Stretching south from Duncansby Head in Caithness you can see one of the finest stretches of cliff coastline in mainland Britain, filled with cliffs, caves, geos, arches and stacks. The spectacular cliffs are made from Old Red Sandstone, which outcrops around much of the Moray Firth coastline, and was formed under the waters of Lake Orcadie, c.400 million years ago.
There are several famous geological sites, including the cliffs and bays near to Cromarty, which were the haunt of Victorian geologist and writer, Hugh Miller who first identified fossil fish preserved in the rock.
From Wick to Helmsdale the East Caithness Cliffs Marine Protected Area (MPA) is designated for its population of more than 1,500 breeding black guillemots (also called tystie), for which this is the most important area on the east coast of the UK. They breed in nooks and crannies at the bottom of the cliffs, and stay throughout the year, feeding close inshore on fish and crabs. The cliffs also host many tens of thousands of other seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills and kittiwakes.
Along the southern shore of the Moray FIrth, to the east of Banff, lies another stretch of seabird filled cliffs at Troup Head. This has become an important breeding site for 6,500 gannets, but you can also see guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and a scattering of puffins. Troup Head is an RSPB reserve.
Rocky shores are often on wave scoured headlands, where the bedrock provides a secure hard surface for many seaweeds. You’ll also find many filter feeding animals – barnacles, limpets mussels and sea anemones, with crabs, starfish, snails and fish sheltering and feeding among the seaweed fronds.
Find out more:
Moray and Caithness: a landscape fashioned by Geology, SNH Publication