A sunny morning sees Burghead Coastal Rowing Club getting ready to row out of Findhorn Bay. In the 17th century, Findhorn was the principal sea port in Moray; it is now home to pleasure boats and ‘hippies’ from the Findhorn Community, as well as the Findhorn Coastal Rowing Club who were there to see us on our way. The outlet from the bay into the Moray Firth has strong currents when the tide is flowing so we have planned to leave just after high tide to ride the ebb out to sea.
At Burghead we have a strong junior team and today our crew is made up of two juniors and two adult members. Trying to pace ourselves for a long time at the oars, we coast out with Culbin Forest on our port and the local seal colony on our starboard side; ospreys are often spotted fishing here. A turn to the east sees us pointing across the sweeping golden curve of Roseisle Beach; our home port of Burghead is now on our bow, easy to spot with the hulk of the Burghead Maltings standing out behind the houses. After the excitement of departure we now settle into the pace, adjusting to the stroke and enjoying the rhythm of oars in water.
An hour and a half and a following breeze sees us complete the five miles to Burghead and we wave at our club shed sitting on the harbour wall as we row around the point. The town of Burghead, built in the early 19th century, sits on the site of an ancient Pictish settlement. During excavations, six striking carved slabs were discovered, depicting a bull which has become the symbol of Burghead and provided the inspiration for our boat’s name. Our skiff, Tarbh Uisge, ‘Water Bull’ in Gaelic, was launched in November 2014.
Rounding the point, the view changes from golden sands to rocky shore as we head towards our next port of call, Hopeman. We pass Cummingston and see rock climbers enjoying the sea cliffs before the harbour wall of Hopeman comes into view. Hopeman was built in the early 19th century to house and employ people displaced by the Highland Clearances.
It is an attractive seaside village with two beaches and a harbour. It is one of the best places for spotting the famous Moray Firth dolphins and also has a good tea room which is usually a popular day stop for the rowing club. However, today we are determined to do the whole distance without touching land, although, being at about the halfway point, we take the opportunity to ship oars and take some lunch on before the final push towards Lossiemouth. Certainly for the Juniors this was further than they had ever rowed before; arms and backs were starting to feel the strain and hands were starting to feel the start of blisters. Motivation came in the form of the cox reminding everyone that people had rowed across the Pacific and we wouldn’t get anywhere sitting here eating sausage rolls!
Back into the rhythm of the row and, as if they knew we were feeling a bit of a post-lunch lull, the dolphins made an appearance! The Moray Firth is home to the most Northerly population of Bottlenose Dolphins. They are larger than elsewhere due to the fat they need to survive the cold waters and they are very much a feature of this stretch of coastline. As usual the dolphins pass quickly on and we are left to our own devices again.
After passing Cove Bay, the last small beach beyond Hopeman, we commit to the final five miles. The next stretch of coastline is a bit wilder with cliffs and sea caves and not really anywhere to put ashore for a few miles.
There are many caves along this stretch of coast of which the most interesting is the Sculptors Cave; 3,000 years ago it was used as a burial site for children with heads on stakes being reported! We push on, passing the coastguard lookout post on the cliffs and finally get a view of the Lossiemouth lighthouse, still a way to go.
The peace was short lived though, as a formation of Typhoon jets passed overhead returning to RAF Lossiemouth just beyond the dunes. The only operational RAF base in Scotland, RAF Lossiemouth is home to four Typhoon squadrons and will soon be the base for the new P8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. Silence returned and, much like climbing a mountain, the end was in sight but never seemed to get much closer. We rowed past the Covesea Skerries and the golf course; our view now opening up down the expanse of Lossiemouth East Beach towards Spey Bay and the Bin of Cullen. The Lossiemouth Coastal Rowing Club had come out onto the harbour wall to welcome us in and, with their encouragement, we made the final push round the wall into the shelter of the harbour.
The welcome party was there with food, drink and encouragement and with our GPS showing a total distance of 14.5 miles we felt we had earned it!
Introducing Burghead Coastal Rowing Club
Burghead Coastal Rowing Club was formed in 2013 after a shout out locally for interest by Caroline Dunbar, a former member of Boatie Blest who had moved to the area and found there were no local clubs around.
Who got you into rowing?
Our current captain: “I became involved in coastal rowing in 2015 when my brother, who is an active member of North Berwick Rowing Club, said I would love it … he was absolutely right!”
How do feel out on the water?
A 50+ female member: “At peace (unless I’m racing then it’s determined and exhilarated as soon as we cross the finish line!) ?“
What do you love about our coasts and waters?
A 40+ male member: “They are beautiful, untamed and unpredictable.”