Berwickshire Coastal Path Day 2 (Part 2) – Dowlaw to Cockburnspath

Published 24 April 2022

A nice rock seen from the Berwickshire Coastal Path

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. The morning of my second day had taken me through the stunning St Abbs Nature Reserve, away from the coast and into the fog. The afternoon? Well that offered some spooky goings on ahead of my arrival at the end of the trail..

With six days of walking in the bag – five on the Northumberland Coast Path, and the previous day on the Berwickshire Coastal Path – my feet were getting a little sore. The hard road surface I was now walking on, was making itself felt known. I began to wonder if the innersoles in my boots needed replacing. What I did know was that it wasn’t long before I wanted to sit down again.

So, when the path headed off the road into next to a disused quarry, my mind with visions of arriving at a relaxing spot. One where I could rest, and rub the soles of my feet, and enjoy peace and tranquillity.

Heading back to the coast

I found a likely spot, and heaved my pack to the floor. A good mist had returned, but that wasn’t going to stop me.

And then the noises started.

Ever since the fog had arrived, I’d heard mysterious sounds that I couldn’t explain. Okay, they were likely to be tractors or other farm machinery. One of them I was pretty sure was an aeroplane. But without being able to see what was making the noise, they could have been ghosts, spooks, and ghouls for all I knew.

The sounds emanating from the old quarry though, were on another level. Mysterious whirrs. Loud hums. Bangs. Scrapes. And did I imagine it, or was that a klaxon?

This was certainly not the peaceful spot I had hoped for. But my feet won the argument, and even though the sounds were rather putting me on edge, I remained put.

A giant vegetable processing plant in Old Cambus Quarry.

It was only when I finally got going again that the truth was revealed. The quarry was no longer in operation, but that didn’t mean the site itself was dead. The mist cleared briefly, long enough to reveal a huge vegetable processing facility. The old quarry now contained scores of metal sheds. And by the looks of it, the owners didn’t think it was big enough. Two diggers were banging and crashing as they cleared an area next to one of the existing buildings.

It was a well thought out site. Only a mile or so from the A1, it had excellent transport links. The old quarry provided plenty of space to spread out in. And the recessed position swallowed all the industrial noise for those living near by. I hadn’t heard anything until I was almost on top of the place. And it only took me to walk 100m beyond it for the noise to start to subsume again.

It was rather surreal having this hive of activity, nestling discretely in an area full of farms. Even more so when I turned down the lane leading to the facility and found several HGV trailers parked up. But there we were.

The ruins of St Helen’s Church, Aldcambus.

Even odder was that all this sat right next to a ruined church. St Helen’s Church to be precise. This small chapel made of red stone had been built to serve the parish of Aldcambus. And it did until the parish was merged with neighbouring Cockburnspath parish after the reformation in 1560. In time it became redundant, and St Helen’s began to fall into disrepair.

The ruins are a short way off the Coastal Path. Not that was going to stop me taking a look. I wandered over, finding several half collapsed walls, and many weather-worn gravestones. Whoever was buried below, was long forgotten; their names no longer visible.

A weathered gravestone at St Helen’s Church.

More recently, it was round here that saw a revolution in geology. Yes, that’s right. A revolution in geology. Indeed, the foundation of geology as a science in its own right. And it took place a short way from where I now stood. In 1788, at Siccar Point – a short way along the coast from the church- three men, sat in a boat. They were James Hutton, James Hall, and John Playfair. And from their boat, they saw some interesting layers of red sandstone rock. It was interesting because it it was overlaying sedimentary rock called grey wade. This was important because it proved the earth was a lot older than 6,000 years old.

At the time, the age of the earth had been a topic of much discussion for Christian scholars. Even Sir Isaac Newton got into the act. Most of them had decided the earth was 6,000 years old. One of the most famous proponents of the theory was Bishop James Ussher. He published two detailed Biblical Chronologies in the 1650s. Taking a highly literal translation of the Bible, he worked back through the events the Bible documented. From that he decided that the earth was created by God in 4004 BC.

Hutton wasn’t convinced. He believed the earth was far older than calculated by scholars like Ussher. And the rocks he viewed at Siccar Point proved it. Without going into the geological detail (which not being a geologist, I’ll no doubt get wrong) Hutton could see this rock formation couldn’t have formed in 6,000 years. The two layers of rocks would have formed at different times, over millions of years.

His work meant that history – and indeed geology – was changed forever. Although probably not without a lot of arguments. And despite modern science being able to prove Hutton’s conclusions, there are still people who don’t believe the Earth could be that old. Crazy but true.

I can see the sea again!

With only a few miles of the trail to go, the Berwickshire Coastal Path returned to the cliff edge. First it came to a rocky beach, but round the corner lay Pease Sands, a sandy beach dominated by the caravan park behind it. Every possible piece of flat land appeared to hold a caravan. So squeezed in were they that it was amazing they hadn’t put them on the road.

Pease Sands was a familiar point to me. Ten years earlier I’d walked the Southern Upland Way. And it passed through this very point, where it joined up with the Berwickshire Coastal Path, so the two could head up the coast together.

Pease Bay – a sandy beach and a lot of static caravans.

The Coastal Path and the Southern Upland Way are two quite different trails. At 214 miles long, the Southern Upland Way is a tad longer. But both trails finish at the village of Cockburnspath. And presumably sharing the same route saves a few pounds on signposts and things.

So, I headed north along the cliff path, walking along the edge of grassy fields. Ahead of me lay Cove Harbour. This small, tranquil harbour had been one of my highlights of the Southern Upland Way. Not only was it quiet and beautiful, but it was accessed by a tunnel cut in the rock. I wanted to go back, and had resolved that if I had time, I would revisit it now. But alas I didn’t. Looking at the time, it was clear I wouldn’t be able to get there and back and arrive in Cockburnspath in time for the bus. I had to make do with enjoying its loveliness from above.

The delightful Cove Harbour.

And then the final mile. The end was in sight. Time to leave the coast and head inland. Time to walk under the East Coast Mainline railway. Then under the A1 road. And to follow a path into the village of Cockburnspath. When I’d last been there, I’d never expected to come back. Now here I was.

It hadn’t changed much in the ten years since I’d last stood in the village. The wooden “information shelter” – a series of information panels in a kind of wooden bus shelter style structure – that marks the end of both trails, still stood strong. There was still no pub. And that was about it.

The end of the Berwickshire Coastal Path – shared with the end of the Southern Upland Way.

There were differences. For starters the council had closed the public toilets to “protect” everyone from Covid-19. Quite how a small toilet block in a tiny village was going to cause a massive outbreak of an infectious disease, wasn’t explained. Nor was what you were supposed to do if you really needed the toilet.

With a little time to kill before my bus, I potted around the village. There was a red sandstone church tucked out of the way. And in the middle of a village, a large stone market cross. Although it must have been many years since a market had been held here. The cross presumably once stood in the middle of the village green. It probably looked far more imposing then. These days it’s surrounded by parked cars and looks a little neglected by it all.

Cockburnspath Market Cross.

On the other side of the road stood the village shop. Or what was the village shop. It had closed a couple of years earlier. With no commerce facilities, the villagers decided to rectify the situation. After a lot of effort, they’d achieved their goal. Opposite the school, near the closed toilets, now stands a new community run facility. It had only recently opened. I went inside, delighted to find a series of local pies and cakes that would sustain me on my looming train journey home.

And then that was that. The parish of Cockburnspath had been the northernmost point in the old county of Berwickshire. The parish was bigger than the village, but not much. And the trail ended here. And so did I. My walk was done.

I wandered over to the bus stop and waited to be whisked away. Well with no pub, café, hotel or B&B, there’s little point to lingering at Cockburnspath. I whiled away my final ten minutes sat in the bus shelter, with my boots off, rubbing sore feet, and hoping the bus wouldn’t turn up early given.

Celebrating at the end of the Berwickshire Coast Path.

The Berwickshire Coastal Path had been a challenge on my feet. Doing all 30 miles in two days along undulating cliffs, had been a punishing schedule. But as a walk, it had been worth it. Dramatic cliffs, gorgeous scenery, cliffs, caravans, gulls and more. My feet may have been throbbing, and there was definitely a blister forming on one of them. But it had been a grand adventure.

The Berwickshire Coastal Path had thoroughly enjoyable. Splendid even. And that was more than worth being a little sore for.

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