264. Cockburnspath to Dunbar

March 2015

This was my last day of a 4 day break in Scotland. I had spent the night at the Premier Inn at South Queensferry, near Edinburgh. As this was the shortest walk I had planned for the trip I had saved it for the last day, as I was booked on the 5pm train from Edinburgh to London and on an Advance ticket which meant I had to catch that specific train.

I later realised with a bit of better planning it would have made sense to have booked the 5:30pm train from Edinburgh instead, since this stopped at Dunbar so I could have finished the walk in Dunbar and caught the train back directly from there, which would have been much easier. But I hadn’t done that and it was too expensive to change plans now.

After making full use of the all you can eat buffer breakfast I packed up my rucksack with 4 days worth of clothes I had bought, making it rather heavy and checked out from my hotel. Transport was a little issue with planning this walk since neither Cockburnspath or Dunbar had especially frequent public transport.

I had wondered if I should catch the train to Dunbar first and walk to Cocksburnpath, in time for the limited bus service, or take the bus to Cockburnspath and walk back to Dunbar. With the timings I had to work with, the former gave me about 20 minutes longer but had the downside that I suspected (correctly) there would not be a lot to do if arrived in Cockburnspath early and had a long wait for the bus, which only runs about 6 times a day. There was also the risk that if it didn’t show up I would then miss my train and quite possibly not get home. Of course the train may also not turn up, but then it becomes the problem of the rail companies to sort out for me and get me home (at their expense).

So I decided to take the first bus from Edinburgh to Cockburnspath, which was not until 09:25. From my hotel I walked to the bus stop and took the number 40 bus into Edinburgh (I was not staying in the city-centre). This took around 35 minutes and I realised I was there now in time to catch the train to Dunbar, but decided to stick with my original plan, so walked to the bus station.

I had very painful feet for this walk (the only trip where that has been a major problem I’m pleased to say). On my first day walking on this trip I had, unusually, developed many painful blisters on both feet. I’d given up with the shoes I was wearing on that day and switched to a new pair of trainers in the hope these would be kinder to my feet. Of course what I should have done was stop walking entirely and let my feet recover. However the whole purpose of this trip was to walk more of the coast and I’m stubborn and hate changing my plans so I’d continued to walk as planned anyway despite my painful feet. This meant I was walking slower than usual but I had found the previous day that if I keep to a constant pace and the ground was fairly even it was not that painful so I was hoping I’d be able to do that today. (As a postscript whilst my feet stopped being painful a few days after getting home from this trip, it took many weeks for the blisters to finally heal properly).

I arrived at the bus station with about 15 minutes to spare and was impressed with the bus station, modern, warm and with a few shops too, including a WH Smiths and free wi-fi (though there was a charge for the toilets). It was cold, so it was nice not to have to wait outside. Edinburgh is a lovely city, but I’ll cover it a bit more when I get as far as that on my coast walk. The bus to Cockburnspath arrived a couple of minutes early and, judging from the registration plate could only have been a month old at most and still smelt new.  However the fare was over £7 one-way – I guess the new bus had to be paid for somehow! I’m afraid to say that I made the same embarrassing mistake in my pronunciation of Cockburnspath when buying the bus ticket (which the bus driver didn’t comment on or correct).

The driver was a fairly brisk driver and soon we were heading down the A1 and about an hour later I arrived in Dunbar. I knew it wasn’t far onto Cockburnspath now so got out my phone to check progress via Google Maps since Cockburnspath is a small place with only one bus stop and if I missed the stop, it would throw out my plans for the day.

Thankfully I got off at the right (and only) stop in Cockburnspath. I was immediately hit with the very strong, and cold, wind. Although it was the last day of March the temperature the previous night was only 1 degree, with snow on higher ground and even in Edinburgh the high temperature forecast for the day was just 4 degrees. Spring arrives later in Scotland, I was finding!

Unfortunately, it soon became apparent I had made a mistake and should have started in Dunbar – I would be walking into this cold wind all day my mind went back to the weather forecast I had seen last night warning of gales or severe gales – and they were not wrong. If I had started from Dunbar the wind would be behind me most of the day.

The bus had dropped me on the main road that goes past the east end of the village of Cockburnspath, so I first had to cross the railway and the A1 to get to the coast to Cove, Cockburnspath being the nearest place I could catch the bus too.

I turned north along the road and followed the northernmost part of the Southern Upland Way. This took me on a track which passed under the A1 and shortly after, the railway and took me to the minor road the other side. Here I turned left and followed this into Cove. Cove is a hamlet really, basically one street of houses and a small beach and harbour. I didn’t go all the way down to the harbour, but followed the road as it began to descent as it reaches a right hand bend. Here there was a track off to the left to some sort of water works. I climbed over the (locked) gate to walk along the track to get good views over the coast back to St Abbs Head, which I could see quite clearly – the wind is helpful for keeping the weather clear at least!

St Abbs head from Cove

I then returned along the road, seemingly as all the local traffic did so, a van and 2 cars passing me which must be about half the population of Cove! Here there is a small gap in coastal footpaths on the map. Last time I had reached the end of the Berwickshire coast path and indeed almost the end of this (former) county. However a mile or so ahead, another long distance past was marked on the map and followed the coast as far as Dunbar, the John Muir Way. Curiously whilst this is marked on the Ordnance Survey map I have (dated 2009), it seems not to be marked on the latest maps, possibly as a result of the route having been expanded considerably and re-opened as a much longer route in 2014.

That means I first have about a mile of coast with no marked coastal path, so I had to find my own route. So I followed the road north to the roundabout with the A1. Here there was a track marked on the map leading to Dunglass Bridge. I hoped to follow this. On reaching the roundabout I was pleased to see this was signed as a (dead-end) road. I took this and after passing a large field on the left I soon came to a few houses of Dunglass. To the left, before the road split, I was pleased to see a footpath off to the left, heading down to the valley where I hoped it picked up the route of the John Muir Way, which it did. The valley here was beautiful.


The path soon dropped down to a wide gravel path in this deep valley, with rocky cliffs up to my left and the fast flowing stream below. It was lovely. I followed the path down to the coast and picked up the John Muir Way, or the John Muir Link, as the paths seemed to call it, differing from the name on the map (I later found this was to do with the expansion of the path in 2014,  which had happened after my map was printed). As I crossed the Dunglass Burn here I had also completed walking my first county in Scotland, as I passed from the Scottish Borders (formerly Berwickshire here) into East Lothian. The river is the border.


The path dropped me on the beach and the path initially follows the beach north to the next valley, The Linn. This is initially fairly sheltered, but rounding the corner I’m hit with the full force of the now gale force wind, making it very cold.

Beach near Dunglass

My poor feet are really suffering on the pebble beach too, as it’s very uneven. Still, it is beautiful down here, with the low red coloured cliffs, covered with vegetation in most places and views back to St Abbs Head.

Beach near Dunglass

I can soon see the onward path signed ahead but can’t see the path until I’m more or less on top of it. The path heads up the valley of the stream of Bilsdean Burn. This is a beautiful wooded valley with moss covered rocks and the burn here forms a waterfall, though I couldn’t get a good photo of it through the vegetation, so you’ll have to make do with this one.

Waterfall at Bilsdean Burn

The path climbs up to the top of the valley by the A1 and I wonder how many motorists realise such a beautiful location is just a few feet away as they drive past. Once around the valley the path returns to the cliff top and rounds a field.

View back to Dunglass

Here the force of the wind really hits me. It is so strong I struggle to stay upright and not get blown off my feet. Worse, one of the fields beside the path has been ploughed and the wind is wipping up the losee soil and blowing it into my face. I have to resort to using my map held up to my face as protection to keep the worst of it out of my eyes. The path continues alongside a dry stone wall and the view ahead is now dominated by the Torness Nuclear Power station, which is something of a blot on this otherwise lovely landscape (it’s the white building below).

View north to Thorntonloch

The path continues around a few more fields and another small valley and the cliffs then become lower until I can head down onto the beach.

View back to Dunglass

Here out of the wind, it is quite sheltered on the beach so I stop here for an early lunch, making the most of being out of the wind. This is a beautiful and unspoilt sandy beach, if you can ignore the power station at the end.

The beach at Thorntonloch

I’m not sure quite the official route of the path, but I decide, as much to avoid the worst of the wind as anything, to drop down onto the beach and walk along the hard sands, though this later becomes pebbles.

The beach at Thorntonloch

I pass a stream, which I can step over, and a small caravan park on the left, as the power station becomes increasingly large. I can also see some men, one in a high-visibility jacket ahead, also walking on the beach and I suspect this is the security patrolling the power station.

The beach at Thorntonloch

The beach at Thorntonloch

Torness Nuclear Power Station

As I near the power station there is a high concrete wall protecting the power station and I take the path through the dunes to reach this wall. Here I’m faced with two possible routes, a lower path and a higher path. The sign warns, in a very retro 1980s font, to take the higher path in stormy weather. Since today is very windy it probably counts as stormy weather. Therefore obviously I ignore the advice and follow the lower path anyway, since it’s nearer the coast.

The coast at Torness Nuclear Power Station

This is an easy going stretch and the wall initially provides protection from the wind. Views are rather limited, with the concrete wall on the left and concrete sea defences on the right. There are steps up to the higher path at roughly 500 metre intervals so I can switch to that if needed. Being a nuclear power station, there is no sound and no unpleasant smells, it’s all just rather ugly, but this is far from the first nuclear power station I have passed on this walk.

As I round the corner to head west once more, the force of the wind soon picks up again. I pass a couple of families going for a walk, a sign that there must be a car park near. The path rounds a little harbour, where a lifeboat is moored and more concrete defences.

Skateraew Harbour

Here I think is the water outlet of the power station, as I think they are normally built on the coast to provide a ready source of water to cool the power station, the concrete structure you can see just off-shore in the photo below.

Skateraw Harbour

Here is the only time I have to be a bit careful, as in one place the sea is splashing up through the metal walkway onto the path. I manage to time it right though and avoid a soaking.

Ahead are low cliffs and I thought it would be possible to walk at their base, but it’s not and instead the path climbs back up to the low cliff tops. The weather forecast is for showers today and out to sea I can see one of the showers, causing a rainbow over the sea.

Rainbow over the waves

The path soon descends to the little car park and toilets at Skateraw. Here ahead there is a beautiful white-sand beach backed by a single cottage.


It is very beautiful and reminds me of the Isles of Scilly, though the view behind me is not so pretty.

Torness Power Station


I follow the sands rather than the coast path, returning to the coast path at the end.




Rounding the corner at Chapel Point I’m facing west and back into the wind again, but I can clearly see the lighthouse at Barns Ness (look closely below!)

Near Skateraw

I remember seeing this from the train once and wondering where exactly I was – now I know. The beach is a mixture of pebbles, shingle and sand and I walk along the track behind this.

Approaching Barns Ness

It crosses a stream via a footbridge and then continues with the gorse backed path giving good views over the beach.

Approaching Barns Ness

It feels remote here, despite the fact I am nearing a town with just the lighthouse and dunes visible ahead and the beach and path deserted. It’s a lovely walk out to the lighthouse on this remote stretch of coast.

Barns Ness Lighthouse

On reaching the lighthouse I pass the coastal side of it, wondering if it is possible to visit, but sadly, it appears not.

Barns Ness Lighthouse

Rounding the lighthouse and corner I resume heading west around another good sandy beach, with low gorse covered cliffs at the far end.

White Sands

White Sands

Nearing the end, the path seems to head inland, to a car park but there is a problem. I can see some men doing work, which looks like resurfacing the path with new tarmac. I suspect the path is closed as a result (although there aren’t any signs) so I decide to take a slightly more coastal route on a small path through the gorse. This works fine and beings me out to Catcraig.

Beyond this I come to another glorious beach the aptly named White Sands, because it has sands and they are white.

White Sands

The view inland is less pleasing, as there is a quarry and cement works. It is often surprising how heavy industry can be right beside beautiful beaches. I’ve seen it before in Wales, for example around Port Talbot, and this is another example.

I follow the sands, ignoring the heavy industry inland, the chimneys of which can be seen over the dunes.

White Sands

White Sands

The sky inland is now getting very black and I suspect I’m about to get a shower, but amazingly, I manage to avoid it. The wind is strong and blowing the tops of the waves back in a spray, something I always love to watch.

White Sands

The beach is beautiful, again like the Isles of Scilly and deserted. The sand makes for an easy walk although I have to watch the sand blowing into my face at times.

White Sands

White Sands

At the end of the beach I come to a golf course (Dunbar Golf Course) and this sets me wondering if there are more than a couple of miles along the coast anywhere in Scotland where there isn’t a golf course!

Although the coastal path (John Muir Way) follows right beside the coast along the edge of the golf course, the signs are keen to point, in rather strong language, the walkers must give way to golfers. I’m used to crossing golf courses and in England it seems in my experience rare to come across any or many golfers actually using the courses. In Scotland though, the courses always seem busy and this is no exception. At both places where the holes run parallel with the path I time it just as a group of 4 is beginning their game. The first are friendly, comparing notes with me about the wind and the difficult conditions, but they seem to be enjoying their game none the less and thank me for waiting. I’m sure they are not going to be getting record low scores in these conditions!

Near Dunbar

However given how cold it is, I would rather not have to stop in the freezing wind for several minutes whilst they all take their shots, as I quickly lose heat. Still there are views to Dunbar now just a short distance ahead.

The coast near Dunbar

Once clear of this hole I follow the easy path along the edge of the course. I find it difficult on some of these courses to see where all the golfers are playing to, as it is not easy to see from a distance which way they are facing and aiming, so I walk along hoping for the best. The tees are after all quite some distance from the greens.

There is soon a little stone wall behind the golf course and I cross a stream on the course. I’m again alongside a hole here and again I time it just as a group of 4 golfers are teeing off, so once more have to keep waiting for them in the biting cold wind. Unlike the first group they are not very friendly and avoid any conversation. There are fine views back where I’ve come, too, the industry now largely out of sight.

The coast near Dunbar

Soon I’m relieved to reach the club house and beyond that there is a surfaced esplanade I can follow beside a wall for the last few hundred metres into Dunbar.


My feet are now very painful and in need of a rest, but I have made better time than expected for my train. Yesterday when walking into Dunbar I decided to continue to the station (which is a bit east of the town centre), so I only have a short walk to the station to do today when I knew time would be more limited. On reaching steps up from the beach near the church I remember them from my walk into Dunbar yesterday, so I went up the first few steps here and stopped here for a rest, sheltered from the wind behind the wall.


After about 10 minutes and a drink and snack I have a quick look around the town and then make my way to the station. I have about half an hour to wait for the train to Edinburgh. I wondered if the trains were delayed because of the wind (it often seems to cause problems with the overhead power lines) and indeed some are, but mine seems to be on time. I buy a ticket to Edinburgh and soon the train arrives for the 20 minute or so journey back to Edinburgh.

This is a pleasant journey, but my feet are now painful and the rest seems to have made them more so, to the point I can only walk slowly and with a limp once off the train. I have around 50 minutes before my train home is due, so despite my sore feet, I head up the Royal Mile to the castle to enjoy the view over Edinburgh. I’ve visited the castle before but it is the sort of place I want to come back to again and again.

Edinburgh Castle



Once I have enjoyed the view, I walked back to the station, stopping at a shop to buy a few boxes of Shortbread to enjoy when I get home. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen though, as I later forgot the bag and left it on the train – something I only realised when I got home. (I hope someone, perhaps the cleaner, enjoyed them!).

My train is around 10 minutes late back to London, but it is a pleasant journey for the first stretch, along the coast of Northumberland and past Newcastle, although I find the journey from York to London fairly dull, but by this time it is dark anyway.

All in all this had been a lovely walk with some beautiful and unspoiled sandy beaches and although there was some industry about, a sign I am approaching a major city, it didn’t really detract much from the lovely scenery either side. It was also mostly fairly easy on my suffering feet being not that hilly and much of it on beaches.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Borders Buses route 253 : Edinburgh – Haddington – East Linton – Dunbar – Cockburnspath – Grantshouse – Reston – Ayton – Eyemouth – Burnmouth – Berwick-upon-Tweed. The bus runs roughly once every 2 hours Monday – Saturday and twice per day on Sundays. It takes around 15 minutes to travel between Dunbar and Cockburnspath.

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

This entry was posted in Berwickshire, East Lothian, Scottish Borders and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 264. Cockburnspath to Dunbar

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, fortunately over the last 20 years I could count on one hand the number of foot blisters I have had one hand. However, over the last few years I do get painful toes where they flex with with the sole, I can usually walk ‘through-it’ and certain footwear does give me slightly more problems than others. I’m certainly looking forward to this section of coastline.

  2. You just can’t avoid Torness round there! One of our friends was an engineer icon the project when it was built, so we blame him.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes quite a few Nuclear Power stations on the coast actually, I think the coast is a popular location because of a ready supply of cooling water. Not pretty, though.

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