Findochty to Cullen – Section 8 | Day 8

Findochty to Scar Nose

Passage planning notes:
Safe passage between headlands.
Landing only possible in Finechty and Portknockie harbours.

Finechty to Tronach Head 1.2 miles
Tronach Head to Portknockie 0.5 miles
Portknockie to Scar Nose 0.6 miles

With high water at 11:04 there are no restrictions to the launch of the skiff in Finechty harbour this morning. A bright, clear early start to the day for the baton to be carried eastwards along the Moray coast by the Cullen Sea School skiffs, Swift and Canty, joined by Findochty’s Morag and Morvern. There is a great harbourside pub, The Admiral, which makes a convenient meeting point for the rowers and we set off under the watchful eye of The Mannie, a statue of a seated fisherman by local artist Correna Cowie.

This part of the coast is littered with lovely small fishing villages, developed as part of the thriving 18th & 19th century herring fishing industry. Our starting point of Findochty dates back to 15th century and in 1850 was home to over 140 fishing boats.

The harbour entrance has some protection from the north and north east by the Sterlochy Pier. On rounding the pier and heading out to open water, we look into a small cove on our starboard side, commonly known as the Slip Shorrie, but the correct name is The Crooked Hythe. It was also known as Herd & MacKenzie Beach, after the boat building yard which started their business here. Its hard to believe that, at one time, 90 feet herring drifters were launched in this cove.

Along the coast to Portknockie, the sea has carved numerous caves, arches and sea stacks in steeply folded Cullen quartzite rock.

We make progress towards Long Head passing the rocks known as Queensferry. The name was seen on old 19th century charts but we are not sure why they are called Queensferry. On passing Long Head we look in towards the Sannie Craig, an open cove and sandy beach which is accessible by skiff when the tide is higher but rocky at low water. The families on the beach are enjoying the sun and sand with sandy castles abundant and big waves to the flotilla as we pass on our way.

Tronach Head next with plenty of rocks but all are inshore. No landing place here though. Around Tronach Head and we pass through the Portknockie creel city although fortunately few have the long floating lines which can readily hook on a skiff’s rudder for the inattentive cox.

Approaching Portknockie, the village is high on the cliffs, with the harbour nestling in a sheltered cove. The village dates back to 1677. A visit to Portknockie en-route has to be done and a leg stretch for our rowers.

Departing Portknockie, the coxes make a starboard turn, rowing towards Scar Nose and the entry to Cullen Bay. The character of the coast is mesmerising, looking in on coves and rocks and occasionally getting the whiff of guano from the seabirds inhabiting the cliff faces. As we row along the rocky coastline, we reach one of the best known landmarks on this coast, the Bow Fiddle, home to a wide variety of seabirds – fulmars, herring gulls, gannets, cormorant, shags and guillemots to name a few. This 50 foot natural sea arch is made quartzite and resembles the bow of a fiddle. When the tide is right, you can row under the arch, although my only experience of doing that was not the most successful. But that, as they say, is another story!



We manage to row on the inside of the two partially submerged rocks guarding the west side of Cullen Bay whilst admiring the beauty of nature in the structure of the rock.

Sea arch near Portknockie
After passing Bow Fiddle, we can see lots of caves that were used by smugglers and others in the past, the most notable being the Whale’s Moo, another impressive sea arch where the waves can crash through, and the Preacher’s Cave, which was used for clandestine services at times of conflict within the churches.



Scar Nose to Cullen

Passage Planning notes:
Safe passage between Headlands.
Entry to Cullen Bay on west side.
Beware of 2 rocks close SE of Bow Fiddle rock.
Caple Rock generally covered during calm conditions.
Landing in Cullen harbour.

Scar Nose to Logie Head 1.9 miles
Scar Nose to Cullen Harbour 1.2 miles

From Scar Nose, we row past the Bauds of Cullen where a battle was fought in 962 between the Scots under King Indulf and the Vikings. The Vikings were defeated and three of their leaders were killed, as was Indulf. Over the centuries, the Viking leaders became known as kings, hence the naming of the three rocks, the Three Kings, on Cullen beach. This battle marked the beginning of the end of Norse control of Scotland.

Ahead of us, in the shelter of Castle Hill, lies Cullen Bay with its famous viaduct, built in 1884 as part of the Great North of Scotland Railway.

Castle Hill, once the site of historic Cullen Castle which was destroyed by Edward 1, was renovated recently and now provides a great viewpoint for the bay and surrounding area. At this point in the row we are sometimes lucky enough to be joined by some of the local dolphins who pretend to race us – we never win!

Cullen Harbour
The row continues across the beautiful wide Cullen Bay, with its sandy beach and links golf course (an Old Tom Morris course, for those of you who are also golfers!) The welcome sight of the harbour comes into focus; this was designed by Thomas Telford and built between 1817-19 by William Minto. This is a popular spot for local fisherman and wild swimmers.

The Portsoy skiffs, Soy Quine and Soy Loon are waiting to accept the passing of the baton within the harbour.

We row up onto the beach under the watchful eyes of beach-goers and fisherman, arms tired but spirits high. One last effort required to lift the boats out of the water and onto the trailers for the short walk back to the Sea School and a very welcome cup of tea and chocolate biscuits – courtesy of Rosie, our resident mother-hen who keeps us all in order.

We have so many beautiful small villages along this coast and, with half the rainfall of the west coast of Scotland, this area presents a beautiful contrast to the ruggedness of the west side. Hidden gems around every coastal corner – but remember not to tell anybody!

About Cullen Sea School

Cullen Sea School was established in 2010 and moved to its current home, in a renovated building by the harbour, in 2015. The Sea School is a centre for small boat building, sailing, coastal rowing, kayaking and SUP (stand-up paddle-boarding). All the St Ayles skiffs rowed by the members are built by our own talented, wonderful boatbuilders.

Canty is named after a rock that sits just to the east of Cullen; Swift was a name chosen by local school pupils (the boat building is open to local high school students).


What we love about coastal rowing

Annie: A chance to see the magnificent coast from a different perspective
Maggie: I love rowing because of the buzz you get as a member of a team, powering the skiff by our efforts alone
Sally: I was introduced to rowing by the stalwart Rosie and just love being on the water, seeing places otherwise inaccessible, and relaxing through physical exertion
Sheila: Being out on the water with like-minds
Judy: I get such a feeling of peace when we are out on the water and the only sounds are the wind and the waves. When the cox says stop rowing and rest, it feels like we’re in a bubble of contentment
Ashley: Coastal rowing allows me to reconnect with my heritage and revive memories of my youth