263. Cockburnspath to St Abbs

July 2015

This walk was done on the last day of my 4 day “gap filling” trip to fill in the parts of the north east England coast that I had not yet walked and this walk in the Scottish borders as I also had a gap to fill between St Abbs and Cockburnspath. I was staying at the Newcastle Airport Premier Inn and I had breakfast at the hotel with their “all you can eat buffet” (which I take quite literally). I had hired a car for part of this trip, which I had returned on the previous evening so today I was travelling to my start point by public transport.

I opted to start from Cockburnspath since the buses that serve there are less frequent than those to and from St Abbs. I also found the train fare paid on the day from Newcastle to Berwick-upon-Tweed (where I needed to change onto the bus) was very costly. So the previous night I had managed to book a cheaper “advance” ticket valid only on the train I planned to catch to connect with the bus.

My hotel had a station on the Tyne and Wear Metro more or less outside so after checking out I took the metro from there into the centre of Newcastle. It’s a good system, quite like the London Underground, except that it’s not in London and not underground. I took that to the central station in Newcastle to await my train. When it arrived I was a bit disappointed to find that although I had booked a window seat on the right hand side of the train (so as to enjoy the best views of the coast), I’d actually been allocated a seat that didn’t have a window next to it at all, only a wall (this, unfortunately, is quite a common occurrence). Thankfully the train was not busy so I could move to another seat with a better view. I always enjoy this stretch of railway line as I can enjoy the views of the coast and pick out Lindisfarne, Bamburgh and Budle Bay amongst others. Then a crossing of the Royal Border Bridge into Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Once at Berwick I walked into the town and took the Edinburgh-bound bus as far as Cockburnspath, which takes about an hour. I was pleased everything went according to plan and I arrived on time. I later found out I had made a mistake when buying the bus ticket to pronounce Cockburnspath as, well, as you might pronounce the first four letters of the word. Though the bus driver didn’t correct me I later found out it is supposed to be pronounced as if the first fours letters of the word  are replaced with “Coe” instead. 

Cockburnspath also isn’t where I really wanted to be. I wanted to start from the small hamlet of Cove, which is right on the coast but there isn’t a bus there and so the nearest place I could get to is Cockburnspath, about half a mile inland.

The weather was cloudy, but was forecast to have a few sunny spells and a few showers, a forecast which turned out to be very accurate. I didn’t really see much of Cockburnspath but to be honest, I don’t think there is much to see. This is the last walk along the Berwickshire Coast path, whose northern end is the village of Cockburnspath. The walk started easily enough, as I was following the route of both the Berwickshire Coast Path and the Southern Upland Way, which share the same route to Cove. So I hoped this part would be well signed. Perhaps it was, but despite this, I still missed the path and any signs at the first attempt, but realised 30 seconds later and went back, this time finding the correct route.

It initially took me under the A1 and the east coast railway line, at more or less the point they converge and then past a row of isolated cottages. Emerging onto the road beyond these, I managed to take another wrong turning, heading up some steps ahead, which I thought was a continuation of the path, but these headed into what looked like a vegetable patch of someone’s garden. I quickly realised my mistake – you are meant to turn left and then pick up a track off to the right, which soon headed along the edge of a field to the coast. Sadly I had already had one brief shower and the weather overnight had been wet. The field ahead had long grass which was therefore waterlogged and just walking this field meant by trousers were soaked below the knee, as were my feet. I continued with wet feet, damp socks and trousers for the rest of the walk!

At the end of the field I had reached the coast, above the little harbour of Cove, not the most imaginative name for a village by the sea.

The coast at Cove near Cockburnspath

There seemed to be a tarmac path below, nearer water level that I could see people walking on, but with no obvious route to get to it and conscious of the need to finish the walk in time (as I had to catch a pre-booked train home at the end of the walk), I stuck with the signed route along the cliff path.

At the time of writing the Berwickshire Coast Path was not marked on the Ordnance Survey maps (it is now) and I had now reached the end of the Southern Upland Way, so I was hoping the route of the coast path was well signed, so as not to get lost.

On reaching the cliff top I could see surprisingly far north, but the most obvious thing was the power station at Torness (you can spot it near the top left of the photo above). Seeing this brought back memories of an enjoyable walk I did earlier in the year north from Cockburnspath (to be written up next time) where the wind was so strong I remember being sand blasted for most of it!

The beach at Cove is rocky, with low cliffs at the far end of the beach.

The coast at Cove

After passing over a little headland I could now see the little harbour of Cove Harbour below. I presume the tarmac path I could see below lead to this, and it looked like it went through a tunnel in the cliffs. I was regretting not having sought out this path now! 

Cove Harbour

Cove harbour was a small harbour with just three boats in and some rather exposed looking cottages right on the harbour wall. There was already interesting geology, with curved lines of rock heading out to sea, presumably where cliffs had been eroded over the years.

Cove Harbour

The cliffs at the back of the harbour were light red and a little reminiscent of the coast of South Devon. 

Cove Harbour

Cove Harbour

The coast path undulated a bit and soon took me to the next bay, Pease Bay. This was a good looking sandy beach, but I felt rather spoilt by the large caravan park at the back of the beach.

Pease Sands

Still, it was a beautiful beach and the sun was now peeking out behind the cloud.

Pease Sands

The path continued right along the cliff tops until the edge of the bay, where it turned inland and picked up the minor road leading down into the caravan park.

Pease Sands

Pease Sands

This turned out to be busier than expected (with no pavement) with a tractor, several vans and cars passing just in the time it took me to reach sea level at the caravan park. Thankfully the path ahead was well signed and took me down to an unexpected ford at the caravan park. There was a bridge for walkers though and I was pleased to see the path soon going off to the left, up steps, and back to the cliff top. 

I got a nice view back over the bay with more higher red cliffs at the back.

Pease Sands

Ahead the coast was becoming more rugged, with higher cliffs and a rocky little bay ahead.

Near Pease Sands

The path stuck to the cliff top until there was a little gully ahead, one of many on this stretch of coast, so it headed inland to get around it. At the top it brought me out to a minor road. I was hoping for a sign pointing me left, back to the coast, but instead I was directed ahead on this road. Once more it turned out to be surprisingly busy, but the reason soon became apparent, there were a couple of what looked like industrial units ahead, which seemed very out of place at the end of a minor road on some cliff tops! 

To the left there was soon a signed path out to the ruined church of St Helens Church. It looked quite interesting, but from the map it looked like the path was a dead-end and I would have to come back. But this is Scotland and you can walk almost anywhere, so I considered it for a while. In the end, with possible time pressures I decided to continue on the coast path on the basis if there was an easy route along the coast from the ruined church then surely the coast path would be routed that way, rather than on the road? It wasn’t so there must be no easy route and I didn’t much fancy climbing over barbed wire fences again. Still the higher route of the coast path gave me a view of the ruined church from a distance.

The Berwickshire coast path near Old Cambus West Mains

So I stuck with the coast path along this rather dusty road. As it approached the industry there was a coast path off to the right, away from the coast. I assumed this was to get around the industry. So I followed the fork off to the right which soon doubled back and continued to climb. Near the top here I managed to lose the path again. There were two obvious paths on the ground, but no signs. One soon took me into part of a farm yard  where someone had been cutting up tree trunks. I decided that couldn’t be it, so followed the other path which took me into a field, with no obvious path ahead. I started to head back in search of a sign, but with none, decided to head to the field and climb over the gate, then follow the edge of the field up to a minor road above. Here I climbed over the gate and turned left passing a couple of cottages and then spotted a coast path sign, showing the route I should have followed to my left and the route ahead was along the road. A shame, but at least I was back along the right route.

The Berwickshire coast path near Red Heugh

I headed past the farms at Old Cambus West Mains and kept lookout out for signs to the left. I was becoming frustrated that the so called coast path was now more than half a mile from the sea and uphill – the coast seemed quite far, albeit I still had good views.

The Berwickshire coast path near Dowlaw

I continued on the road, wondering if I should divert off, or if I’d missed another sign and the coast path was indeed more coastal here. I passed Old Cambus East Mains and then reached the end of the road at Redheugh Farm. Just as I was beginning to doubt this was right, I spotted another coast path sign through the farm yard and then along a track which turned half left, back towards the sea. The track soon turned a bit to the right away from the coast again but I could see it went close to the sea ahead and from the map. So I was surprised to see a coast path sign directing me off it, and up to the right. More uphill and further away from the coast.

At the end of the first large field it continued uphill on the same direction, further away from the coast. To compound matters, I then managed to fall down a badger set! The path was again through long wet grass and I couldn’t see where I was putting my feet because the grass was so long. I was not too concerned until suddenly one foot went down and not just a short distance, but nearly a metre down a straight hole! It wasn’t wet at the bottom thankfully and clearing the grass away I could see it looked to have been dug by an animal. There were numerous more holes further up, but at least there was bare soil around them, so it was more obvious. Thankfully I was just a little embarrassed, with no injury done.

At the end of the second field, the path turned left, at least now following parallel with the coast rather than heading further away. Above Lynsey Bank, the line of the coast had turned a bit south so I ended up just a few hundred metres from the sea again. I was hoping for a left turn. But no, it was right again, away from the coast again and soon to what felt like the edge of moorland, as the ground was now high and the path headed through areas of gorse. Sadly the path soon took me back to a minor road again, this time Dowlaw Road. The leaflet about the Berwickshire coast path splits this walk into two legs, one between Cockburnspath and Dowlaw and the other from Dowlaw to St Abbs, but it seemed an odd place to end a walk, at the end of a dead-end several mile long single track road in somewhere that was no more than a hamlet. 

The road was quite high and no traffic passed me, so I didn’t really mind and the scenery was now improving, with a lake (or loch) off to my right now, surrounded by rocks.

The Berwickshire coast path near Dowlaw

(I note now that the coast path is marked on the map it is actually marked just to the north of the road, not along the road, so perhaps I had managed to go wrong again). It was really rather beautiful and the path was now feeling quite remote, with no places of any size nearby. At Dowlaw there was a little car park and another path to the left signed to Fast Castle. I like a good castle so was very tempted to follow it, but once again, it looked to be a dead-end path and the map showed remains so I wasn’t sure how much was left. I also knew the terrain ahead got much tougher and decided to miss it out, I didn’t want to risk missing the bus (and hence my train) by having taken a diversion to visit it. Having later checked the photos online I don’t think I missed a lot, it is really just a few very small sections of wall standing, but it looks as if it was in an impressive location.

The Berwickshire coast path near Dowlaw

From Dowlaw, the path continued now on the farm track to the back of Dowlaw Dean. The path went down to the back of this and briefly through the edge of some woodland. I got here just as a heavy shower started, so could shelter under the trees and with an umbrella up avoided most of the rain. Although a heavy shower it had passed in around 5 minutes, so I could set off again to soon reach another stream, where there are the remains of an old stone bridge, but the path crosses on a more modern concrete one next to it.

Crossing Lumsdaine Dean

The path twists and turns a bit around what is marked as an old quarry at the map and then – at last – turns left and finally I am back on the cliff top. After the rather frustrating morning section where the coast path proved to be not very coastal, I’m pleased to say the rest of the walk was right along the cliff top – and what a lovely walk it was.

Near Westerside Dean

The cliffs were now high and the coast very rugged, with the red cliffs of earlier in the walk replaced with what I think are granite cliffs. There are numerous little rocky islands cut out by the sea. It was lovely. It was right along the cliff tops and then a descent down to Westerside Dean and then a climb back up. The coast ahead was now very hilly and rugged, with the lower part of St Abbs head to the right almost looking like an island. Another squally shower blew in, but it only lasted for 5 minutes again (you can see it coming on the 2nd photo below).

The coast path near Westerside Dean

The coast path near Westerside Dean

The coast path near Westerside Dean

To my right I soon had Coldingham Loch, a large lake and some children were rowing a boat out into the water, it looked a lovely way to spend the day.

Coldingham Loch

The coast now was spectacular, with towering cliffs packed with birds – it was reminiscent of some of the best stretches of the South West Coast path and I was surprised that I had not passed anyone since Cove, given how nice it was!

Westerside Dean

The coast west of St Abbs Head

The view back was almost as good with the numerous valleys visible along the coast.

The coast west of St Abbs Head

The route of the path ahead was now obvious, following along the outside of a long fence past a couple of rocky beaches, including the oddly named West In Thirle Bay. Although a bit hard at times, I loved this section.

The coast west of St Abbs Head

St Abbs Head

St Abbs Head

Soon there was a descent down to the edge of St Abbs Head. I could see people on paths ahead, the first I had seen all day since leaving Cove.

As I neared the head there were signs showing paths, with a short cut missing out the headland, but I wasn’t going to do that. The headland is owned by the National Trust for Scotland and with roads and car parks, it is a popular place to visit. The path soon headed down to sea level again at the oddly named beach of Pettico Wick. This had what looked like the remains of a harbour wall so was obviously busier in the past but it looks disused now and there are no buildings here, just a small car park.

Near St Abbs Head

View from St Abbs

I took the path ahead, well I’m not sure it was an official path, as it was steep but I wanted to follow the edge of St Abbs Head. The folds in the cliffs back where I had come were quite amazing, with lines of white (Quartz?) making the folds of the cliffs really stand out. Another squally shower blew in, my last of the day, but I didn’t mind as again it only lasted a couple of minutes and the view from the top was spectacular.

View from St Abbs

Out to sea once more I could make out Bass Rock, a landmark which became very familiar to me on this bit of coast earlier in the year. The north coast of St Abbs head is very rugged and spectacular with numerous little inlets and rocky islands.

St Abbs Head

It is also clearly much loved by birds, who were nesting all along the cliffs here and the noise was quite impressive. The cliffs were near vertical in places, it is stunning.

St Abbs Head

St Abbs Head

Ahead I could see the Lighthouse and walked out to it.

St Abbs Head

Sadly it is not open to the public and signs asked you to keep to the landward side of it, a shame.

St Abbs Head

Still it looked in good condition and I do like Lighthouses. Lighthouses in England and Wales are looked after by Trinity House who always use white paint with some green areas. In Scotland they are mostly managed by the Northern Lighthouse Board who seem to go for white and cream instead, which I think looks a bit better.

St Abbs Head

The lighthouse itself was squat just on the top of the cliff, rather than the more usual tower, with the old fog horn a bit below it and the cottages at the top, which I think are now holiday cottages. Below I could see one of those RIB boats doing a boat trip around the headland. I remembered several years before, when I had walked to St Abbs from the south I got as far as the view of the Lighthouse, so I had almost joined up my walks now.

Beyond the lighthouse I had thought the coast got a little gentler. I had remembered wrong, as it was still very hilly and still very spectacular, with now occasional glimpses of St Abbs and I think Coldingham Bay beyond.

St Abbs Head

The path soon descends to the beach at Horsecastle Bay (with no signs of horses or castles).

St Abbs Head

Horsecastle Bay, St Abbs

It was soon back up but this is a truly spectacular stretch of coast, with the craggy cliffs forming little islands and inlets. Really stunning. Looking back, it reminded me a bit of the Valley of the Rocks in Devon with the high cliffs dropping away on both sides, to leave a valley just behind the cliffs.

St Abbs Head

Ahead there was another climb to the cliff top and now with the village of St Abbs ahead.

View to St Abbs from St Abbs Head

It is a lovely view with little rocky islands in front of the village, and the village is also very pretty with brightly painted houses with red roofs.

View to St Abbs from St Abbs Head

I remembered that it was lovely and it certainly was. The cliffs were now becoming red again and I went around the back of a beach backed with low cliffs, Starney Bay, now with St Abbs ahead.

View to St Abbs in the Scottish Borders

Starney Bay, St Abbs

Starney Bay, St Abbs

I needed to get here for 5pm in order to get me to Berwick-upon-Tweed in time for the last train back to London. In the end it was not yet 4pm, so I had made good time and now began to regret that I did not go down to that castle earlier! But it had also been hard so I was pleased to have made it without being too exhausted. Just as I thought I was nearly there the path reached some woodland and you have to turn inland onto the road for the last couple of hundred metres into St Abbs.

St Abbs

I like St Abbs, it is very pretty although there were a lot of Save St Abbs Lifeboat signs up. With such a rugged and well visited coast it would surely cost lives to close it, but I’m also reminded that the RNLI relies largely on donations (to whom I occasionally contribute). The lifeboat here was withdrawn by the RNLI in 2015, hence the signs. However it has since been taken over as an independent lifeboat station

St Abbs

St Abbs

I headed down the steps to the harbour and decided that rather than wait around for an hour I might as well take the bus at 4pm instead, as I thought that it ran hourly. Although I could not remember where the bus stop was as I approached the village (it was 2 years since I had done the walk from Burnmouth to St Abbs), but as soon as I go there I remembered clearly – it is funny the way you can suddenly remember such detail about places you’ve been when you go back there, but not beforehand.

Sadly when I got to the bus stop, it turned out there wasn’t a 4pm bus as I thought. I got the printed timetable out my bag and spotted that the bus I thoughwould depart at 4pm turns round at Coldingham rather than coming out to St Abbs (which is at the end of a dead-end road). I could wait an hour but in the end decided I could walk to Coldingham in the time I head and because I was a little worried about it not coming and so missing my train. Coldingham however is served by two different bus routes and there were two buses due within 10 minutes or so (one the Edinburgh service I used earlier, the other the St Abbs bus), so if one didn’t arrive the other hopefully would.

I found the inland “stub” of the coast path well enough, heading along Creel Road (probably the old route of the B6438, which now runs a bit further north). This starts a road but soon becomes a sunken track lined with trees. The sign said it was the oldest coast path in the UK and estimated to be 1300 years old, when the fisherman of Coldingham used to walk it every day to the harbour at what is now St Abbs, but St Abbs village didn’t exist then, it was only the harbour. Presumably at some point the fisherman decided building houses behind the harbour made more sense than walking to and from Coldingham every day!

To the left there was soon a path back to Coldingham Bay, known for it’s surfing, but I stuck to the path which soon took me to the road. I turned left and followed it down into Coldingham, but a little disappointed it did not have a pavement all the way. Coldingham was pretty enough though, but I was now tired and flagging a bit, so I was pleased to find the bus stop, where I could sit down for 15 minutes before the bus was due and have a rest.

The bus duly arrived on time and I was back in Berwick-upon-Tweed 20 minutes later. I got off in the town rather than the station, as I had nearly an hour before my train (the buses did not connect well with the trains) and stopped to get some food. I was a bit surprised and disappointed to find the Co-Op I remembered was now a B&M and there didn’t seem to be any supermarket in the town, although I did pass a long-closed Kwik Save. In the end I had to settle for some crisps and a chocolate bar from Boots, since it was now just after 5:30pm and all the other shops in the town were closing. Having eaten these I headed back to the station for the long journey home.

On my previous walk that ended at St Abbs (done in 2013) I had travelled from London to Berwick-upon-Tweed and back for free by using loyalty points I had collected through the “East Coast Rewards” scheme operated by the company that was running the service at the time (East Coast). They had since been privatised and the new operator, Virgin Trains East Coast had ended this generous scheme, replacing it with a much less generous Nectar points scheme. So although the scheme had now ended you had 1 year to redeem any points earned but not spent before the scheme ended. I had hoped to save up another 500 points to qualify for two free standard-class single tickets before the scheme ended. In the end I was just short of the amount needed for this. However I was just over the amount needed to qualify for a 1st class single instead of standard class ticket. That meant I ended up with a free 1st class ticket back to London, which was nice.

I was therefore pleased that when I got to Berwick-upon-Tweed there was a dedicated 1st class lounge! I could sit on the sofa, drink the free tea and coffee and watch the TV whilst waiting for the train, rather than wait on the platform! Once on the train the good service continued. I had never travelled 1st class before on the train, but I had a large single reclining seat (on the coast side, of course!) with curtains at the window and a china cup and sugar on the table. Quickly a nice lady came round and gave me (free) tea. Sadly the train I was on did not offer a hot evening meal south of Edinburgh but I was still given a platter of sandwiches, crisps cake and fruit, as well as free beer. They came round again later, so I had a second round of the same – so I was certainly well fed today! There was also more free beer and free Wifi. It was a nice way to travel back and very pleasant to enjoy the free food and drinks on the way home. I didn’t have to drive so the free beer was very pleasant too and made it a good end to a wonderful break. We arrived on time into London and I made a quick journey over to London Waterloo, finally arriving at my local station just after 11pm. A long day, but a very good one. 

I was glad I had done the walk this way round. The first part passed some lovely coast, but sadly the coast path itself was not very coastal and mostly on roads. This was more than made up for the spectacular and impressive path for the second part of the walk around St Abbs head (although it was harder). I really enjoyed the Berwickshire coast path and the spectacular coast that seems to be little known or walked.

I have not walked the coast in order (but am writing it up in order), so at the time of ending this walk it also meant I had now closed a small gap on the coast of the Scottish borders which meant I’d now walked the coast of Scotland from the border to a few miles north of Aberdeen.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Unfortunately there isn’t a direct bus, you need to change buses in Eyemouth or Burnmouth (not all the buses operate via Eyemouth).

Borders buses route 235 : St Abbs – Coldingham – Eyemouth – Burnmouth – Berwick-upon-Tweed. Runs approximately every 90 minutes seven days a week. It takes 5 minutes to travel between St Abbs and Coldingham.

Borders buses route 253 : Berwick-upon-Tweed – Burnmouth (A1) – Burnmouth (village) – Eyemouth – Ayton – Reston – Lemington – Grantshouse – CockburnspathInnerwick – Torness – Dunbar – East Linton – Haddington – Edinburgh. Not all buses serve the destinations in italics, consult the timetable to confirm.  Approximately once every 2 hours Monday – Saturday and twice per day each way on Sunday.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link

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7 Responses to 263. Cockburnspath to St Abbs

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, do you remember the Christmas advert for Cockburns Port here is just one of them, its going back abit mind….

  2. Carol De says:

    Hi, we had the same problems around Downlaw coming away from the coast & also had a field full of cows to contend with. Such a shame you didn’t have the time to explore Fast Castle! The highlight of this walk. If you would like to see some photo’s, please email me, carolD60@icloud.com

    • jcombe says:

      Glad I didn’t have cows to battle with too, but yes it’s a shame the path isn’t more coastal here. As to the castle it’s rather unfortunate and in fact as it turned out I likely would have had time, I just didn’t realise how long the walk was going to take. In hindsight I should have gone down there, but perhaps I’ll go back and see it closer up. Thanks for reading!

  3. I was going to say you obviously aren’t a port drinker, but I see someone beat me to the reference! We dropped into Cockburnspath one damp morning hoping for a cafe, but no luck. It’s a pretty village though. We explored Cove through the tunnel you missed, then walked from there to Siccar Point and back. I think the point we turned off your route was the old church, St Helens. We’ve also done other parts before, including Fast Castle which is a glorious ruin only just clinging on to the cliff edge.

    • jcombe says:

      As to the port no, not really, as you correctly guessed, I sometimes have some at Christmas or New Year but that is about it. But it’s a very funny advert Alan posted, so I know about it now.

      Yes Carol also mentioned how lovely the castle is, and thanks for the photo. Rather regretting not going down there now (and in hindsight I probably would have had time in the end). Also a shame about not going down Cove too. I guess it gives me things to go back to see!

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