This walk marks a milestone in that I will cross the border from England into Scotland having now both walked (and written up) my walks along all the coast from the southern England/Wales border anti-clockwise around most of the coast of England to the Scottish border. I was looking forward to crossing into Scotland.
Once again I was doing this walk as a day trip from home (in Surrey). That meant I’d be travelling a round trip of over 650 miles for the day – so it was going to be a long day! The reason for this is cost. A special offer on East Coast Trains meant I’d managed to book train tickets from London to Berwick-upon-Tweed and back for £9 each way, so a return trip of just £18.
I made an early start and took the train into London Waterloo, two tube trains to London Kings Cross and then another train from London Kings Cross to Berwick-upon-Tweed where I arrived just after 11:30am after the long but pleasant journey north. I hadn’t walked any of the coast north from Berwick-upon-Tweed so I’d printed out the times of the buses from various points north so I had no specific destination in mind and would simply stop when I reached the point I needed to catch a bus in order to get my train home.
On reaching the station I headed through the little park alongside the station and down to the banks of the river Tweed. Once again I admired the magnificent Royal Border Bridge that carries the railway line high above the river Tweed.
This time the water of the river was rather brown, probably on account of recent heavy rains, as this walk was in February.
I headed south on the Northumberland Coast Path which follows the banks of the river initially, passing the Royal Tweed Bridge and the older Berwick Bridge.
This time I don’t need to cross them as I’ll be turning left on reaching the sea. At Berwick Bridge it was clear that the river was quite swollen from the recent rains, with the water much higher up the arches than I had seen it before.
Berwick-upon-Tweed station is in fact the northern end of the Northumberland Coast Path so now I’d reached the end of the coast path and would have to be finding my own route again (though not for long).
Once past Berwick Bridge I continued south along the cobbled streets of the old dock area, with the town walls still intact behind it.
Ahead an arch in the walls provided access to the main street and so I headed through this as the road ahead is a dead-end. The main street is quite pretty but seemed very quiet for lunch-time on a Saturday.
I turned right along Palace Street and followed this up to the top of the town walls. These rather grand houses had a fine view to enjoy over the river Tweed, although today it was not looking it’s best given the weather.
There was an obvious wave at the mouth of the river, where the fast-flowing and swollen waters of the river Tweed where meeting the open sea.
However looking left it was clear that parts of the town were rather exposed! Parts of the sea wall had broken away presumably during winter storms, eroding the soil behind it whilst traffic cones along the sea wall further along the road suggested that part of the structure was at risk of collapse too (and the water is not far from the buildings).
The downside of living somewhere with such a good view, I suppose.
I could follow the pleasant path along the town walls to the next gateway at Pier Road where I headed through the arch in the city walls along Pier Road. This heads to the large concrete pier at the mouth of the river Tweed. Here I could follow the road to the last of the houses of Berwick-upon-Tweed and then a path through a car park ahead that took me down to the shore.
Having left the Northumberland Coast Path I’d now reached the southern end of another coast path, this time the Berwickshire Coast Path. This is named after the former Scottish county of Berwickshire which was named after the town, which was part of Scotland at the time of it’s creation. These days the southern part of Berwickshire are part of Northumerland whilst those to the north are part of the rather un-imaginatively named Scottish Borders. However county names aside this meant I had another 28 miles of official coast path ahead of me now, which was welcome.
Rounding the corner I was now on the open sea again. It was a windy day and the sea was showing the effect with the waves rolling in, creating areas of foam on the beach whilst the sand dunes were showing the effect of the assault of the waves over the stormy winter months, where it was clear parts of them had been eroded away.
Ahead there were cliffs, not something I had seen much of in Northumberland so far and the path headed around the edge of a golf course to my left.
Ahead was some sort of concrete tower probably a remnant from World War II.
I soon reached this tower and the height gained gave me a good view back to Berwick-upon-Tweed and the coast south to Tweedmouth and beyond.
Ahead the path soon came to a tarmac path again as ahead I now had a massive caravan park.
The sea of creamy coloured metal caravans rather jarring to the eye. The path goes right along the coastal edge of the caravan site, which appeared completely deserted (many caravans sites have licenses that require them to be closed for a few weeks of the year, so that might have been why).
Below I enjoyed watching the waves crash over an old concrete breakwater, which regularly sent spray high into the air.
In theory there is a beach down here (Fishermans Haven) but with it being a stormy day and the tide being high the waves were regularly reaching the cliffs, so I didn’t bother to take the path down to the beach.
I soon rounded the corner into the next bay, Dodd’s Well.
Here the coast was lined with more caravans, still part of the huge Haven Berwick Holiday Park. Still part way along the cliff tops behind the beach I reached the end of the caravan park so the view to my left was replaced with the immaculate greens of another golf course.
As I rounded the bay I could look back along it where there was a small amount of sand visible at the back of the cliffs, but the waves were still reaching the cliffs.
The cliffs at the far end of the bay had been eroded by the sea to create little caves that undercut the cliffs and again I enjoyed watching the waves crash into these, sending plumes of spray up towards the cliff tops.
The sea was wild and it was quite impressive to watch it like this – individual waves were hard to spot near the shore since the sea was almost entirely white with spray and foam for a few metres out from the cliffs.
Having enjoyed watching the sea I soon came across another interesting geological feature, Brotherston’s Hole.
Here there is a small almost circular bay, a bit like a much smaller Lulworth Cove, but here backed with low red coloured cliffs that reminded me a bit of those in South Devon.
Again I enjoyed watching the sea here and rounding the cliffs here I could now see the impressive hill of St Abb’s Head, though I’d not be getting as far as that today.
The golf course on my left soon ended now replaced with fields, though with the railway line just a short distance behind them and some industrial buildings at the edge of Berwick-upon-Tweed visible beyond that.
The geology was very impressive. At the end of the next little rocky bay there was a natural rock arch visible at the end of the cliffs, which was taking a pounding from the rough seas, on top of which were another little bits of rock sticking up, it was very unusual.
The cliffs were really pretty now with various rocks stacks and interesting rock formations and large numbers of sea birds visible too.
The railway line to my left was now also very close by and the coast path now occupied a thin strip of land between the sea and the railway line.
The railway line is part of the East Coast Main Line, the line from London to Edinburgh and Aberdeen so trains passed on a regular basis on their way to the Scottish capital. Despite the name “coast” this line doesn’t actually reach the coast until Northumberland, but north of Berwick it was certainly spectacular!
Ahead a small stream had created a small valley where I had to follow the path down into the valley and back up the other side. Looking back I had fine views of that rock arch with the two others rocks on top of it, it looked even more impressive from this side.
The path ahead was then easy, right along the cliff tops to reach another large bay, Marshall Meadows Bay. Sadly this had another caravan park surrounding it.
Soon the path entered the caravan park and followed the tarmac path through it to reach it’s access road which crosses over the railway line. Here I could turn right and return to the grassy cliff tops as the caravans were set back a bit from the edge here, where a sign showed I was now only 1/2 a mile from the Scottish border.
I soon reached the edge of the caravan park. Indeed a quick check of the map showed I was now only about 200 metres away from the Scottish border. I did think it was rather a shame that the last building I would pass in England was a static caravan!
Soon the border approached, as I reached the wire fence at the field edge that marked the boundary between England and Scotland. So now I’d reached the end of England and things would be a bit different in Scotland.
The most welcome change north of the border is that Scotland has a right to roam. This means you can legally walk (almost) anywhere, other than military bases and private gardens. I had naively assumed that access to the coast would be popular in Scotland and hoped I’d find a good path along cliff tops all around Scotland where many people had walked before me and formed a nice path. I’d be very wrong about that – but at least for now I had the re-assurance of the Berwickshire Coast Path to lead me onwards into Scotland.
However a downside is that whilst Scotland does have Rights of Way they are not so easy to find or use as in England. The main problem is they are not reliably marked on maps. In England and Wales local Councils must maintain a “definitive map” of footpaths, bridleways and byways and the Ordnance Survey use these to mark the familiar dashed green-lines on maps that identify these routes. In Scotland there is no requirement for Councils to produce a “Definitive Map” and so the Ordnance Survey don’t mark footpaths formally on maps of Scotland (though in practice many are marked with a feint dashed black line or as a track). There is also no requirement to signpost them in Scotland which makes things tricky. There are also Core Paths which are being created and marked, but the process is a slow one.
Of course you might think that with a right to roam there is no need for paths but as I was to find whilst the right to roam is good it means you won’t find stiles to help you cross fences and hedges around fields (and Scottish farmers seem to love barbed-wire topped fences between fields), or bridges to help you cross rivers or burns.
So all in all it makes planning a route in Scotland far more tricky because of the uncertainty of where it will be possible to walk, as it’s not easy to work out from a map. However those difficulties were ahead of me as for now I had the certainty of the Berwickshire Coast Path which is marked on the map with the same green diamonds as long distance paths are in England, just without the underlying green dashed line of the right of way. This gave me a gentle introduction into walking in Scotland.
So now I have reached Scotland, it’s time for a few Scottish cliches.
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Actually I don’t have to do that last one. The coast path ahead now turned left along the south edge of the field to reach the railway line (where there was a stile over the fence into the next field) and beside the railway line Network Rail had gone to the trouble of providing a rather lovely sign to mark the border.
I rather liked that. I’m not sure if it’s intended to be seen and read from trains (but they are likely going to fast for passengers to be able to read) or more intended for walkers to see close up, as I was. Either way it was a lovely touch.
Although I stated beside the railway, this field was very narrow and soon the path was right back along the cliff tops. Indeed you can see the gap between the bottom of the railway embankment and the cliff tops was just a few meters in places (I do wonder if the railway line will have to be moved back a bit at some point in the future if the cliffs continue to erode).
Alongside I had the regular sound of trains passing at high speed on the way to Edinburgh or south to Berwick and beyond.
The cliffs too were getting much higher and the scenery was now very impressive. It was a great introduction to Scotland – I hadn’t expected the coast to be so spectacular, or to change character so quickly.
The path continued right along the cliff top beside the railway line for another mile or so to reach remote Hilton Bay. Here there was just the ruins of a building built just above the beach. I wondered what it had been used for, probably housing for fisherman I imagine.
This was a spectacular walk with the path continuing right along the cliff top on a narrow strip of land between the railway and the cliff top, with trains whizzing past at speed to my left.
In places the cliff tops were covered in gorse briefly blocking views of the coast (but also providing some shelter from the strong winds coming off the sea).
The path continued along the cliff top past Hilton Bay but then the line of the coast moves to the right but the coast path continues beside the railway line, so now a bit back from the cliff tops, however the extra height meant I still got a good view of the coast even if I wasn’t right on the cliff tops any more.
Ahead there was now a small valley where the line of the coast had turned left again so I was now alongside it once more. Below, crammed in between the base of the cliffs and the waves is the small village of Cowdrait, the first settlement I have reached in Scotland.
It must be lovely in the summer to live overlooking the sea like that but I don’t think I’d like to live so close to the crashing waves of the North sea during winter storms.
Just beyond the valley the coast path then drops down steeply beside another small stream to reach the shore in Cowdrait. As you can see the houses are very close to the back of the beach with just a low concrete wall for protection.
Still there was a nice green in front of them with a few benches on (and some fishing equipment).
I could now follow the narrow access road to Cowdrait which also runs along the base of the cliffs to reach Burnmouth, the next village along the coast.
The geology here is again interesting with lines of jagged rock heading out to sea, quite possibly the cause of many ship wrecks over the years.
Ahead though is a small harbour at Burnmouth, providing somewhere safer for boats to moor up.
The boats looked mostly fishing boats, but it was quiet here today as I expect the rough seas made it to dangerous to head out in small boats like these.
Beyond the harbour I was intrigued to see another line of houses crammed in under the base of the cliffs further around the bay.
The road serving these houses is however a dead end so the coastal path now follows the road inland out of Burnmouth that climbs steeply up from the coast back to the cliff tops above.
This showed the risk of living in such an isolated place, as a small landslip had occurred in the cliff face (see the traffic cones in the photo below). Not enough to block the road entirely , but I imagine land slips do block this (the only road) from time to time.
After the steep climb I was reward with a nice view down to Burnmouth now far below. The harbour seemed rather large for the number of boats using it now, but I imagine this was once a busy fishing village.
Now it was decision time. I could catch the bus from Burnmouth or continue to the next village, Eyemouth, around 2.5 miles ahead. I had just under an hour. So I decided to try and press on towards Eyemouth.
I got about a mile up the coast. Having seen how long it took me to walk this mile I realised it would be very tight to reach the bus I needed to catch from Eyemouth. If I missed it I would miss my train home. My ticket was only valid on that train so if I missed it I’d have to buy a new ticket (at far greater cost than I had paid). Since I was also travelling on the last train to London if I missed it, I’d also end up needing a hotel for the night.
I’d had a great walk and it wasn’t worth taking the risk. So I turned back for Burnmouth, knowing I’d have plenty of time to get back there for the bus (which also arrived there a few minutes after it left Eyemouth).
I headed through the small village to the A1. I knew the bus travelled along there so I waited there. There were bus stops in the village too but without a timetable I thought it safest to wait by the A1, since I could not afford to miss the bus and was not sure it went into the village (however it did in fact go down the road into the village, turn around and come back up).
I was a bit surprised when just before the border back with England the bus stopped and seemingly half the passengers wanted to get off. There was no buildings visible apart from the bus shelter and I couldn’t work out why it was so popular a place to stop. Then I realised. These passengers were all pensioners, who qualify for free buses passes. These allow free unlimited off-peak bus travel to holders in their respective countries of issue (be it Scotland or England), but not across the border. So now those with Scottish passes were getting up to pay for the rest of the journey to Berwick-upon-Tweed whilst those with English passes were getting up to swipe their passes on the ticket machine so they didn’t have to pay for the rest of the way!
Of course whilst this free bus scheme is great for pass holders in general it can clearly still cause a few issues if you live close to a border as I was now witnessing. However I don’t have too much sympathy since this scheme means the bus companies must claim the cost of the journeys made using these passes from the local Council. They get paid a percentage (I believe often well under 50%) of the single fare that would have been charged for the journey that has been made. The Council that pays is the one in which the bus pass is used, not the one that issued it (which means Councils in areas that attract a lot of tourists of pension age end up paying for visitors free bus travel too). What this means in practice is that many bus companies have increased the cost of single tickets more than others to try to re-coup money as Councils drop the percentages that they pay for bus pass use. Most bus passengers don’t buy single tickets, only returns or season tickets so aren’t effected. But people such as those walking one way, like I did, do buy single tickets, and so end up paying more because of it. In fact in some tourist areas (I’ve seen it in the Lake District, for example) single bus tickets can actually be more expensive than a return!
Anyway once all the pensioners had sorted out all their bus passes we were soon on the way again back to Berwick and the bus dropped me off at the station.
From here I had the long journey back to London and on from London to get home. I didn’t get home until around midnight (as the train was a bit delayed). However I’d had a wonderful walk. I was excited to have crossed the border into Scotland and walked my first part of the Scottish coast. It had turned out to be a far more spectacular and impressive stretch of coast than I imagined and it had been a lovely walk as a result. Although the weather was very dull, overcast and windy the strong winds had led to some impressive waves and sea spray so it had been quite exhilarating to watch that too – the coast can be very different in winter compared with summer.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk, there are several possible buses:-
Travelsure bus route 34 : Duns – Preston – Auchencrow – Reston – Ayton – Eyemouth – Burnmouth – Berwick-upon-Tweed. 4 times per day, Monday – Saturday. It takes a little over 10 minutes to travel between Burnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Borders Buses route 235 : St Abbs – Coldingham – Eyemouth – Burnmouth – Berwick-upon-Tweed. Runs very approximately every 90 minutes seven days a week. It takes around 15 minutes to travel between Burnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Travelsure bus route 236 : Berwick-upon-Tweed – Burnmouth – Ayton – Eyemouth – Ayton – Burnmouth – Berwick-upon-Tweed. Runs approximately 4 times per day Monday – Saturday and takes 10 minutes between Burnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Borders buses route 253 : Edinburgh – Haddington – East Linton – Dunbar – Cockburnspath – Grantshouse – Reston – Ayton – Eyemouth – Burnmouth – Berwick-upon-Tweed. Approximately once every 2 hours Monday – Saturday and twice per day on Sunday. It takes a little over 10 minutes to travel between Burnmouth and Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link