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a favourite with bird watchers

The fishing village of Quriyat, en route to Sur, is a favourite with bird watchers. Species such as Kingfishers and Grey Herons are known to frequent the surrounding lagoons.

The first town of any significance south of Muscat, QURIYAT lies some 80km from the capital, a 45-minute drive from Ruwi along a fast and relatively empty new stretch of dual carriageway which weaves between the craggy foothills of the Eastern Hajar. Quriyat had the dubious honour of being one of the first towns in Oman to experience the destructive attentions of the Portuguese fleet under Afonso de Albuquerque. Albuquerque’s soldiers attacked the town in August 1508, setting it ablaze and massacring its inhabitants – captives, it is said, had their noses and ears cut off, a popular Portuguese way of discouraging further resistance to their rapacious rule.

The town centre – a modest huddle of buildings and a low-key souk – lies around 7km off the coastal highway. The principal attraction is Quriyat’s fort, which sits right in the middle of town, on your left as you drive in. Unfortunately, like so many other forts in Oman, it was closed at the time of writing for renovation – long overdue, judging by the crumbling exterior plasterwork and general air of dilapidation. In the meantime, you can still admire the fine old wooden entrance door flanked by two rusty cannon and the shuttered ground-floor windows which ring the building on three sides, suggesting that domesticity, rather than defence, was formerly the principal concern.

Continue along the road past the fort and a large mangrove swamp to reach the town’s pretty seafront corniche, at the end of which is the harbour, with boats drawn up on surrounding sands overlooked by a round watchtower sitting proudly on the headland above.