Updated: Jun 6, 2021
Yesterday was such a beautiful day.
Even though there was a great deal already on my 'to do' list, I had been thinking of going on the John O’Groats Wildlife tour. A friend had commented on her recent and very positive experience of the tour and after that, I could not get it out of my mind. I checked bookings online. It was 1pm and there were nine seats still available for the 2:30 sailing, so I decided to get a ticket. The sunnier weather, along with the special discount (ending tomorrow!), helped draw me towards the wide open sea! I packed my camera, binoculars, extra sweater, and bottle of water into my rucksack and headed up the road, 3 miles away, to the harbour. On arrival, I met a lovely couple that had come up from Aberdeen to participate in the seasonal whale watching expedition. They had been out numerous times every day for the last week, in the hope of spotting the cetaceans. I ended up being well placed on the boat when I embarked, getting a clear view from all angles. Once all the passengers were on, we set off along the coast. It was incredible to get so close to the nesting guillemots and razorbills - all in their black and white plumage, as though they were attending a banquet. I almost expected a clink of glasses and a formal speech!
As we slowly motored forward and around the corner, the Stacks came in to view, standing high and stately like soldiers at the coastline, battered by wind and waves, sentinels at the gateway to the northern coast. I’ve always seen these from up on the cliffs, but never from the sea, even after all this time of living here.
We lingered around the Stacks and cliffs for some time in the sunshine, the birds continually flying all around us, hunting for fish in the deep waters. Occasionally we spotted a puffin.
Eventually the captain decided to venture further out into the sea towards the Skerry Islands, as some minke whale had been spotted there not long before.
We floated around for a while, just beyond the riptide. Unfortunately this is when I started to feel a bit seasick and had to sit down. But I was not ill enough to stay seated, and got up just in time to hear my neighbour, Tim, call out 'Breach!' and a few moments later I saw the second breaching of a minke whale just below the lighthouse on the cliff. The large white underbelly of this giant mammal glistened bright in the sunlight, and before everyone's shutters were released, it splashed down heavily into the abyss.
What a sight to see!
While no one was able to capture it on camera, we decided that some of these images are best kept imprinted on our minds and our hearts. Nature can be fleeting in its appearances, that much is sure. To be present to the wonders, travelling alongside them, is nothing short of a miracle in itself.
I felt privileged to see that spectacular minke and those wonderful seabirds and cliffs up close.
We floated around the Head for a little while longer, realising eventually that it was unlikely we were going to see our large whale friend again. But I went home happy and contented, if not a little queasy. :)
Oh! the whale is free of the boundless sea, He lives for a thousand years; He sinks to rest in the billow's breast, Nor the roughest tempest fears: The howling blast as it hurries past, Is music to lull him to sleep, And he scatters the spray in his boisterous play, As he dashes the king of the deep. Oh! the rare old whale, 'mid storm and gale, In his ocean home shall be, A giant in might, where might is right, And king of the boundless sea!
- Joseph Edwards Carpenter -