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Dream come true for dolphin watchers at top north-east spot

Dolphins seen from Torry Battery.
Dolphins seen from Torry Battery.

Gayle heads to Torry Battery to watch dolphins, litter-pick and learn about the history of the area.

Torry Battery has overlooked Aberdeen’s harbour since 1860 – and it offers one of the best views of the city.

It’s a fantastic spot from which to watch bottlenose dolphins, whales, porpoises and other forms of marine life.

And with the Greyhope Bay Centre opening in February, after a decade of planning and hard work, now is the perfect time to head along for a visit.

The glass-fronted centre houses a dolphin viewing area, cafe, and education and community space.

The new Greyhope Bay Centre at Torry Battery.

When I showed up at the blustery former artillery site on a recent Friday afternoon, I was in for a treat.

I’d barely got out of my car when I noticed a man standing with a huge tripod, telescope and camera gazing out across the harbour and looking extremely excited. Had he spotted a pod of dolphins?

As I approached, keen not to break the man’s concentration, I looked in the same direction and – yes – there they were!

A young bottlenose dolphin. Picture: Ian Hay.

“You can’t always guarantee spotting them,” said the man, who turned out to be Angus-based wildlife photographer Ian Hay.

“But today there are quite a few young bottlenose dolphins out there.”

Ian was kind enough to let me peek through his telescope and see the gorgeous, charismatic creatures jumping and arcing their backs. The wee baby ones were particularly cute.

So what is it about the harbour that attracts the mammals?

“All the salmon going up the River Dee have to go through this channel so it’s a really good place for the dolphins to have lunch,” explained Ian, who’s also project manager for the East Grampian Coastal (ECG) partnership.

Dolphin surveys

As part of Ian’s role he coordinates whale and dolphin surveys and he’s always looking for volunteers with a passion for the coast to get involved.

“Cetacean watches record everything from conditions to sightings, any other wildlife and visitor numbers,” he said.

With the area increasing in popularity over the last couple of years, thanks to the publicity around the dolphins and the new cafe, it’s become what Ian describes as “one of the worst places for litter”.

Take Four For The Shore

In a bid to combat this, a fantastic litter-picking project– Take Four For The Shore – was rolled out here in March 2021 as part of a partnership between Turning the Plastic Tide and the Greyhope Bay project, which is transforming the former artillery battery into a tourist destination and wildlife watching hotspot.

A box full of equipment to safely dispose of litter has been installed and anyone visiting the area is encouraged to use the gear inside to remove at least four items of waste from the shoreline.

Gayle and volunteer Preye pick litter on the beach. Picture: Ian Hay.

I was more than happy to get stuck in alongside volunteer Preye Ofunama. Armed with bags, gloves and “grabbers”, we mosied down to the beach and collected stray plastic bags, drinks cans, crisp bags and sweet wrappers. It felt good knowing we’d done our bit for the environment and it would be great if all visitors did the same.

Coffee and cake

Job done, I treated myself to a cappuccino and cruffin (a cross between a croissant and a muffin (from the Greyhope Cafe before strolling along the peninsula to imposing Girdle Ness lighthouse, a Stevenson tower built in 1833.

Gayle enjoys a cruffin and a cappuccino.

Its redundant foghorn is still here, rusting and covered in graffiti, but I remember hearing its bellowing warning signal when I was a kid – even though our house was 17 miles away.

Torry Coo

Fondly known as the Torry Coo, sadly it no longer moos.

It hasn’t done so since the 1980s, as it and all others in Scotland were shut off by the Northern Lighthouse Board because modern ships were thought to be too large and enclosed for the captain to hear a fog signal.

Gayle at the Torry Coo.

As I headed back to my car, I was delighted to see more dolphins (or perhaps the same ones) playing around the entrance to the harbour.

There’s no need for binoculars, although I wish I’d brought mine. Apparently they can be spotted here on most days: it’s said Torry Battery has “the highest probability of spotting bottlenose dolphins in Scotland year round”. I hope you get lucky!

Torry Battery.
  • The best place to look for dolphins is between the orange breakwater wall and the lighthouse during summer when they can be seen feeding. For more details about volunteering on dolphin watches, see
  • The Greyhope Bay Centre participates in bi-monthly beach clean ups involving members of the community. As well as offering the chance to spot dolphins, the glass-fronted centre offers a community and education space. The off-grid eco-facility was built by converting shipping containers.
  • Torry Point Battery was built in 1860 as a training ground and barracks for soldiers stationed there until it was decommissioned in the 1950s.