Berwickshire Coastal Path Day 1 (Part 2) – Eyemouth to St Abbs

Published 3 April 2022

The Berwickshire Coastal Path logo. I think it’s supposed to be a wave.

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. The start of my first day had taken me out of Berwick-upon-Tweed, over the border into Scotland and into a land of smugglers, harbours and beaches. The afternoon promised even more excitement.

“It’s a dead end there,” a lady informed me as she stood on the side of the road overlooking Eyemouth beach, a mug of tea in her hand.

I’d mistakenly thought the Coastal Path signpost directed down the road, but actually I needed to go down the beach itself. Thanking her for her help, I walked over the packed sand, weaving my way through the crowds, desperately trying to avoid standing on anyone’s toes.

Eyemouth beach on a hot July day.

And there, sure enough, at the end of the beach I found a set of steps leading up to the cliffs. They led to Eyemouth’s huge caravan park which looked almost as big as the town itself. No wonder there had been quite a queue outside the ice cream shop.

At the top a sign indicated I could take a detour to Eyemouth Fort. Ah, a bit of history to enjoy, I thought, and went to look. I had no idea what I’d find. But I did expect more than two replica canons and an interpretation board telling me about the fort. Or two forts as it turned out. The first was built in 1547 by the English. It was all the fault of one Henry VIII. You may have heard of him. Well in 1543 King Henry planned to invade France. In preparation, Henry decided to wage war on Scotland. His aim was simple. Eliminate James V, King of Scotland, and unite the crowns of England and Scotland by marrying his son Edward, to Queen Mary, the successor of James.

Only one problem. His plan was completely rejected by the Scottish Parliament. That led to eight years of war between the two countries. Even Henry’s death in 1547 didn’t help. Even after he died, the English kept on trying to bring about unification by force.

Replica cannons at Eyemouth Fort.

England’s armies moved north, and in 1547 they built Eyemouth’s first fort.

It lasted three years, and then demolished after the Treaty of Boulogne. Although a treaty between France and England, it also saw the English withdraw from Eyemouth.

The second fort came a few year later when, in 1556, it was rebuilt to house several hundred French troops. They remained until 1559 when, for a second time, the fort was razed. And that was that. There’s little to see now. The only remnants, a few traces of the ramparts. And that was all there was to see. A few earthworks and little else. For some that may be enough to conjure up a vision of the past. But I need a little more. All I could see was a bit of grassland and two rusting cannons. It hadn’t needed the biggest detour to see it, but it hardly felt worth it.

The coastline with Eyemouth Holiday Park in the background

It felt like it took forever to get round the edge of Eyemouth’s caravan park. Partly that was because of the heat. It was so hot that I spent most of my time stumbling along, wiping my forehead of sweat, and declaring “phew” every few seconds. The other reason was that the path was narrow, and very busy.

The 3½ mile walk to or from St Abbs is a popular one, and lots of people were making the most of the sunshine to walk it. Benches lined the route, appearing every 100m. At least they did until the caravans ended. Most were dedicated to departed loved ones. There were many who had “loved this view”. So many that the path was running out of space to put new benches on.

Things quietened down once the Coastal Path left the caravans behind, although there were still plenty of people out for a walk. And it wasn’t only humans that were around in great quantities. Every now and then there would be views of rocky coves and steep cliffs; each crowded with nesting gulls and other sea birds.

Linkim Kip and it’s very reddish coloured beach.

One cove had not only had birds, but also a natural pool that looked perfect for bathing in. Unlike most of the coves and beaches, there was even a set of steps down to it from the cliffs. It was that hot I was tempted to head down for a cooling swim. At least until I noted how many people there were down there wearing wetsuits. Perhaps it would be a tad too cold.

A little way on, the Coastal Path decided to leave the cliffs and head onto a beach. It was a spot that looked quiet and secluded. An ideal bolthole if the beach hadn’t been so rocky. It looked like the place few people ever event, let alone spend time there. Perfect for a rest, I thought.

And then I stopped looking at the waters, looked towards the edge of the beach and spotted the huge sacks of litter. Wine bottles, lager cans, remnants of fires, burned out tyres. It was all rather grim. Before seeing the mountains of rubbish, I’d been tempted to take my boots off for a paddle. Now I was beginning to worry about what I find if I started wandering around barefoot.

The idyllic looking Linkim Shore. Until you spot the litter, remains of fires and more…

My boots, depressingly, stayed firmly on. I’ve no problem with people enjoying the natural world. But those who can’t be arsed to take their litter home with them. Those who treat the land with utter contempt like this. Well that I do not like.

When I’d planned by Berwickshire Coastal Path walk, I’d opted to do it over two days. It’s thirty miles long, which splits up reasonably and there are places to stay. And truth be told, it’s not easy to split it up into three equally sized days. Lack of accommodation and facilities means you end up doing two longer days and one short one. Two days it was.

But even so, I’d had a challenge booking somewhere for the first day. As St Abbs was roughly the mid-point of the walk and it was logical to spend the night there, or at nearby Coldingham, a mile off the route. But not a room could I find. In the end, I’d had to book a room in Eyemouth.

The popular beach of Coldingham Bay.

This was awkward as from Berwick, Eyemouth is 12½ miles away. But to get to Cockburnspath, it’s 17½. This was not an equal way of splitting up the miles. At the last minute though, I’d had a brainwave. I could walk to St Abbs, and at the end of the day, get the bus back to Eyemouth. The next morning, I could do the reverse journey.

After consulting the timetable, I knew that the last bus was at 6pm. But if I walked to Coldingham I could pick up a bus from there back to Eyemouth at 5pm. If I arrived at St Abbs at 4:30, I’d be able to manage it.

Gaily painted beach huts at Coldingham Bay.

For a while it looked like the Coldingham plan would be the winner. But as the day progressed, the timings were looking increasingly tight. My feet feeling sore wasn’t helping my speed; soreness I later found caused by a blister. My legs were feeling stiff too. On paper the days walk hadn’t looked taxing. But cliff walks often take more out of you than you expect.

It was Coldingham Bay that really tested me. It was a beautiful beach. Large, and full of wonderfully soft sand. It wasn’t too busy, even if there were plenty of people enjoying the sea.

It looked wonderful. I wanted to stop, to rest on the sand, to unwind and relax. My brain had other ideas. It kept telling me I “must go on. Must get bus.” That 5pm bus would be waiting for me.

And then something went inside me. Why was I rushing? There was another bus. I could get that. Okay it wasn’t until 6pm. But it was there. And I got the later bus, my tired legs and blistered foot would be spared an extra mile of walking.

A pair of feet resting on the beach of Coldingham Bay, Berwickshire

Why not relax on this lovely beach for a bit? This was a walking holiday, not a route march. Five minutes later I was lying on the soft sand, my pack used as a pillow, and with a distinct feeling like I’d like a snooze.

How long I lay there, I don’t know. I know I didn’t want to move. I only did because I knew I needed to get that 6pm bus. It was the last of the day and stood in the centre of St Abbs, half an hour away. I had plenty of time to catch it but knew if I stayed on the beach too much longer, I’d end up fast asleep. Which is why I found myself standing at St Abbs Harbour a good hour before the bus was due, wondering what on earth to do with myself in the meantime.

St Abbs Harbour

I pottered around the harbour. St Abbs is a small place and not exactly overflowing with diversions. Especially when you arrive after they’ve closed for the day. The Visitor Centre offered an exhibition on ‘The Voices of St Abbs Past and Present’, presenting stories and photographs of life in the village through history. Which sounded fascinating but it had closed for the day. I’d timed my arrival too late for a scone and a cup of tea in the cafe. The Lifeboat station shop only didn’t open on a Thursday. And I was too late to buy any dressed crab from the crab stall. That left the village shop (closed for the day) or sitting around admiring the view. Oh, and finding the bus stop. I finally located it on a small street near the old school, which now acts at the village hall and has a café (guess). I had 40 minutes to spare. But there was at least a bench to sit on.

Later as the 235 bus whisked me back to Eyemouth, I wondered whether I’d make the right decision getting the later bus. And decided yes, without a doubt and thrice yes. My only mistake was that I didn’t stay on the beach for longer.

Next time: through nature reserves, past lighthouses, and into the fog.

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