Berwickshire Coastal Path Day 1 (Part 1) – Berwick-upon-Tweed to Eyemouth

Published 27 March 2022

A Berwickshire Coastal Path signpost in Berwick-upon-Tweed

The Berwickshire Coastal Path is 30mile/48km walk along the dramatic coastline of the historic county of Berwickshire, in the Scottish Borders.From just within England at Berwick-upon-Tweed, the trail weaves north through fishing villages, resorts, and nature reserves before meeting with the Southern Upland Way at Cockburnspath. It’s a walk I did over two days in the summer of 2021. And my journey started in the historic border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

The Berwickshire Coastal Path starts at the Tweed Estuary in Berwickshire-Upon-Tweed. There’s a statue of some anchors that mark the official start. It’s also the terminus of the Pennine Cycleway and the Northumberland Coast Path. And I’d stood there before. The day before in fact. Stood there celebrating having walked up the coast of England’s northernmost county.

Given that, I guess I didn’t exactly need to go back there the next morning. But I’m the kind of person who must do things properly. Also my hotel was only a short distance away. It wasn’t as if I was putting myself out for my convictions or anything.

Heading under the city walls for the first day on the Berwickshire Coastal Path

The route the trail takes through the town of Berwick isn’t very clear. The OS map only shows the trail starting at the edge the town near Berwick’s pier. There were no signs other than the one at the anchors. And all that did was point vaguely into the distance, telling you it was 30 miles to Cockburnspath.

So I had to make my own route up. And the thing to do was follow the town’s historic walls round to where the trail started on the map. Which is why I ended up walking through the town centre. Well, I’d walked along the harbour road and over the remnants of the walls the previous night. It had been something to do after eating delicious venison curry. But also, by going through the town centre, I could pick up something to eat at lunchtime. And my stomach’s needs are rather important to consider.

My lunch sorted, I picked up a road to take me to the pier, keeping my eyes peeled for information boards or waymarks. What I found wa a big “ROAD CLOSED” sign and cones blocking the very road I needed to walk up. This was puzzling given none of them had been there the previous evening.

A bench looks out to sea at Berwick-upon-Tweed

“Is it okay to walk up there?” I asked to a man in high viz standing who was standing next to the cones.

“Yes, but be wary of heavy plant,” came the reply.

“And he doesn’t mean hydrangeas,” wisecracked another man who had been chatting to Mr High-Viz. This second man was wearing pyjamas and slippers stood next him. I guessed he’d popped out for a chat from the nearby cottage, but who could know for sure? And who was I to judge? I thanked them both and headed up the road.

A road that contained no sign of any machinery. Or much at all. All the road closure had done was block off an access road to a small car park. A car park that occupied by two motorhomes. I stared, baffled, wondering if this was all some sort of elaborate joke. Or a scheme to catch those undertaking illegal overnight parking. It was a mystery and one I wouldn’t solve. I picked up the path that carried on along the coast non-the-wiser.


The Berwick Holiday Park – an exciting feature of the walk.

For the previous five days I had walked north to Berwick along the Northumberland Coast Path. It’s a coastal route that spends most of its time darting along sandy dunes and luscious beaches.

It didn’t take too much walking along the coastline north of the Tweed, to realise things had changed.

The Berwickshire Coastal Path is not a dunes-based coastal walk. It’s all about the cliffs. Sandy beaches were gone. In their place, sharp cliffs, pointy looking rocks, and a lot of gulls. Their shrill calls filled the morning air.

First call of order was to walk along the edge of a golf course. This was then followed by a caravan park. Although on the other side of that was some more golf course. Presumably the same golf course. Although as I’m not a golf course expert, don’t quote me on that.

Gulls and more on the rocks and cliffs

The path hugged the cliff edge as I strolled through fields and then a second golf course. As I walked, I took endless photographs of those sharp pointy rocks down below. There were several coves, most of them inaccessible from the cliffs. Some featured huge caves, making me wonder if groups of smugglers had ever used them. And then making me wonder if I’d been reading far too many Famous Five novels to my children.

Then, a little north of the second caravan park, something important happened.

I crossed into Scotland.

A big sign lets you know you’re crossing the border.

I knew this because a large metal “Welcome to Scotland” sign stood next to a gate. Like the kind they put on roads. Although a little smaller.

It’s the kind of thing that almost never happens. Few authorities ever deem a footpath crossing a border to be important to commemorate. Motorists get to know. The need for everyone in a car to know they’ve just crossed into Northbottomshire, is clear and well known. But if you were to do that on foot, there’d be no sign. There never is. A good indicator of this ambivalence came on the other side. There was no equivalent sign for those going south into England. Not even one with “Welcome to Northumberland” emblazoned on it.

Welcome to England?

Well, there wasn’t an official one. There was something there. On a simple piece of wood, someone had painted the words “English Border”. Beneath it, the words “Cuddy Trail” with no indicator what that meant. I never did find that out. It was the second mystery of the morning. Either way though, the reverse crossing was what you might call “a tad embarrassing.”

Looking in front of me, Scotland was pretty like England. Although I was now wearing a kilt. Well, when in Rome. Although I couldn’t help thinking that the hiking kilt needed to become a thing. So much nicer in the hot weather than a pair of shorts chaffing your legs.

My passport stamped, items eligible for customs declared, I entered the southernmost point of Scotland: Lamberton Skerrs. The Berwickshire Coastal Path now headed across a field to the nearby East Coast mainline. As I arrived at the railway, I noticed a large sign. British Rail in its past had, at least, marked the border crossing in style. There were no signs on the footpath, but railway passengers got to celebrate passing into England. How many of them spotted the metal sign complete with heraldic lion and unicorn, I wondered? Still, at least it was there.

British Railways did at least celebrate the border being crossed in style.

The path had never been that far from the railway since leaving Berwick. But for the next few miles the Berwickshire Coastal Path would be very close to it; as if huddling up for warmth. Only a metal fence separated me from the metal rails that conveyed high speed trails to and from Edinburgh at speeds more than 110mph.

As the trains zoomed by, I walked through what turned out to be a nature reserve. There were regular wooden signs saying things like “Badgers”, “Red Foxes” and “East Meadow Ants”. And “bothy”. Yes, bothy too. This referring not to a creature, but to a ruined building, at the bottom of the cliffs near a small beach. Again, I started thinking about smugglers. And again, resolved to stop reading Famous Five books to the children. Although as it happened, the area was once a haven for smuggling.

Under the guise of a fishing operation, John Nisbet smuggled tea. The modern mind thinks of smuggling as the preserve of alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs. But in the mid 18th century tea faced heavy taxes. A rate of 119% non-the-less. Tea was a prime candidate for smuggling. And in conjunction with a Swedish shipping, Nisbet brought in tea via Sweden. He evaded the import taxes and made more than a few pounds from it.

The ruins of the Smuggler’s Bothy at Lamberton Skerrs

There’s a suggestion the “Smuggler’s Bothy”, was built around 1760 as part of that smuggling operation. Whoever had updated the Wikipedia certainly thinks so. It seemed possible. But I wouldn’t like to say for sure. Doubt was in my mind thanks to the Wikipedia page stating that the smuggler who built the bothy was called ‘John Robertson’. Now John Robertson was a smuggler, but in South East England. And because it was on Wikipedia, scores of other articles had asserted the same thing.

So did Smuggler’s Bothy ever have a smuggling connection? Could it merely have been a fishing bothy all along? Your guess is as good as mine. Still, it’s a story, eh? I wonder if Enid Blyton ever heard of it.


Time to head down off the cliff tops and head to the cluster of houses near Burnmouth Harbour

A series of steps led down to a cluster of terraced houses at Lower Burnmouth. Had the beach been sandy instead of full of stones, and had there been a cosy pub nearby, you could imagine that every house would be a holiday cottage. Burnmouth looked far more normal.

I flopped down on the beach. I hadn’t intended to walk without stopping for 3½ hours but there had been few places to rest. There had been plenty of land, but it was usually filled with long grass, caravans, or golfers. The beach was the first spot I found worthy of sitting down on. Even if it was full of pebbles rather than sand.

Lunch scoffed (a cheese and onion stottie in deference to setting out from the North East of England), I set off once more. And immediately found a picnic bench that would have been an infinitely more comfortable place to sit for my rear end.

A rather peaceful looking Burnmouth Harbour

Beyond lay a small harbour, home to several fishing boats. Behind it, the cliffs loomed high. Getting back up there was my next task. This was one that was undertaken by climbing up a steep path, and gave a chance to see Burnmouth in more detail. Such sights as an empty church, with a For Sale sign outside, and a shuttered primary school with weeds growing in the cracks of its playground. Burnmouth had a feeling of decline. It’s always a shame to sees. Villages no longer able to offer the basics are hardly a sign of a thriving community.

Back on the cliffs, the Berwickshire Coastal Path meandered through fields of wheat, of barley, and of something that looked like peas. And then I was on the edge of a golf course, with the town of Eyemouth beyond. The trail skirted the edge of the course, hemmed in by a sturdy stone wall; signs imploring the walker to remain on the inland side. Given the steep drop down on the other side, it was a message I was keen to follow.

Eyemouth Harbour

And so, I arrived in Eyemouth. A place that appeared to be everything Burnmouth wasn’t. It too had a harbour. A busy one by the looks of it. But it was also a town with an eye on the tourist pound. Looming above the the harbour stood Gunsgreen House, built for the famous smuggler John Robertson, sorry, Nisbet. The lower floors are now a museum with, inevitably, a focus on smuggling.

There were people everywhere. People were swimming in the sea, and the town’s small beach was heaving with sun worshippers. And now the sun was now out with a vengeance. It was baking hot, and I needed to cool down. Based on the queue outside an ice cream stand in a fish and chip shop, others felt the same.

I joined the queue, and obtained a cone of raspberry ripple, and went in search for a spot of shelter that I never found.

Still, the raspberry ripple was excellent. And what more could you ask for than that?

Next time: caravans, a fort, and beautiful beaches as I head onwards to St Abbs.

Comments

Harry Johnson

27 March 2022 at 11:24 am

Hi Andrew.
The “Cuddy Trail” – Cuddy is a Scottish slang word for a donkey or horse.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

27 March 2022 at 12:48 pm

Ah, thanks Harry!

Have your say