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!

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.

cof
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!

Cornwall day one – seals and seabirds trip in Penzance

  • We arrived in Looe, Cornwall last night, staying in a lovely little B&B called The Little Mainstone Guest House. It’s on the West bank of the river overlooking the harbour and West Looe (where most of the cafes, restaurants and shops are located. It takes just a couple of minutes walk to get there over the bridge. We started the day with a full cooked breakfast (veggie option), the owners got up and made it early for us as we had an early start.
IMG_20180330_220734_955
Looe, Cornwall, at dusk

Today, we drove across to Penzance (about 1hr 20mins) for our first seal trip of the year. We went with Marine Discovery, who operate from on office on the Albert Pier and sail on a catamaran, which was very welcome today, as it was pretty windy and choppy. The catamaran is a lot more stable in this weather than a single-hulled boat.

We set out using the engines and the first stop was St Clements Island off the coast of Mousehole, where there were a number of grey seals who had hauled themselves out onto the rocks. The whole area is great for seabirds, we saw a number of Cormorants, Guillemots, Razorbills, Shags, Fulmars, Manx Shearwaters and Gannets.

The Gannets are the UK’s biggest seabird and they’re huge. They are also good indicators of where you may see porpoises, just look for them diving, which highlights where fish may be found nearby and the porpoises might not be far away.

We then set sail, and headed out to the Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, which is a beautiful open-air theatre that looks out to see. Using the sail just adds a little something to a boat trip as you don’t get any engine noise masking the sound of the sea or the birds. We turned turned round at Porthcurno and headed back to Penzance, but closer to shore looking for harbour porpoises. We luckily saw 4 or 5, but they were being quite shy and we only got fleeting glances and no good shots.

It was windy and very cold on the boat and in spite of Heather’s layers (1 thermal top, a wooly jumper, a hoodie, a padded jacket and 2 waterproof javkets), not to mention 7 items of headgear (1 cap, 2 woolly hats, hoodie and 3 coat hoods), we were frozen when we got off the boat and in a state of near hypothermia. If you’re going out on a boat trip at this time of year, wrap up!

cof
Being prepared! Wet weather gear is essential for spring boat trips in the UK.