heather has adopted one of the dolphins, Spirit. It sits on the mouth of the River Spey in a former salmon fishing station. We started the day with a tour of the ice house where, as the name implies, was used to store ice for preserving the salmon back in the day. The ice house is now used for exhibitions and “dry dives”, where videos of underwater wildlife is shown. After a nice lunch in the centre, we went on a guided wildlife walk (2.15pm, April 1st to October 31st) with Adam, one of the guides.

The walk, started with some time looking for dolphins from the centre, but alas with no luck, so we headed along the river spotting huge number so gulls and other seabirds. Soon after something spooked them and sure enough 2 osprey appeared from up river. We trekked along the river looking for otters, but again nothing this time. After the tour, Heather and I went further down the river and crossed the old railway bridge, now converted to be part of the national cycle network and as we crossed, another osprey came over head.

After the Dolphin centre, we drove to a few other places along the firth where there is supposed to be good chances of seeing more wildlife, Portgordon for seals, Burghead (dolphins from the Burghead Visitor Centre – a former coastguard lookout) and Hopeman East Beach (dolphins again), but had no more luck. That was the enough for day one, so head back to our apartment in Nairn for dinner and good nights sleep.

Sunday morning, we drove down to the Clansman’s Harbour for a boat trip on Loch Ness with Jacobite cruises. We just did a short trip from the harbour to Urquhart Castle and back, but it was enough to get a good feel for the Loch and to hear all the stories about the fabled monster. We had some time to kill following the cruise so we drove a few miles down the road to the Loch Ness Centre for an immersive exhibition about the monster and all the attempts down the years to prove whether or not it really exists. Let’s just say, it is unlikely!

Our last activity for the weekend was a wildlife cruise with Dolphin Spirit from Inverness Marina. Dolphin Spirit offer two tours, one on the Dolphin Spirit which is more sedate and another on Dolphin Mischief, a RIB, for the more adventurous. With our little one, we were on the Dolphin Spirit this time around, but otherwise we would probable have taken the RIB. It was a nice trip, no dolphins again, but we saw some grey seals, some cormorants and a common tern.

It was a great weekend, with beautiful coastlines and countryside, lovely people, nice food and some nice wildlife spotting, but no dolphins this time round. However, it was enough to make us want to go back, for a week at least next time!

Gibraltar (unplanned day 2) – Whales 0 – Striped Dolphins 10

So, first apologies for the delay in posting, its been pretty busy and I haven’t been keeping up!

So, in the last post, we weren’t sure whether we were going on any whale-watching trips today, as the wind was too high (15-17 mph). We rang round all the companies in Tarifa and, sadly, all trips had been cancelled. We hastily put plan B into action, calling up a couple of companies in Gibraltar to see if they had dolphin watching trips on which, as they mostly stayed in the bay, would be sheltered from the wind. Luckily, trips were running and they had space for 2 more people!

We managed to book on two trips, one trip in the morning,  followed by another at lunch time.  The first, at 10.00 was with Dolphin Adventure, who run two boats in the Ocean Village marina. There office is right there too. The trip ran for about an hour and a quarter and after heading out through the marina, ran through the bay and just out into the straight of Gibraltar.  We did manage to see a few striped dolphins on the trip, which was a relief as we weren’t sure if we were going to see anything at all that day. The company seems to cater mainly for the tourists coming off the cruise ships that stopped at the Rock and as such, they were pretty efficient at getting everyone on and off, but it also meant it did feel kind of commercial and you share the boat with about 30 other people.

The second trip we booked was with Dolphin Safari, who are also based in Ocean Village and have an office there too. The boat did leave about half an hour late, but this can sometimes be the case depending on what the boat did/didn’t see on the previous trip. The boat is smaller and we only have 9 people aboard, which makes for more intimate viewing. The staff in the office were really friendly and also helpful on the phone when we were desperately trying to find something to do that day.

We headed out and across the bay (different route to Dolphin Adventure) towards Algeciras on the Spanish side of the bay. After about 40 minutes of cruising without any sightings, we turned out towards the Straight of Gibraltar and rougher waters. Just as we thought it was probably time to turn back, we started to see striped dolphins. Soon we saw probably 20 or so in different groups, many of them leaping out of the water and getting the “classic” dolphin encounter of them jumping in the bow wave as we motored along. This was really good viewing and although it didn’t quite make up for the cancelled whale trips, it did mean we saw something great that day.

We picked up our hire car and made the 1 hour journey to Tarifa and just as we were about to descend the hill down into town, we spotted some Griffon Vultures riding the thermals and pulled over to observe them for a few minutes.

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Griffon Vulture, Tarifa Spain

Wildlife watching is a game of patience, you can spend hours and see nothing at all and, often you may have to wait until the last minute until you finally see something that will make it all worthwhile. It’s important to just the experience being out in the open enjoying nature and if you’re luck, you might be rewarded.

Cornwall day two – dolphin watching in Padstow!

So, back on a boat today.

After another great cooked (veggie) breakfast at the Little Mainstone guest house, we jumped in the car for the hour long drive to Padstow, made famous by Rick Stein and his restaurants, but is a very beautiful little fishing in its own right.

We were booked in the 2 hour discovery trip with Padstow Sea Safaris. We got kitted up in our warm layers, waterproofs and lifejackets before heading out to the harbour, down some steps and into the boat. It was a RIB, so guarenteed to be fast, windy, a bit bumpy and a bit wet.

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Keep warm! Lots of warm layers and waterproofs needed on a RIB in spring.

We headed out of the estuary and along the coast to a cove with a rocky feature called “The Dragon” due to its likeness to a sleeping Smaug. Unfortunately there were no seals here, just a lonely Shag, so we headed back out to “Seven Souls” another sheltered cove where we came across a single grey seal, its head bobbing in the green waters.

Next stop was a small island, home to nesting seabirds. We had a wonderful sight of a seal on the rocks as dozens (if not hundreds) of Guillemots and Razorbills launched themselves from the cliff abive it’s head and straight towards us.

After a few minutes watching this spectacle, we headed towards Port Isaac, home to the Doc Martin TV series. As we motored on we saw a common dolphin, then another and soon we were joined by a small pod of 4 or 5, playing chase with us and surfing through our bow wave. This is the kind of dolphin experience you imagine and we felt lucky to see it. This went on for about 15 minutes before 1 got excited and started jumping, seemingly just to entertain us.

Time was running out, so we took some photos at Port Isaac before heading back towards Padstow. We kept close to shore, stopping at caves along the way, hoping to see some more seals who like to sleep on some “shelves” inside the caves. We saw one more grey seal “bottling” in the water before we returned to Padstow. We were dropped off on the beach (due to the tide) and walked back 10 minutes to town.

We had lunch in Cherry Trees Coffee House, which serves the most amazing cakes along with pasties and other lunch fayre. We can heartily recommend the Easter Caramel Brownie Tart!