Most folk would not choose to go up a hill by the wettest route, but that is precisely what I did when I went gorge walking and coasteering near Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the UK mainland. Coasteering is a mixture of scrambling, swimming, climbing and jumping off cliffs while traversing the coastline. The rocky coastline of Caithness lends itself to coasteering and there are many fantastic sites all along the coast. We had selected Dunnet Head as our first point of call, and a group of us set out with our guides, Tony and Mark, who had travelled from Inverness one beautiful sunny morning determined to get the best out of our trip to the far north of Scotland. We walked out to a great site on the eastern side of Dunnet Head for our first experience – there are some superb spots with coves and geos of differing heights which are great for beginners. It is not necessary to be able to swim to go coasteering, as buoyancy is provided by the neoprene wet suit and there are experienced people to help if you get into difficulties. You will certainly need a wet suit in the cold waters of the Pentland Firth, even in the summer months!
I had spent months getting fit as I knew there would be some rock scrambling involved as well as the walk out to the site carrying the wet suit. I was determined that my first experience of coasteering was going to be a good one, and had researched carefully before choosing qualified guides as none of the group had ever gone coasteering before. Off the east coast of Dunnet Head there are some very strong currents, so the tide tables had to be taken into account for our entries into the water so that we would not be swept away. My heart was in my mouth as I approached the first geo having scrambled about 500m over wet slippery rocks to find a good entry point for our first introduction to the water. I sat at the water’s edge to get a feel for the power of the waves while Tony, the lead guide, gave a briefing about what to do should we get into difficulties. He was determined that we were going to enjoy ourselves, and wanted to see how we coped in the water before attempting some more difficult activities in the whirling pools further along the coast, and finally making the first jump from about 10m. He had to be certain of the depth of the water and our abilities before he committed us to the first leap. I donned my neoprene hood and gloves and entered the water for the first time. My heart was racing and as the first wave swept over me, I gasped at the coldness of the water. The weather was good and the sea fairly calm, so I didn’t envisage too many difficulties but hadn’t really thought about how cold the water would be! As I swam around to get warm, the other members of the group were doing the same.
We swam over to some rocks on the opposite side of the cove and exited the water. None of us had encountered any difficulties, and the guides pronounced that we were all competent enough to go to the next stage. By the end of the day we were all jumping happily off 15m cliffs which was high enough for the first time. As I scrambled across the rocks to meet the back up car with my warm clothes, I couldn’t wait until we could get to the next site which was planned for the next day on the western side of Dunnet Head. I was hooked!