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Puffins, seals, castles, caves and secret waterfalls discovered on Stonehaven boat trip

Gayle spots seals and puffins and explores secret caves on a boat trip out of Stonehaven skippered by a creel fisherman

Gayle enjoys views of Dunnottar Castle from the boat.
Gayle enjoys views of Dunnottar Castle from the boat.

The pungent aroma of guano – seabird poo – fills our nostrils as we enter the sea cave.

Seagulls screech and whirl around our heads, and guillemots dive under water in a bid to get out of our way.

I’m on one of Steve Munro’s “intimate coastal explorer” boat trips south of Stonehaven, and the sights, sounds – and smells – are a feast for the senses.

Starting off at the harbour, we head past Strathlethan Bay and enjoy stunning views of the town’s war memorial, standing proud on the summit of Black Hill.

Built in 1922, and officially unveiled in 1923, it’s an unusual sight, and even more unusual from this perspective, sculpted as it is like a ruined Doric temple.

Crumbling Dunnottar

Passing the sea stack of Dunnicaer, and a series of cool caves, we’re treated to cracking vistas of Dunnottar Castle, a crumbling, jumbled mass of walls and foundations perched precariously on a rocky outcrop.

Hugging the coast, we putter along, close to the foot of huge guano-streaked cliffs, bustling with seabirds, before reaching Long Gallery Cave.

One of the many caves to discover.

This is one of the biggest caves in the area, forming a curved passage under the cliffs, through which boats, kayaks, paddleboards and swimmers can travel.

We spot a grey seal basking on a rock, and then head into Wine Cove, which Steve reveals is a hotspot for seal pups. Alas, there are none to be seen today.

However, everyone gets hugely excited when we spot a puffin. The dream!

Clowns of the sea

Known as “clowns of the sea”, or “sea parrots”, they’re adorable, iconic seabirds, with their large beaks and feet turning bright orange in spring, in preparation for breeding.

On land, they have a hilarious waddling gait, but today, we spot not just one – but two – happily bobbing along on the waves.

We motor along beside them for a while, until they get fed up and fly away.

A puffin spotted from Steve’s boat.

The birds typically arrive in Scotland to breed during late March and early April, making their homes in burrows and rocky nooks and crannies on the coastline and islands.

They head back out to open waters around mid-August and are followed by their fledglings, known as pufflings, soon after.

Swim spots

Heading further down the coast, Steve points out spots where he plans to take passengers on dedicated swimming trips.

He’ll drop them off at beaches and coves along the way – but he’s not starting these until the weather gets warmer, hopefully this month!

Gayle with fellow passengers on the trip.

Long Gallery, the cave-tunnel we passed earlier, seems an especially exciting prospect, with swimmers able to cut right through it and pop out the other side.

It all sounds rather Famous Five-ian!

So much wildlife

After a while we come to RSPB Fowlsheugh Nature Reserve.

Its spectacular white cliffs are packed with more than 130,000 breeding seabirds during the spring and summer months, including guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, cormorants, plus puffins and fulmars.

If you’re lucky you might spot seals and dolphins here, too.

Grey seals basking on rocks.

We pass a couple of “hidden” waterfalls before reaching the showstopper – Crawton.

Here, the Crawton Burn tumbles over sheer cliffs, down into the sea below. It’s beyond breathtaking.

Round the corner, we catch a glimpse of Tod Head lighthouse, between Catterline and Kinneff.

Decommissioned in 2007, the former keepers’ cottages and the lighthouse tower were sold off, and are all privately owned.

Crawton waterfall.

When it’s time to make the return journey, Steve heads further out to sea, to give us a different perspective of the coastline.

It may not be the warmest day but it makes for a relaxing Saturday morning, with the promise of a hot bowl of soup at one of Stonehaven’s cafes afterwards.

Steve’s “cruise and dine” trip the previous evening had to be rescheduled thanks to wild weather.

Dunnottar Castle.

Had it run, it would’ve gone north to Garron Point in the hope of spotting seals, and around Dunnottar Castle, with fish and chips laid on by the Carron Fish Bar on the quayside.

Steve had warned me that my two-hour trip might be “a bit bumpy and splashy”, but I’m glad to report that it was reasonably calm.

However, one fellow passenger did look rather green around the gills. If anyone suspects they might get seasick, Steve has tablets, but suggests taking these before leaving the harbour.

Trips galore

He also runs a mini castle tour, a puffin tour, and of course, his swimmers’ paradise trip, among others.

Paramedic Steve started running trips last year, in tandem with becoming a creel fisherman, catching lobsters and crabs in his bright yellow boat.

Those who fancy buying his lobsters and crabs can do so at Stonehaven harbour.

Paramedic Steve Munro, the skipper of the boat.

And Steve hopes, at some stage soon, to have a lobster hatchery from which kids can watch them being hatched and released.

Of course, anyone who’s been reading the news will know Stonehaven’s lobsters have been hogging the spotlight.

Maria Lewis, the owner of the town’s Seafood Bothy, had hoped to transform an old fisherman’s shed into a second branch of her business, acting as a “mini museum” with lobsters in tanks allowing youngsters to learn about their local seafood.

However, Aberdeenshire councillors quashed the plans due to road safety concerns.

Maria Lewis of Seafood Bothy in Stonehaven.
Maria Lewis of Seafood Bothy in Stonehaven with some lobster mac ‘n’ cheese.

Committee chairwoman Wendy Agnew sparked uproar by suggesting that children could be so spooked by the sudden movement of a crustacean that they could flee into traffic.

As the debate reached boiling point, fishing crews from the area poked fun at the stooshie by dressing up as 6ft-tall versions of the clawed creatures.

For more details of Steve’s boat trips, and to book, see or see Stonehaven Boat Trips & Shellfish.