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A Week at Dolphin View Cottages, Hillockhead on the Black Isle: Part 1

When I told friends I was going to the Black Isle, most did not know where it was. The Black Isle is, in fact,  a peninsula in the Highlands of Scotland, located north of Inverness. Contrary to its name, the Black Isle is not an island. It is in fact a peninsula, surrounded on three sides by expanses of water, with the Cromarty Firth to the north, the Beauly Firth to the south and the Moray Firth to the east. From Inverness, it’s reachable by crossing the Kessock Bridge.

I was heading up to Dolphin View Cottages, Hillockhead… holiday properties just bought by Tim Stenton. Tim’s love of cetaceans was a big part of the decision to buy this lovely property, as it is situated right on the cliffs  above the bay with Chanonry Point and the dolphins and other cetacean visitors viewable from the panorama from the garden! Tim has spent many years visiting this area and even written a book about the dolphins here…

The area is also wonderful for other wildlife and I headed up with a rucksack crammed with trail cams, bird feeders and all my tools!

The views are simply spectacular and I could not wait to get out to explore the area and to discover what wildlife was around.

The location of the properties (4 bedroom farmhouse, 2 x 2 bedroomed and 2 x 1 bedroomed apartments) could not be better. Se up on the hill, the panoramic views and open space were breath-taking….

A bird feeding station was high on the priority list… obviously… and using some local materials, we constructed a frame on which to add a selection of feeders. #gallery-18780-21 { margin: auto; } #gallery-18780-21 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-18780-21 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-18780-21 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

We also set up a couple of CJWildlife squirrel feeders… would red squirrels and pine marten be around? Hopefully the Bushnells would tell us! #gallery-18780-22 { margin: auto; } #gallery-18780-22 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-18780-22 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-18780-22 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

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We also set a number of trail cams throughout the area, but I will write a separate blog post all about those!

We spent most of the week exploring the area right on the doorstep. When moving somewhere new like this, it is tempting to travel all over. I think it is essential to get to know what is close by first, especially as time is a premium for Tim with lots to do at the properties.

We followed the footpaths from the properties and were keen to take the cliff path which then led down to a beach.

The woodland was beautiful and untouched and the path, although very steep, was stepped and in good condition. It led down to, what became, one of our favourite places and, in fact, we did this walk nearly every day! Within half an hour, we could be on this beautiful stretch of coastline, rarely seeing anyone else…

It was a fair old work-out to get back up and certainly got the heart pumping, but well worth the trip. We also hiked from there, along the coat to Rosemarkie, which was a lovely walk.

One of the other bigs draws of the area is the dolphins at Chanonry Point. I had visited once before, but not really had a proper go at photographing there. Checking the tides, I visited a number of times, but photographing them was not easy! By the time you see them surfacing and get the camera on them, they’re gone! I have great admiration for the other photographers that have captured some truly amazing images, putting my attempts to shame!

The light was pretty variable and I had to push the ISO up to try to get a decent shutter speed as these mammals move at a fair pace. Here are some of the shots I managed from Chanonry point…

I also booked to go out with Ecoventures. Going out on a rib, such as theirs, gives you a great chance to be out on the water with these fantastic creatures and to learn a bit more about them. It is important to check that the trip you choose to go on is an accredited operator with the Dolphin Space Programme, a voluntary initiative set up by a number of local organisations to safeguard the welfare of the cetaceans in the Moray Firth. Over the years Ecoventures have been actively involved in developing best practice guidelines for dolphin watching in this area. All accredited operators within the scheme adhere to a Code of Conduct designed to minimise disturbance to wildlife.

I managed to chose the only cold and wet day of the week to book my trip, but we were all provided with full waterproofs and I was well wrapped up. The light was not great, but we were soon skimming the waves and heading out to an area where we saw over 20 dolphin feeding. It was amazing to be on the water, watching these dolphin feeding in the shallows.

I attempted to take some pictures… more difficult than inland, with the boat bobbing and trying to track them with my lens. ..

I didn’t realise there was a very small calf with these adults until I uploaded the photos!

I just happened to have my camera pointing in the right direction when this individual leapt out of the water… just spectacular!!

I was so excited to have seen a breach… and to have caught it on camera. Despite a number of other breaches, this was the only one I managed to photograph. We then had then cruising alongside the boat for a bit….I came back buzzing from the whole experience and I thoroughly recommend it.

The week went way too quickly and I fell in love with the whole place… and so did Wren! We will be back as soon as we can. Watch out for my blog post with all the Bushnell news!

I am also currently building Tim’s new website… so watch this space 🙂


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