Quest for Puffins
Dunottar Castle, May 2009
Then it was off to Dunottar Castle , where the MP, Marsha and I had seen the Puffins last week, so that Meme -- who'd been looking for them since we arrived -- could see them. This time we didn't walk the mile and a half to the castle from Stonehaven, but drove to the carpark. On the walk to the castle we made a couple of side trips, one via a side path out to an abutting headland to the north of the castle, thinking perhaps they might be nesting where we could see them. No luck. Then we took a footpath down to the beach below the castle, to the north, and although there were no puffins, there was a "beach" made up of the most amazing rock I've ever seen -- pudding stone, they call it, and it looks just like a black pudding with black round fruit in it, except it's all as hard as, well, stone, and the most complicated stuff to walk on I've ever seen, because it doesn't so much erode as come apart, so the ground is made up of what might pass for piles of cobblestones if the cobblestones could stack up in pillars and constructions two or three feet high in places and be completely immovable.

But there were still no puffins in sight, so we went up and round to the castle entrance, where we debated whether it were worth 20 pounds for the four of us to go and find no puffins . . . while we discussed it, a couple who turned out to be from Detroit were coming out and the guy said he'd seen one of those stupid looking birds you see in cartoons on top of the stable. And the ticket guy said he'd heard people saying there were puffins. So we bit the bullet and paid the entrance fee. We went directly to where we'd seen them nesting -- and there they weren't.

I thought, oh, shit, they're gone. But I went round to the "Whigs room" -- where the poor prisoners had been kept and starved -- which was where, out the window, Marsha had first seen the puffins flying in and out (though where they'd been landing was below the little ledge we were looking out over). It was about a minute before I saw one taking off, then a couple more, then another. I yelled for meme, who we'd left outside scanning the cliffs with binoculars. I went out to look for her, but she was gone. Turned out she and Brad had gone into the building and up to the floor above, which was the Marischal's chamber and bedroom, with a window looking out just above the Whigs' room window, and from which you could see down to where they were nesting, or at least where you could see the ones at the top (we had the feeling there'd be more lower down, but we couldn't see them). We took lots more pictures than this, but these will give you an idea.

Dunnottar rocks, in many more ways than one.

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