Approaching Tarbat Ness lighthouse by sea kayak

Scotland360° Blog Post - A Sea Kayaking Journey around Tarbat Ness

Kayaking along the Moray Firth coastline

Calm seas, clear skies and a glorious winter paddle

There always seems to be one January weekend each year with clear skies and glorious sunshine, often associated with mists and inversions. For 2017, the 21st January was just such a day on such a weekend. We were itching to get out in the sea kayaks again and the forecast for the weekend was looking great.

I've wanted to paddle around the Tarbat Ness peninsula for a while now and here was the opportunity for our first paddle of 2017. Tarbat Ness lighthouse is one of the Stevenson lighthouses, the second tallest in the UK and it sits on the driest place in Scotland.

It also has a reputation for some big waves and a good deal of swell, so any paddle around Tarbat Ness needs to take account of weather, wind, tide and ability. There aren’t too many landing places if the weather turns!

Our plan was to start out from Portmahomack and paddle around the headland, on to Rockfield and finally to Balintore – a distance of around 25 km.

The weather was forecast to be good and the winds light, so all seemed in our favour. What we hadn’t reckoned with was the fog which, on our arrival at Portmahomack was somewhat dense! However, we waited it out, conscious that we needed to pick up the SW stream from Tarbat Ness at 12:30 and so the fog needed to lift by 11:00 at latest. And so it did!!

A glorious day, although cold when stopped (and water that would have been less than comfortable should a capsize have occurred!). Bright sunshine followed the fog and with a still, glassy sea, this was definitely a day to be savoured!

26km later, we coasted into Balintore harbour having enjoyed the Easter Ross scenery from the sea. Enjoy the photographs below and please feel free to provide feedback.



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Arriving at Portmahomack, we were greeted by thick fog. Initially we were not sure whether to stay and wait out the mist... The weather forecast was for sun!

However, we decided that we would trust the forecast, wait it out and hope for the promised sun....

An hour later, the fog bank rolled back and we could see Portmahomack and out over the Dornoch Firth.

Having waited on the beach, we were a little cold and so it was good to get onto the water and warm up for a few minutes in the bay.

Having a nose into Portmahomack harbour before setting off for Tarbat Ness.

Gradually the fog rolled back even further and we started to see the tops of the hills of east Sutherland - and we had a flat calm, glassy sea... Not a breath of wind!

Looking north, we could see the fog bank shrouding out the coastline to the north of us.

Looking back eastwards towards Inver, trees and the coastline were starting to show through the mist.

Heading towards Tarbat Ness, it was good to tuck into the shore and play amongst the rocks.

Little by little, the lighthouse at Tarbat Ness came into view in the distance.

And as we approached the lighthouse, a thin finger of fog rolled in threatening to obscure the view...

Tania in silhouette. The fog and the backlight of the sun made for great photography and great silhouettes.

Light and Shadow - Shadows, patches of light and a lighthouse shrouded in mist.

Tarbat Ness Point. I've seen many stormy seas at Tarbat Ness Point but today, there was only a small surge at the very point. Nothing to worry about and definitely a view to enjoy!

Turning the corner... Having paddled north east to gain the point, it was now time to turn southwestwards and on to Rockfield and Balintore

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse is one of the Stevenson lighthouses and is the second tallest lighthouse in the UK. It also has the distinction of being situated in the driest part of Scotland!

A sense of scale and reflections in the water

Tania in her kayak looking up at the lighthouse. There can't be many days when the lighthouse reflects in the water below!!

Lunchtime - Pulling the boats up onto the shore, we sat enjoying the sun having lunch.

The restored bothy at Wilhaven - an idyllic spot.

My boat pulled up onto the beach and an opportunity for a photograph before launching and catching up with Tania.

Under way again. Looking back to Tarbat Ness and on our way to Balintore

In planning the trip, we had debated whether to pull out at Rockfield further down the coast or make our way to Balintore. Balintore won out and we were now looking at another 16km to the car at the other end...!

Reflections and Contrasting Light

With a strong, low sun in front of us, the raised beach of the coastline was thrown into perspective of sunlight and shadow. With great light and calm seas, there were terrific, abstract reflections on the water.

Ballone Castle. The restored 16th century castle situated on the raised beach. A cracking viewpoint!

The picturesque fishing village of Rockfield

Looking southwest and heading towards Balintore.

The view in front and the view back towards Tarbat Ness

Shafts of sunlight. Looking towards Nigg hill with contrasting light and the remnants of mist over the water.

Lonely bothy...

The end in sight. After 26km, the pier at Balintore came ever closer and signalled our journey's end. With late afternoon approaching, the air temperature was definitely starting to drop and it was good to know that we were almost there.

Tania paddling into the harbour at Balintore.

The end of the journey and a classic day out for the first trip of 2017!!

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Posted by Angus Mackie

Angus Mackie

I’m Angus Mackie, a professional forester and photographer, based just north of Inverness on the beautiful Black Isle.  I'm on the North Coast 500 and am well placed to discover most of the Highlands.  The iconic scenery of Glen Affric and the Cairngorms are close by whilst many of the wild and dramatic locations on the west coast are within easy reach.

Mountains, landscapes, coastlines....  As a landscape and panoramic photographer, I enjoy exploring Scotland and its wild and remote places and have discovered some of the best photography locations in the Highlands over the last 35 years of living up here.  With a broad and wide ranging knowledge of the Highlands, I still enjoy finding new locations and fresh perspectives for my photography.  The use of natural light to capture stunning scenery at spectacular locations is very much a key factor for my photography.

I’m a qualified Summer Mountain Leader, a Sea Kayak Leader and a UKCC Level 2 Sea Kayaking coach, with many years experience of leading and guiding.  I am also a longstanding member of Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team.

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