One of the reasons my friend and I went to Scotland in June was for the chance to see puffins before they left their breeding grounds. My friend studied these seabirds when she was in graduate school, and she wanted to see them again. Me too. As you may already know, I have a thing for birds.
Our first try involved a short trip from our cottage at Crovie Village to Troup Head, a nature reserve less than a mile away. The reserve is home to a gannet colony, but puffins are sometimes sighted there, too. I had only seen one gannet in my life (in Newfoundland, sort of by accident). I was thrilled by that, so you can imagine how overwhelming it was to see so many gannets on Troup Head, they were impossible to count. And the view from the cliffs is stunning!
But, no puffins. The next day, we ended up visiting the director and staff at the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit (who I will write more about next) in Gardenstown, the town next door to Crovie, and mentioned our plight. They recommended we try the Bullars of Buchan, a former fishing village on the coast on the way to Aberdeen. We also wanted to see seals, and they recommended the estuary of the River Ythan in the town of Newburgh, not far from the puffins.
So off we went. OMG, the scenery at the bullars was as spectacular as the scenery at Troup Head. The village is set atop a headland that features a collapsed sea cave that forms a “pot” about 100 feet deep. The seabird colony was home mainly for gulls but my sharp-eyed friend did find some puffins. And a few were close enough to photograph with our low-tech cameras. Score!
Next to find the seals. You’d think they’d be in a nature preserve, too, but they’re not. To find them, drive through the town of Newburgh and follow the Beach Road. You can park right near the estuary. A short walk through the dunes finds you at the river mouth. We were expecting to see a seal colony on land, but what we got was more like a watery conveyor belt of seals.
The tide was flowing upriver. The seals were floating, somewhat evenly spaced, from the sea into the river. Their black heads bobbed past those of us watching from shore with clockwork regularity. Seal head dots everywhere – weird but amazing. Sometimes one would dive, no doubt after a fish, and then resurface farther up river. I suppose when the tide reverses, the seals just float back out into the ocean. We watched for a long time, mesmerized.
Other natural wonders we saw were of a more geologic kind. We hiked a good ways. One trip found us along the coast on the way from the town of Cullen to Portknockie, home of the famous, craggy and triangular Bow Fiddle Rock (see image at the end of this post). I can’t help but think it would make a great scene for an album cover. Too bad I’m not a musician!
Another hike found us on the Great Glen Way above Loch Ness, making our way through primeval forests and gorse hedges with mountains in the background for accompaniment. I never got to see Loch Ness on my ill-fated European trip when I was ten, so I was especially glad to make it there.
Every place where I travel that has an aquarium, I try to visit. I “collect” aquarium visits like some people collect refrigerator magnets from their travels. In planning our trip, I was excited to discover that Macduff, a town not far away from Crovie, had a small aquarium focused on marine fish. The children in Scotland were still in school, and I was heartened to see several busloads of them gaining a greater appreciation for the sea while we were there. Although the Macduff Aquarium is small, they do a great job on interpretation.
The next day, we got a greater appreciation for marine mammals and the local people who are trying to protect them when we visited with the Cetacean Research & Rescue Unit – to come in the next installment!