May is definitely the time to be visiting some of the more inspiring sea bird nesting sites – but a wide brimmed hat is essential! A request for Bass Rock had been honoured on the Swaledale Outdoor Club programme, and seemed to fit well with a potential leader being in Edinburgh that weekend. The best laid plans … but a substitute leader soon appeared and May 14th saw a small group assembling at North Berwick.
The golden sands of North Berwick, looking out to Bass Rock
A straight paddle to Bass Rock and back is a bit short, so we headed the opposite way along the shore, playing in the waves and dodging small islands, to reach Fidra, with shags and gulls nesting. We had a snack here as we thought we would not be able to land anywhere else later, but an attempt to walk up to the lighthouse with its webcam was thwarted as the gulls clearly thought it unacceptable.
Heading back east on the outside of a few larger islands gave some opportunity to play in the swell reflecting off the cliffs, and to note that each island seemed to have its own particular set of breeding birds, guillemots and razorbills being the most willing to share, but gulls, puffins and gannets keeping to their own patches. A large container ship coming down the estuary rather snuck up on us, and we were a bit disconcerted to find that it cut inside Bass Rock at quite a clip, giving us an interesting sea as its wake was at right angles to the swell. We hadn’t really expected to be crossing a shipping lane ! Fortunately, other ships seemed content to keep outside the island.
The final leg to Bass Rock was a long approach, with the white “snow” cap finally resolving itself into a huge number of gannets and their output. Gannets wheeled about gaining height in the updraught by the cliffs, and clearly a number came over to get a look at us (maybe boats tend to disturb fish ?) before heading off. At the foot of the cliffs, not only were gannets nesting on ledges almost within reach, but a sea cave seemed to contain a lot of hauled out seals, one of whom gave us a very careful investigation before we headed round to the south side with its lighthouse.
Crossing the shipping lane to Bass Rock from Fidra
Back across the channel to the mainland, we cut quickly across (still worrying about juggernauts), and then along the shore back to our start point. The island looks very fine from this side, and future trips might be better done in the opposite direction to avoid cricking your neck to look back at Bass Rock !