Moray Coast Trail – Hopeman to Covesea

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The Moray Coast Trail, or Moray Coastal Trail (not even the council can decide what it’s called) stretches from Cullen in the east to Findhorn towards the west, along the coast of the Moray Firth.

Officially, it’s 50 miles but there are some arguments about that…

…anyway, over the past few months we, as in Patches and I, have been tackling it in nice bite sized sections at the weekends. Patches is a mature gentlemen, with a touch of arthritis, and so those bite sized chunks range from five to around nine miles. This is a bit of a misnomer though, as we walk each section as a there-and-back, so we might only cover 2.5miles of the trail, but we do it twice, in both directions seeing it from both views.

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Some sections are easier to walk than others, as it shares the route with sections of cycle trails and on disused railways, so sometimes a nice wide flat path is provided and sometimes you are on the “walkers path” and therefore going around the cliffs (and up and down thin tracks being scratched by scratchy shrub).

I had been looking forward to yesterdays section very much, because the map has the words ‘caves’ printed on it all the way. It did not disappoint, although the scratches from the scratchy bushes on the very enclosed sections might take a few days to heal.

All along the route there are coves and bays, some sand and some pebble. Some are easy to get to, and some are definitely not.

The whole route gives excellent views across the firth to the coast on the other side, depending on the weather of course, and you can often see dolphins, seals, and a large variety of birdlife.

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Not marked on the map is the old Coastguard lookout station, which you get to see from quite some distance when walking west to east, but then it pops up over the gorse and undulating cliff top at you if on the route east to west.

It is a shame that you can’t go in it, or that it hasn’t been co-opted into a bothy like the one on Skye. I image the view from the balcony at the top would be quite something.

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The route does indeed take you past a number of sandstone caves and rock formations, as promised on the map. These ones (above) are not far from the active quarry and are reasonably accessible, although two of the three paths down are much steeper than the west most one and great care is needed.

Popular with photographers, mainly due to the natural arch you can just see at the bottom of the photo (above), and the array of weather worn large round rocks which form a stunning collection of geological complexity (below), it is unlikely you’ll be alone here for very long.

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At weekends, it is possible to park near to the quarry entrance and just visit these caves, although this is certainly not recommended on weekdays when the lorries are going in and out, and care should be taken not to block access at ANY time.

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The quarry produces some very large pieces of sandstone, and whilst it may be a bit of a blight on the landscape, it does facilitate the degree of weekend parking which is helpful, as well as offering much needed employment.

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Towards the Covesea end of the walk, which can be extended easily to Lossiemouth if desired, there is the Sculptors Cave. This feature is clearly marked on the OS maps in the serif type usually reserved for ancient monuments so there is a deeply historical context, obviously. It isn’t actually possible to see Sculptors Cave from the walk, as you’re actually walking over it, but nearby natural arches and caves that you can see give you a teaser of what it could be like.

Luckily, the wonderful Canmore website can shed more light on this;

‘Finds from the Sculptor’s Cave dating from the Bronze Age to the 4th century AD, and including Iron Age pottery, are in the Elgin Museum.’

‘The most striking feature of the cave is the (formerly) substantial assemblage of human remains that was revealed in both programmes of excavation’

‘The possibility may be considered that there were two periods of deposition….the deposition of the remains of children, with some emphasis on the placing of heads at the entrance, and….the remains of several decapitated individuals. Concern with the removal, curation and display of human heads is a persistent trait across prehistoric Europe…’
(edited, removing technical references for ease of reading, by the photographer)

This exciting site certainly warrants a further expedition to photography the carvings at a later date.

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The caves and natural arches extend along the seaward side of the cliff and also under where the photographer is standing.

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The coast of the Moray Firth is still able to enchant and interest, even after more than 13 years of living beside it. The geology itself is varied and interesting, and the human history of the coast is just as fascinating.

The eastern side of Scotland is often overlooked by the rush to the west coast and the isles, and whilst this keeps it from being unpleasantly crowded, it is a disservice to what is a very worthwhile destination. The weather of Moray is far more stable, and frequently warmer and drier than the west, although the residents will still bemoan the lack of a “decent summer”. It also suffers considerably less from the issue of the Highland midge than it’s opposing neighbours.

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Although the walk was only around 5-6 miles in length, ignoring some exploratory detours, Patches certainly enjoyed the outing as much as I did.

Update Sunday 8th October: attempted today to get down to the Sculptures Cave from the cliff above. It was difficult is distinguish the right path and I tried finding a way down and back to it from different points. In the end I found what seems the most logical path but I was only brave enough to tackle the first section and was slipping in the mud from the last few days of rain. As I peered over the precipice and contemplated the leap across the missing rock section onto the second path I am afraid that I bottled it. The caves remain unexplored until I can tackle them from the bottom having walked there from the beach at the far Lossiemouth end. For this, I would want to be there as the tide was going out rather than after it had turned and was heading back in, as being cut off is a very serious proposition. Another time…

 

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Loch Spynie & Lossiemouth East Beach

Visited 27/07/17 & 02/08/17 – Published 30/07/17 (updated 02/08/17)

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Loch Spynie is only twenty minutes from home but I seem to neglect it for more far flung neighbours, and it’s obviously not without it’s problems being so easily accessible (once you know where to find it).

The car park is on the farm itself, and then a track leads you through the open woodland to the small loch where there is a well maintained hide.

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Access to the site, parking, and hide are reliant on the goodwill of the neighbouring farmer and so it would pay the users to have a little more respect and responsibility.

At the moment the issues appear to be litter and dog poo, which seem to blight every inch of the Moray Coast region and much of Scotland.

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It is shame that some irresponsible people seemed to be determined, probably purely through their thoughtlessness, to spoil things for everyone else. Sadly, it is not however uncommon.

Next to the hide is a wide array of well stocked feeders which attract tits, chaffinches, and even woodpeckers.

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But it’s not all about the birds – sometimes even the larger wildlife appears to get in on the act:

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But the rewards are there with some amazing close views of the birdlife, the squirrels, and, allegedly, the otters…

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Less than 3ft from the hide!

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It was also good to see some juvenile herons, as well as signets for the resident pair of Mute swans, young terns in the protected ternary, and many baby ducks.

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The Common terns are the stars of the show and most vocal, and there is obviously plenty of small fish about for them as they are successfully hunting very close to the nesting site.

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Sadly I wasn’t able to get any shots of them with fish. Terns are very fast moving and often quite unpredictable.

The site certainly seems to have a good population of breeding birds, including this Little Grebe out feeding on my second visit.

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The ducks were also in eclipse, with plenty of young tufted ducks also present, another good sign for the future populations in the area.

ST0RM-0144Both the males and females were looking in fine condition though.

Loch Spynie can easily be combined with a trip to nearby Lossiemouth where there is often something to see from the East Beach parking areas, although this is effected by the tide.

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Today was really a ‘gull’ day. This curious Black-headed gull appeared to be scrutinising me as much as I was him (or her). Sometimes, Lossie’ turns up the odd surprise guest gull so it is always worth a good scan about.

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Black-headed Gull
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Juvenile ? Dunlin
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Curlew

And this fabulous Curlew in the warm sunlight fishing in the shallows, in sands of the receding tide, was a real delight.

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The easily spotted Redshank (as opposed to Spotted Redshank) was also a nice find, and several of them were wandering about very close by.

The lists for the 27th July morning was quite small but satisfying:

Spynie:

Mute Swan
Mallard
Tufted Duck
Cormorant
Grey Heron
Little Grebe
Goshawk (loved that one, sadly no photo)
Common Tern
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Jay (looking rather worse for wear)
Blue Tit (including juveniles)
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Sedge Warbler (which alluded my camera inspire of repeated attempts)
Chaffinch
Reed Bunting

Lossiemouth East Beach:

Grey Heron
Oystercatchers
Sanderling
Dunlin
Curlew
Redshank
Black-headed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Carrion Crow

Not the greatest of lists, but a pleasant morning’s couple of hours when I really should have been doing something more financially profitable, but sometimes it’s just nice to relax.

List for the 2nd August quick visit:

Mute Swan
Mallard
Greylag Geese
Tufted Duck
Cormorant
Grey Heron
Little Grebe
Buzzard
Moorhen
Common Tern
Woodpigeon
Collared Dove
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Coal Tit
Chaffinch

Although I did swing past the Lossiemouth East Beach to use the facilities, I didn’t do more than cast a quick glance about. The usual gulls were present, alongside the Grey Heron and Oystercatchers, but otherwise it was fairly quiet.

There has been a reported sighting at Spynie of a Kingfisher, so I will need to pop over a few more times in the coming days to see if he/she reappears. They are much rarer here in NE Scotland than in my native Suffolk.