Regular seafarers on the Pentland Firth know that one of these features offers shelter, the other the threat of destruction.
Distance from Mey House: 1.5 Miles
Google maps link: http://goo.gl/maps/lmGu2
As the tidal flows of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea are squeezed between the Scottish mainland and the archipelago of Orkney and Stroma, some of the most dangerous waters in the world are created. The compression of such a huge volume of water not only generates exceptionally fast tidal races (up to 20mph) and dangerous overfalls several feet high but also a whirlpool so vicious it was named “The Swallower” by the Vikings. If you think I am exaggerating then heed the British Admiralty who warn that the Pentland Firth “can scarcely be imagined by those who have never experienced it”. Get caught out in a storm aboard an unpowered vessel in these waters and you are in serious trouble.
One of the danger zones is a little over a mile from Mey House. A small rock stack known as St. John’s Point sits close to the shore and whilst it rises no more than 10 metres, its prominence signifies the hidden danger of a run of jagged rocky islets known as ‘The Men of Mey’ over which one of the strongest tidal flows of the Firth races. This mighty current is known as ‘The Merry Men of Mey’ though its jovial name belies a hidden danger – if your stricken vessel is caught by The Merry Men they will surely lead you in a dance over the hidden rocks and dash you against the shore. This fate has befallen many boats over the years and it is perhaps why an ancient chapel was located on this headland, dedicated to St John.
However, no more than a few hundred metres along the very same shore is a sheltered inlet that at low tide is cut off from the Firth. This beautiful natural harbour is known as Scotland’s Haven and for good reason too, as it is one of a few safe havens for small vessels in the Pentland Firth. However, its proximity to the ‘Merry Men’ means navigating to it in times of trouble is fraught with danger.
For the land locked observer, both locations are a real treat. Sit on the headland overlooking St. John’s Point and you can watch the sea birds nesting on the cliff faces or soaring effortlessly on the updraft – whilst just below you, hidden amongst the swirling waters of the Firth will be numerous seals. Look out toward the islands and you will inevitably see ships passing to and fro, using the Firth as a shortcut between Europe and North America and on a day when the sea is slight, keep your eyes peeled for pods of Orca. It should come as no surprise to learn that this was a favourite picnic spot for the Queen Mother.
Wander eastward around the coastline and you will discover Scotland’s Haven. Stand at the head of the western incline and look down to the water and you will generally see large numbers of seals basking in the sunshine, softly calling to each other across the still waters. Scramble down onto the sandy shore and you will find yourself alone in a windless arena and on a sunny day, it just begs you to indulge in a picnic. Kick off your socks and shoes and paddle in the warm water or if you dare brave the water proper, it’s a safe place to swim.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: Stout walking shoes are recommended to reach both locations and to make the most of the stunning locale, take a pair of binoculars. Beware of the uneven and slippery slope down to Scotland’s Haven – it is not recommended for those with restricted mobility.
GREAT FOR: Uninterrupted views of Dunnet Head, Orkney and along the coast to John O’Groats.
RECOMMENDATION: Watch the spring and summer sunsets over the Firth from St. John’s Point!