There is a right time and a wrong time to leave the beach at Ardersier when rowing or kayaking to Nairn. None of us had been terribly keen to drag our lovely boats, Esther and Dulsie, over endless soft sand to reach the sea, or to row against the incoming tide in the narrows between Fort George and Ardersier, which is why we decided that our section of the RowAround Scotland would be an evening row. “Should we bring torches, in case that easterly breeze does get up?” suggested Gail.
Nairn Coastal Rowing Club was founded three years ago, with the initial impetus coming from members of the sailing club, and with lots of support from the Ardersier Boat Club. Ardersier had lent us their skiff Esther to row in until we had built our own skiff; this we duly did over the winter and spring of 2018, launching Dulsie in the late summer 2018; the Ardersier club amalgamated with us around this time, bringing valuable experience and expertise; our main contribution to the merger was an easier slipway to launch from in Nairn Harbour, and the naïve enthusiasm of a new club! So, although we had rowed in a number of regattas, we had not yet accumulated any experience in coastal journeying, and we were excited about our such voyage.
Esther is named in memory of the deceased wife of the kind man who lent his garage for Ardersier Boat Club to build their skiff in. Esther had been a well known hairdresser in Ardersier.
Dulsie was the name of one of the last fishing boats to operate out of Nairn, and is also the name of the rowing boat that forms the centre-piece of a lovely flower bed at the base of the Fisherwoman statue at Nairn Harbour where we row from.
Despite the inevitable faffing, we set off shortly after high tide at 17.30, and the launch from the slipway felt surprisingly easy once we had moved away some of the accumulated shingle. The first two miles of this journey goes north west to Fort George, although our cox, Robbie, had other ideas and steered up towards Chanonry Point on the Black Isle; calling for the first breather as we arrived at the mid-point of the channel that funnels the water between the Fort and Chanonry. Although we could see the first stirrings of the outgoing tidal flow on the channel buoy, the sea felt calm with none of the swirlies and bumpy water that can certainly be experienced during full flow.
Chanonry Point (see Chanonry Point at Wikipedia) sticks out like a finger into the channel; it is now very popular as a place to see the Moray Firth Bottlenose dolphins who feed on the salmon riding the flood tide up to the River Ness.
The dolphins were not out for us today so we took up the oars again and soon passed under the massive walls of Fort George. Built to control the Scottish Highlands in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, this enormous military fortress took over twenty years to build and still serves as a garrison for the Army. Much of the site is open to the public with lots of information provided by Historic Scotland.
Our attention was taken by the change in scene as we rounded Fort George and our next destination, the low sand bank of Whiteness Head, came into view. We cut directly across the wide sandy bay well aware of the shallow water to our right (and the Army rifle range behind it, thankfully silent today) and of a breath of wind coming off the land. The three miles seemed to take longer than we thought, but eventually, just before the Head we reached the sheltered deep water inlet that until 2001 housed the McDermott oil rig construction yard. The energetic crew in Dulsie were keen to get on, but were waiting for us at this pre-arranged snack point. It is remarkable how one person’s snack is another person’s full-scale meal, but there seemed no hurry and the wind did not seem to be rising. Robbie reminisced about the dinghy sailing and racing that used to take place on this sheltered water.
It felt a bit chillier when we set off but within minutes we reached Whiteness Head itself and turned right. The view opens up immediately with the long line of the south Moray Firth coast stretching away to the east and the green of Culbin Forest visible beyond Nairn. It always feels atmospheric at the Head, and remote too, with the sea on the shingle and the sea birds both contributing to the background noise; we knew that it was another five miles to Nairn, but the lack of any significant headwind and a minimal sea state reassured us that we would manage this without too much difficulty.
Another 45 minutes took us past Nairn’s Secret Beach (which is actually quite well known locally) where we spotted a solitary red-jacketed dog walker, probably oblivious to us going past. This can be a super place to see birds, including long-tailed ducks in the winter.
Shortly afterwards our next landmark, the old ice house, passed abeam; a rest stop was called and some stretching done and flasks opened. The sun dropped below a low bank of cloud, and by the time we got to the outskirts of Nairn, the sky was a flaming pink. There are rocks off the coast here which lie in wait for rowing skiffs, but we were late enough for them to be visible above the water and so avoidable, and we headed towards the flashing twin green lights of the harbour mouth for the last short section of the journey.
Approaching low tide now, we knew that the harbour itself would be inaccessible and that a beach landing and haul was needed.
We were very pleased therefore to see a welcome party on the beach with the boat trolleys; this meant that by the time we had the boats back on solid ground we still had the energy to take in our achievement and enjoy the sense of a journey completed. “So, if we can do that then we can definitely row across to Cromarty then, let’s set a date for it then” said Stella.