On a quick visit to the Black Isle this last weekend we decided we’d go and look for the Moray Firth dolphins at Chanonry Point, between Fortrose and Rosemarkie. This is one of the top spots to view wildlife in Scotland as I highlighted in my previous post of the Top 10 Places to see Wildlife in Scotland. We’d been a couple of times before and been successful both times – and this time was no different.
** August 2017 update: If you’re planning to visit Chanonry Point please read the local travel and transport advice at the foot of this post. Congestion can be an issue at popular times. By planning ahead and not adding to the parking issues you can have an altogether more enjoyable experience **
We stopped at the car park beside the lighthouse (built 1846), managing to arrive unscathed by flying golf balls (the access road cuts through the Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Club, you see). It’s a popular place. The car park is nearly always full but being a chilly October day the usual burger/tea/coffee van was absent.
My wife had done her research and discovered that the best time to see the bottlenose dolphins is about an hour after low tide when the tide turns and the dolphins start to chase the fish. We’d timed it reasonably well – just a couple of hours after low tide – and we could see the tidal currents churning up the surface water as we walked along the pebbly beach.
We didn’t need to wait around to see the dolphins; they were already performing right in front us only 30 feet off the shore ! We watched for thirty minutes or so as they cavorted around immediately off Chanonry Point, underwater most of the time but then surfacing just for a few moments before disappearing again. We saw one spectacular leap out of the water but of course I was chatting away instead of having my camera at the ready.
Every time we’ve been here there’s been the usual mix of camera enthusiasts with massive lenses, together with hopeful amateurs pointing their smartphones in the general direction of the water. Like many things, the photos only tell part of the story. They don’t communicate the “oooohhhhs” and “wows” of the crowd when a dolphin leaps from the water in close proximity, nor the rush of excitement when a dolphin suddenly surfaces in an unexpected location. As with many things, you really need to be there to get the full experience. And it’s an experience I would thoroughly recommend.
Chanonry Point is a narrow spit of land that juts out into the Moray Firth, with Fort George similarly occupying the land just to the north of the village of Ardersier at the other side of the Firth. Between them lies no more than one mile of water which means that this is probably the best place in the UK to see bottlenose dolphins up close, playing and feeding in the narrows.
We saw three dolphins on this outing plus a handful of grey seals. Not bad for a quick half hour trip en route to our lunch in Cromarty (at the rather excellent Sutor Creek).
Transport and local access advice (updated August 2017):
Chanonry Point has limited car parking and during the summer can get overly crowded. Consider taking a bus or a local walking/cycling route to make your visit an altogether more enjoyable experience.
By bus: Bus 26, operated by Stagecoach Highlands runs from Inverness Bus Station (journey time 30 minutes). Disembark outside the (former) Church of Scotland, Fortrose. Walk past the police station and turn right into Ness Road and then first right into Dean’s Road. On your left, after the school playing field, walk down a grassed area locally known as the Ness Gap. This takes you towards Fortrose Bay Camp site and onto a footpath alongside the golf course to Chanonry Point (approx. 1.7km)
By foot or cycle: Alternatively, you can walk along the beach from the Rosemarkie sea front or hire a bike from Rosemarkie Beach Café and cycle the ‘Dolphin Mile’. (Bikes are also available to hire from Fortrose Bay Camp Site.)
There are no facilities at Chanonry Point car park but an ice cream van occasionally arrives. Fortrose and Rosemarkie have places to eat, toilet facilities and car parking.
Motorhomes & campervans: there is no overnight camping or parking allowed at Chanonry Point car park but there are campsites in Fortrose and Rosemarkie, both within easy access of the Point.
Have you seen the dolphins here at Chanonry Point ? Do you have any particular tips for others who may be interested in seeing them ?