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The Bow Fiddle Rock is so called because it resembles the very tip of a bow. It was formed by erosion of a rock called Cullen Quartzite. This is one of many different quartzites found in Scotland. The quartzite is about 2500 metres (8000 feet) thick and makes up the coastline from Buckpool (the west end of Buckie) to Logie Head, the main headland east of Cullen.
Quartzite is a metamorphic rock, which means that it has been altered in nature by heat or by pressure. It was originally sandstone laid down in layers under the sea around 750 million years ago. More and more sediment piled up on top until the sandstone was buried several kilometres down, and as the pressure from overlying rocks built up, and heat from the centre of the Earth rose into the crust, the grains of silica in the sandstone were crushed and welded together to form the much harder rock called quartzite.
Movements of the tectonic plates which make up the surface of the Earth also had an effect. Scotland lay on the edge of an ancient continent called Laurentia, and another continent called Avalonia, on which what is now England lay, was carried towards Laurentia and eventually the two continents collided. The result was to crumple and fold the strata of rock, which is why the rock layers making up the Bow Fiddle Rock slope down to the south.
Over millions of years the overlying rocks were eroded away again, and the Cullen Quartzite became exposed at the surface, where the sea and the weather began to attack weaker spots in the rock and carve out the arch we see today. The sloping layers can be traced on to the land from which you first see the Rock. From further east along the clifftop, you get a completely different view, where you can see that the Rock is a long sloping slab of rock.
To visit Bow Fiddle Rock: the rock is just offshore, north-east of Portknockie at National Grid reference NJ494688. Follow Patrol Road along the cliff top, and if you are driving, park there or in a nearby street. Bear left in front of the little church and pass a row of industrial units. The cliff top path to Cullen goes straight on here, but to see the Rock turn sharp left into the panhandle and through the gap in the fence. Follow the path down to the viewpoint at NJ492687.
Look for other caves nearby along the coast with a similar slope, formed where the sea and weather have eaten away parts of the rock. Round the headland to the south the arch called the Whale’s Mou’ is another example, and there’s a series of caves east of Findochty (accessible only at low tide – take care not to get cut off ).