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Sea Kayaking from Coldingham to St Abb’s Head Lighthouse

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This is a sea trip I do at least once a year, preferably in the late Spring/early Summer, so I can have a look-see at the migrating sea bird colonies that abound above the sea caves north of the pretty harbour of St Abbs. Coldingham is my preferred launch and return point, as there’s a lovely sandy beach and decent shower/changing/toilet facilities. This year Coldingham also established a Scottish first, with two trained RNLI lifeguards on duty until September.

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Coldingham Beach with RNLI flags and sign

Yesterday I took off around 10.45am, with a view to returning by the 2pm high tide at the latest. Under normal circumstances, i.e. relatively calm seas, this trip should not take more than 3 hours in total, including a 15min beak at the half-way point, a weather-protected miniature harbour at the bottom of the northern foot of the hill on which the lighthouse sits.

Despite smooth/calm seas and low winds having been forecast by two different authoritative websites, there was some surf at the beach when I took off, which I assumed was simply due to the incoming tide. However, as I rounded the corner at the sea rocks between Coldingham and St Abbs harbour, the sea became rougher, with a heavy swell and chop.


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Sea birds are difficult to photograph when you’re moving

As I started on the straight, heading roughly north from St Abbs to the lighthouse, it felt as If I had a following (south-easterly) wind and a combination of waves coming both from the north ahead and returning from the rocks, creating pretty dodgy conditions near the rocks and the sea caves.

I decided to stay further out at sea than intended, hoping for better conditions for photography on the return journey. There was no way I could point and shoot with the camera, I needed to keep paddling in order to stay upright.

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The Lighthouse in the distance, viewed from the north

I made it to the half way point somewhat tired. I took off for the return journey after a restorative short walk, some energy-providing chocolate and a drink of fresh water.

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 St Abb’s Harbour

The conditions on the return journey were not that greatly improved. I did however manage to take some photos of the birds and shore from a safe distance using the camera’s zoom function.

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 Guillemots and razorbills in the water

I landed back at Coldingham beach through a mild surf at around 1.30pm. A very friendly RNLI guard from Sydney, Australia told me that the conditions weren’t that great south of Coldingham (in the direction of Eyemouth) either. He then helped me take the laden kayak off the sand and by their hut.

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 Coldingham Beach at almost full tide – return journey

All in all a relatively enjoyable day, but pretty hard work. I did manage to see most species of sea bird that nests locally (razorbill, guillemot, kittiwake, fulmar, tern and puffin) in good numbers and if anything, formed the opinion that the razorbill were almost as numerous as the most abundant species, guillemot, this year. As for closer shots of the nesting sites on the rocks and of the birds themselves, I’m hoping to get back there when the conditions improve and add some more photos to this post.

If you don’t have a kayak, you can still enjoy a walk from Coldingham to St Abb’s Head.

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