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Berwickshire Coastal Path
by nigheandonn » Thu Jan 04, 2018 11:30 pm
Route description: Berwickshire Coastal Path
Date walked: 04/11/2017
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So I had resigned myself to not finishing a Scottish LDP in 2017, until the last weekend in October when I was standing in the bus station in Galashiels, and saw a poster for something called the St Abbs Wool Festival, to be held in Eyemouth the next weekend. That sounded quite fun, and it also reminded me that I still needed to walk the Berwickshire Coast Path (south to north) to fill my last coastal gap - and I could definitely fit in two days of walking before the end of the year. Of course, in the end I never did make it to the wool festival, but I enjoyed the walk!
Saturday 4th November
The Berwickshire Coastal Path exists in a strange state of limbo - half of it is marked on the orange OS map, which I don't have anyway, none of it on the pink one, and the whole of it, but only roughly, on a Borders council leaflet which I had tried to download but somehow lost the bottom part of. So I could blame this for the fact that I went wrong before I even started, in Berwick - but really the problem was that I didn't look at any map, didn't take the harbour road which I thought only led to the breakwater, and only realised what I'd done wrong when I found myself heading for the barracks.
It's not easy to find a way to the sea from there, with everything built up into walls and mysterious drops, but I figured one out, backtracking to go through an arch and up and down a rough dip, and then across some very well kept grass which was obviously used for something although I couldn't tell what. I wasn't quite back at the start of the path at the pier, but I decided I was close enough.
The watch tower here was open to visitors, but I decided that I had wasted enough time pottering about and wouldn't go in. The view was good from outside, anyway.
This part of the coast, as so often, was deep in golf courses - and at the end of the first golf course I came to the first caravan park. But just after that came the first caves and weird cliff shapes - it always surprises me that people rush off to look at stacks and arches in the north and west, while along this coast they just seem to lie about neglected at the back of golf courses and industrial estates - there are still a lot of shapes well worth seeing!
The next bay, past the next golf course, had some of the best shapes, a double row of rocks with arches below and caves and odd upwards pointing stacks above.
The east coast main line had been creeping closer for a while, and is a close companion to the path from here more or less until Burnmouth, although sometimes more obvious than others. Every so often a train would go flashing past.
After the second caravan park I knew that the border was getting close, although I wasn't sure exactly where - I could see ahead now, and knew that the low hill behind Lamberton was in Scotland. I came across the first place where the track was actually marked with a Coastal Path marker and thought that might be a sign, as my experience on St Cuthbert's Way was that the Borders council are very keen on waymarking and Northumberland are not particularly - but going on there was a much more obvious sign not much further ahead.
At the border the path immediately crossed from following the edge of the coast to following the railway line. I did realise that I was now in Scotland and could walk wherever I liked, and considered doing it on principle, but since I wanted to go up and see if the border marker on the railway line was visible (it was, but broken), in the end I stuck to the path.
And the path is a bit better looked after on this side, with various signs pointing out wildlife and other objects of interest. After a bit of deliberation over time I decided I couldn't miss out the detour down to the ruin of the smuggler's bothy, which has always fascinated me from the train.
It's easier to get down than it looks, although quite steep in places. The building is supposed to have been built about 1760 by a local merchant involved in tea smuggling, but most of what remains looks much more modern than that - still an amazing setting, though.
Getting back to the path was a bit harder, as I decided to head up the pathless far side of the little point rather than retracing my steps around it, and some of it was steeper and deeper in dead bracken than it looked at first, but it didn't really take long.
The next surprise was coming round a corner to find myself away from the coast and faced with a great sunlit sea of brown - another thing, with the house abandoned in the middle of it, which always catches my eye from the train.
I expected the path to skirt the coast edge, but instead it still sticks to the railway line, cutting along the straight side of the field, under the bank - a very winter's day scene, with the bare field in sunshine and the path in shadow with even the fairly low embankment hiding the sun.
The path joins the access track to lead back up to the railway line and then cut down the edge of the next field, where a trodden path led off through an open gate to start crossing a grassy field. I knew I was about to drop down to Burnmouth, but although the far side had a glorious view of the harbour from above, there was very obviously no way down.
So once again I had to go back to the maps and try to figure out where I was actually supposed to be - but really I knew that I'd gone wrong right back at the other side of the wide field, where I'd turned off following a clearer path rather than a waymarker. And yes, on the way back I could see the first houses at Cowdrait which I should have come down to, and this time I kept going and found the right path.
Cowdrait was a bit of a surprise, because I expected the usual coastal and rural Scottish muddle of old houses which no one has got round to replacing, and instead found myself behind a collection of identikit council houses in little lines, with only a couple of older houses at the far end. Burnmouth harbour and the row of seafront cottages at Partanhall were more what I expected.
The path leads up quite confusingly to the upper village - start walking up the very steep road, dodge round the back of the church, backtrack on a small path for a bit, and then join the equally steep but quieter Partanhall access road to reach the top (if I'd realised that you could get up from Partanhall that way I'd probably have kept walking round the harbour to join the road from the start). I was fairly sure there wasn't a shop in Burnmouth but made the detour to check, because lunch in Eyemouth was going to be very late, and found myself somehow irresistibly drawn to the pub to eat lunch there (no beer, I was just cold and hungry!).
From Burnmouth the path led up past the village hall to reach a great rough clifftop field, and went on like that - a bit like parts of the Durham and North Yorkshire coasts, with great flat places and a gentle climb up or down to the next, and a scattering of inland farms.
The rocks were still quite exciting here, but very different from earlier - layered and twisted. Fancove Head had my favourite rock formation of the day, with striped points sloping down to the water.
Over the top of the head, with Eyemouth in view, the whole landscape had changed as well - gentle Lothian-style farmland instead of the border emptiness.
The path is quite reluctant to reach Eyemouth, sticking to the coast for as long as possible before cutting round the edge of yet another golf course. The signposts show the path following the road, as in the leaflet, not cutting down past the clubhouse as shown on the orange map and described by WH, and so that was the way I went, eventually doubling back to the harbour, which looked glorious in the sunshine.
After all this distraction it was about half past 3, a bit late for the wool festival, and although I wandered about the village a bit I didn't find it - not that I was looking too hard. I did unexpectedly meet someone from my work eating cake in the teashop, but if I was going to get on to St Abbs I really didn't have time to do the same, and bought a reduced jammy pastry from the co-op instead.
It had been perfectly light as I came into Eyemouth, but the light was fading visibly - if beautifully - as I left it, although it was still well before sunset.
The path climbs out of Eyemouth past an old fort and follows the cliffs again, although they're much lower here. What I thought was the start of the next small inland detour turned out instead to be a drop into a little v-shaped valley, where a dog and I gave each other a fright at a corner - very reminiscent of County Durham again (and it was even called a dean, although they're spelt differently down there).
That left me walking along the shore for a while, and hoping that the way out would be quite obvious, because I wasn't on any definite path and might miss a turning in the dusk. It was, though - a clear climbing path up steps at the far side of the bay, which crossed another low cliff top before slanting down again towards Coldingham Bay. It wasn't completely dark, but pretty close, and I knew this was as far as I was going.
On the shore at Coldingham Bay three men in hi-vis jackets and headtorches were on hands and knees digging about in the sand, and I couldn't decide whether they were some kind of scientific experiment or some kind of forensic investigation - they turned out, however, to be a fireworks display, or at least the precursor to it, and all the way up to Coldingham I was walking against a fairly stream of people heading down. And from Coldingham I took the bus back to Berwick for dinner and the train home.
Saturday 23rd December
I knew when I finished the first half of the walk that it would be well over a month before I got back to do the second - November is always full of dances and the fiddle festival and such things - and it turned out to be even later than I expected, because I ending up using the 16th of December for a Christmas shopping adventure, and saving the 23rd for the walk - the real sunrise to sunset time of year.
It was my last good chance of the year, so with any decent forecast I was heading out, but although the weather was supposed to be dry and fairly bright it was also supposed to be very windy for a while in the middle of the day, which wasn't ideal for a cliff path.
As usual, I was complicating things for myself - having not got up to Coldingham the last time, I really wanted to walk the creel path, but I also wanted to pick up where I had left the main path, at Coldingham Bay. So that meant a St Abbs start, which meant either a 9:30 bus from Berwick, which was too late, or a 7:10 bus, which was ridiculously early, especially when I'd been complaining for weeks about having to get up in the dark. But I did want to be walking by daylight - I really had to be, to get to the end - so there I was on the 6:20 train to Berwick.
On the country roads it was pitch black, so that I had no idea where I was except at the stops in Eyemouth and Coldingham, but on the descent to St Abbs there was a dramatic red glow in the south east, which was turning into a sunrise as I got off the bus and walked down to the harbour - I wasn't really supposed to be hanging about St Abbs until I came back round, but I couldn't help it.
The creel road turned out to be just a fairly ordinary fieldside path, with a few early dogwalkers, but it was a nice direct route into Coldingham, which I wanted to have a prowl around. It's an odd shape - a kind of disjointed cross with no definite centre - but it has some nice old buildings as well as the priory ruins and impressive church.
From there it was back down the road I'd come up the last time, to pick up the coastal path proper on the beach at Coldingham Bay - a glorious stretch of sand in the early sunshine, where I met a shaggy dog who badly wanted me to stay and play.
But I had a walk to get on with, so I climbed up the steps on the far side to come along to the edge of St Abbs and back to the harbour.
I thought I would be able to get a cup of tea here, but the cafe at the harbour was determinedly closed although it was 5 minutes after opening time - the cafe in the community centre was the same, and the one at the visitor centre was closed for the season. You can close for Christmas if you like, of course, although the 23rd is a bit early, but it would be kind to put up a sign saying that, rather than just leaving the usual one saying you're open when you're not!
I've walked the loop around St Abbs Head before - along past the first rocks which are like a castle, and then down into the great dip between the higher ground inland and the hills of the headland itself.
Something over towards the sea was howling and groaning - almost but not quite human, in that a human calling out so deliberately forcefully would use words, and a human groaning involuntarily would be less forceful, but near enough that I started climbing over towards it to check for someone in trouble, only for the noise to shift and change completely, so that my best guess is that it was a bird of some kind in the mouth of a cave - which I would never have thought at first. A very odd sound in that empty place.
On below the steep side of the first hill, and then up along the back of the second towards the lighthouse, which uses the cliffs to give it most of its height above the sea.
Down to the Mire Loch and the little landing place and I had turned another corner, so that I was looking along past new rows of cliffs to the unmistakable East Lothian landmarks of the Bass Rock and Berwick Law.
A sign on the gate of the first field warned me of unfenced cliffs and told me to stick to the path, but since there was no path, and there was a fence, I stuck to that instead! The field beyond was the start of a fairly tough pull up to the top of the hill and the first set of Admiralty distance poles for a measured mile.
After dipping a bit past Coldingham Loch, the path rose again to the top of the highest cliffs on the Berwickshire coast, at Tun Law. Up here the wind was blowing strongly but steadily - enough to make me keep inside the fence when the path changed to the outside, although I wasn't really worried unless it started gusting, which it didn't.
Beyond the forts the path drops quite steepy down to the little valley at Westerside Dean, which gives a good view back.
On the other side of the valley the path climbs again to the second set of distance poles, and then drops more gently towards Dowlaw.
I knew that at some point I would leave the coast to cut off the corner by Dowlaw Dean, but with the mapping confusion I wasn't entirely sure where. It turned out to be fairly well marked, though - head up towards one one little plantation of trees, and then over to another.
The last section towards Dowlaw was on the path of an old post road, no longer a track on the ground but still just about visible as an odd line of grooves and ridges, more obvious looking back. This nice bridge, beside the footbridge where I crossed the Dowlaw Burn, must also have belonged to it.
I had hoped to reach Dowlaw by about 1, to keep me on track for the end, but it was more like half past. It was definitely lunchtime, though, at least once I managed to find a spot both fairly clean and moderately out of the wind.
The next part of the walk was quite different, from one farm to the next. The path was marked as leaving the Dowlaw road where it turned obviously left after a cattle grid, and I followed it, but quite soon any trace of a path vanished to leave me deep in rough ground and long grass, and in a wind so strong that all movement was an effort, and I decided I couldn't cope with both and cut back over to the road.
Ahead the coast was doing another of its sudden changes, dropping from cliffs and rocks to farmland and familiar landmarks from the old John Muir Way.
I knew where I needed to turn off, beside a mast, so I couldn't really get lost, and as I got to it the signposted path reappeared from over behind a fence and and ran close to the road again, so it was easy to get there. The path turns down a little walled lane and leads along field edges to pick up the track leading to the next farm - a big solid house, and even more barn.
The path then sticks to the road for a while, passing a little cluster of houses at Old Cambus East Mains before turning down by the West Mains, which seems to have a scrapyard for old trees in its backyard, and onto the access road for what seemed to be a strange hidden factory, tucked into an old quarry but not quarrying - a good place for a baddie's secret lair, maybe.
It turned out, however, to be a secret brussel sprout production facility - at least, the lorries that passed me on the way out were vegetable distributors, and I kept finding random sprouts under my feet!
Two historical things are down here as well - the ruins of the medieval St Helen's church, and the rock formations at Siccar point which provided James Hutton with proof of the age of the earth, but although I want to see both I definitely didn't have time then.
Just as the path looks like it's going to join up with the access road for the caravan park at Pease Bay it suddenly takes an odd detour off round the edge of a field. It was one of those evenings when the sunset seems to reflect around the sky, so that the first pink appeared in much the same place as the first red and orange of the sunrise, in the east above the ruins of the old church.
As I came down the steps to join the road further along the light was just beginning to fail, but both possible options from here took me up the road on the other side of the bay, where I started to meet Southern Upland Way signs. There was still plenty of light in the sky when the SUW turned off the road to follow the edges of the fields, so I went for it - less dramatic cliffs, but this was the first place where the wind gusted enough to move me about, although it wasn't really as strong as it had been earlier.
The sunset was glowing and changing all across the south and west now, with a fairly new moon in the middle.
The path winds round the edge of the headland, past the odd cottages at Cove harbour far below, before hitting a track leading inland to Cove Farm, where I went slightly wrong and set off confidently along the road before I thought to check. Instead I should have been following another track down to the way under the railway line - so that I was on the landward side of it for the first time on the walk - and the road, and then up a kind of access road to the main road in Cockburnspath.
It was really dark now, but I hadn't been too far out - it had been light enough to walk the field edges until the point where I hit tracks, and walking under that sunset had been wonderful.
So a nice little trail, the Berwickshire Coastal Path - and (if you allow the Shields ferry) I now have an unbroken walked line from Musselburgh to Filey, although North of the Tyne I can't claim to have walked it in anything like order!
by shane1974 » Thu Apr 12, 2018 2:52 pm
your unbroken line is similar to mine i have it unbroken from kirkcaldy to scarboroough. plus i have a a little on the south coast too, Portsmouth to Folkestone..
by nigheandonn » Thu Apr 12, 2018 3:04 pm
I've got a new gap now from Musselburgh to the Forth Bridge, but when I fill that I'll have up to the Tay Bridge - and then both ends are a bit far from home!
by malky_c » Thu Apr 12, 2018 3:54 pm
by nigheandonn » Thu Apr 12, 2018 4:12 pm
It's a good walk - as is the Northumberland Coast Path, although that's too far back for me to have written a proper report - a lot of very nice emptiness there.
by bethany11 » Mon Apr 30, 2018 10:12 am
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by tamsin grainger » Sun Mar 24, 2019 2:45 pm
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