265. North Berwick to Dunbar

March 2015

This walk linked two towns on the East Lothian coast, Dunbar and North Berwick. There was no official coast path between the towns so for this walk I was devising my own route, which turned out to be more of an adventure than I had expected.

For this walk I was staying in the Premier Inn in South Queensferry. This was my 3rd day of a 4 day trip. On the 1st day of this trip I’d managed to get blisters on both feet (something that very rarely happens to me, thankfully). Yesterday I’d walked again, despite the blisters, (perhaps a mistake) and now my feet were extremely painful. So I made the walk to Dalmeny station more slowly than I had done on previous days as it was quite painful to walk.

Having made it to the station in time for my planned train into Edinburgh I waited for the train and whilst I did so I made a decision. I had only bought the one pair of shoes with me, sort of hybrid trainers and walking boots. It was clear those shoes had been the cause of my problems (I hadn’t got wet feet, which is another cause of blisters). I couldn’t walk another day in them. So after catching the train to Edinburgh Waverley station I headed to Sports Direct, which was close to the station. Here I bought a cheap pair of trainers in the hope they would be more comfortable and stop the formation of any more blisters (that turned out to be the case and I didn’t get any more blisters on this trip).

I then headed back, in more comfort, to Edinburgh Waverley station. For this walk I could travel entirely by train because there are stations at both North Berwick and Dunbar. Unfortunately they are on two different lines with no trains between them (though both have a service to Edinburgh) which meant I had to buy two single tickets, which works out more expensive.

I went to the ticket machines by WH Smiths to buy my ticket and all the machines were being used. Someone left one of the machines so I went to that machine but as I got to it, I noticed a train ticket balanced above the credit card slot on the machine. It was a day return to North Berwick, which is where I wanted to go. I called the person who had just left the machine back, but they said they weren’t his tickets and were there when he used the machine. This gave me a bit of a moral dilemma. Had the ticket been left here by someone who bought the tickets (perhaps by mistake or perhaps they then no longer needed to travel) and left them behind for someone else to use (like people do with pay-and-display car parking tickets that have not yet expired)? Or had someone simply forgotten to pick up the tickets? Or perhaps they had bought tickets, but the machine had not dispensed them and they’d come out when the next person used the machine. In the last case, perhaps they had gone to get help.

I decided that rather than take the tickets, I’d go to WH Smiths to buy lunch first. This done I came back, and the tickets were still there on the same machine. I hung about the ticket machine until 5 minutes before the train to North Berwick was due to leave to see if anyone came back for them. No one came over to the machine so I decided to take the tickets on the assumption they had been left by someone that bought them and then found they didn’t need them and so left them here for someone else to use (me in this case), it would save me money and I hoped my assumption was correct.

I soon found the train to North Berwick and it was a nice new train, and virtually empty, although it did fill up a bit as we headed east. Whilst on the train I changed from my old shoes to my new trainers. I had travelled to the Scottish coast by train with everything I needed in my rucksack. So I hadn’t had room for spare shoes and I didn’t want to carry my other shoes, that had given me those horrible blisters, around with me all day (and tomorrow, since I’d be checking out from the hotel in the morning, before my walk). I decided I didn’t want to wear them again and would throw them away. However they didn’t fit in the bin on the train and I didn’t want to just dump them on the train. So instead at North Berwick I found a bin in the town and put them in there, I was glad to see the back of them to be honest, after getting those painful blisters. Before leaving the station I decided to leave the return portion of my train ticket (the part going back to Edinburgh I wouldn’t need) on top of the ticket machine, to hopefully return the favour!

Having made my feet a bit more comfortable, I followed the road down from the station heading downhill until I came to the back of the golf course at North Berwick. It seems to me that whilst in Wales every town has a castle, in Scotland, every town has a golf course!

I followed the path over the golf course and turned right. Out to sea is Bass Rock and it’s sister, North Berwick Law to my right, both volcanic, the only difference being that one is at sea and hence an island whilst the other is an isolated steep hill.

Immediately out to sea though was the island of Craigleith.

Craigleith from North Berwick

This is uninhabited and sadly it is not possible to visit the island although there are trips around the island. Something for another day perhaps. The wind was getting up today so I had to watch for sand blowing in my eyes, but other than that it was a pleasant walk along the beach to the harbour area, which I didn’t get to yesterday because I was hurrying to catch my train.

Berwick Bay, North Berwick

The harbour unusually had a large building made of bright red stone, it reminded me of the red stone you get around South Devon, as I remember that many of the buildings in an around Exeter were made of stones like this.

North Berwick

North Berwick harbour

Looking back, I had a fine view from where I’d walked too.

North Berwick

I followed the path out to the tip of the harbour passing the harbour with a boat park beyond and then a little rocky outcrop with paths and seats over it.

North Berwick

It looked nice, but it was too windy to sit there today. Beyond that there was a rocky little platform where I suspect the boat trips depart from, but the waves were breaking over it today, so I doubt any boat trips would run, at least not until the tide went out.

Craigleith from North Berwick

Just past the boat park was the Scottish Seabird centre. I understand this is very good, as they have live cameras on many of the islands here looking at the sea birds, including Bass Rock. They also operate a number of boat trips to or around these islands. I considered visiting but concerned I might not have time, so decided to give it a miss (probably a mistake as in the end I did have time).

North Berwick

Once around the little harbour I walked along the sands of the Milsey Bay, the sandy bay to the east of North Berwick. Here there was one of those tidal swimming pools, although it didn’t look very appealing.

Milsey Bay from North Berwick

Milsey Bay from North Berwick

The beach though was lovely and this side of the town is mostly residential.

View back to North Berwick from Milsey Bay

Soon the houses dwindled and I had reached the end of the town. I liked North Berwick very much. It is about the right size town for me and in a beautiful location and with a lot of interest, such as the sea bird centre, attractive buildings and some beautiful scenery nearby such as the coast and North Berwick law, as well as being a fairly easy commute to Edinburgh.

Milsey Bay

North Berwick from Milsey Bay

As I neared the end of the bay, there were cliffs at the far end and a road that leads up it. As the cliffs began I left the beach to take the road. It leads initially to the car park of a golf course, would you believe!

Milsey Bay

The path soon climbed onto the low cliffs, offering fine views back to North Berwick.

Milsey Bay

North Berwick

There seemed to be a fairly well worn path around the edge of the golf course so I followed this initially, soon dropping to a slightly lower path around the low cliffs of the headland. I don’t know what this is called, but it’s the one just west of where the map says Rugged Knowes.

Along the coast here there seemed to be a choice of a lower or higher path, so I chose the lower path, keen to be closer to the coast and avoid the golf course as much as possible. I was helped by the fact there were two other people a short distance ahead who I think were also walking the coast so I could see where they were going and follow. A short distance around the headland there was a sandy and rocky beach below and I decided to drop down and walk on this.

Milsey Bay

This was a really glorious part of the walk, with deserted sandy beaches mixed with rocks and great views out to sea of the various islands and for a time at least, back to North Berwick.

East of Milsey Bay

East of Milsey Bay

East of Milsey Bay

After a while the beach got pebbles rather than shingle but I could follow the low rocks around the corner where it was back to a sandy beach.

East of Milsey Bay

At the corner by Horseshoe Point it was a bit of a squeeze round on the rocks which I had to time with the tide, but I made it round without getting wet. I was glad I did, for it was a fantastic beach.

East of Milsey Bay

I suspect few people get here as access is not easy and there is no car parking, but it is all the better for it in my view. Out to sea I also had a wonderful view of Bass Rock. Sadly again it is not possible for the public to get off and explore the island (well rock, really), so I had to make do with the view from here.

Bass Rock

I follow the lovely unspoilt beach to it’s end and then had to take a rather awkward path up the grassy cliffs which I had watched the girls ahead of me climb earlier. It started easy but got quite steep so I had to be careful not to slip down on the wet grass.

Quarrel Sand

At the top the ground levelled out and I walked over the wet grass passing just to the right of a farm building ahead. Coming round the corner here I was a bit surprised to find myself in a small village, as I had though there was nothing here. Well, village is probably a bit much really, a hamlet perhaps.

Canty Bay

This turns out to be Canty Bay and it looked lovely. A few pretty stone buildings overlooking a curving sandy bay with cliffs either side and Bass Rock out to sea. What a lovely place to live. I followed the road from the farm house down to the beach. By now I had lost sight of the girls I had been following so they must have taken a different route. At the last house at the eastern end of the beach the track narrowed to neatly mowed grass.

Canty Bay

I wondered if the track was private but since there is open access in Scotland I decided it was not part of a garden so it was OK to follow this. It bought me to an isolated little wooden house just around the corner of the rest of the village. I wondered if the path might end here, but I spotted a little wooden sign the owners had obviously made, marked beach, signed ahead.

Canty Bay

In truth it was not much of a beach and the sands of Canty Bay were far better.

Near Canty Bay

I was now approaching Gin Head and here I could see the cliffs would be too high to climb and there was some buildings that looked like they were military buildings on the cliffs at the end. So I decided the best course of action was to climb the grassy cliffs in the middle of the bay to get to the cliff top. There was a bit of a rough path so it was not too bad. On the top, I followed the coastal side of a stone wall but this soon reached the fence of the derelict old army buildings ahead, which were blocked off with high fences and warning notices. So here I decided to climb over the low stone wall and then follow the edge of the field with the army buildings on my left.

When this ended I climbed over the farm gate which then took me onto a track with the farm at Castleton to my right. I’m always glad in Scotland when I reached a road or track after a bit of path less walking, as it means I won’t have to turn back. I climbed over another gate into the next field where there seemed to be a bit of a path. Ahead I could see a rather wonderful and large castle. This is Tantallon Castle.

Tantallon Castle

Whilst I had seen it on the map a lot of castles on the map turn out to be little more than a few standing stones or the remains of one wall and are not very impressive. This one though was much more complete. It was also built of the same red stone I had noticed at North Berwick. There was a good grassy path around the little bay here which I followed and then what looked like a good grassy path heading up to the castle. This was the case, but then I was faced with a fence at the end, which seemed odd.

Castleton

I could see an information board at the castle and people wandering about, so I knew I would be able to get out if I could get past the fence. As it was a wire fence of three strands, with barbed wire at the top I got through between two of the lower strands and headed towards the castle.

Tantallon Castle

The castle was lovely and I started to explore it, even going to the top, but as I wandered around I saw other visitors were clutching guide books.  It then dawned on me that this was a castle you were meant to pay to visit and I’d got in by climbing over the fence and so not paid!

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle

View from Tantallon Castle

View from Tantallon Castle

I hadn’t intended to do this but by now had already looked around the castle so I decided to head to the exit. I figured if I was stopped I’d admit to what I’d done and offer to pay (even though I hadn’t intended to visit it or get in without paying) but I was still worried I’d be told off for climbing over the fence so I was glad that no one spotted me leaving (or at least if they did assumed I had got in by paying).

In fact I considered that if I’d walked past on the road I might well have stopped to visit anyway (I like castles) but I didn’t want to admit to having already done so without paying. So in the end I got the correct money out of my wallet and left it on the windowsill of the entrance building in the hope the staff would later find it (though it’s also quite possibly someone else took it, who knows). However it appeased my conscience without having to go and admit to having got in without paying and risk upsetting the staff!

Now on the access road to the castle, north from here was a little ditch with water in and a line of bushes between me and it. I needed to get over the watery ditch but the line of bushes prevented me from doing so. I therefore had little choice but to follow the access road to the castle which took me to the A198. It really didn’t appeal to follow this for the rest of the way, so I turned left along it only to cross the stream, then crossed into the field on the left. I followed the edge of these few fields until I was back along the coast and alongside this wonderful castle.

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle

If anything, the view from here was better with the original outer walls of the castle visible here which looked like they were about to slip down the cliffs. I could follow the coastal side of the field to the end where I came across another fence. Thankfully here there was a stile although this took me to a stone wall which I had to climb around. Not ideal. Here though I came to a footpath leading down to the beach of Oxroad Bay.

I followed this path, which got a bit overgrown, but as I began to descend I was out of the cold wind and it was quite sheltered. I decided this would make a good spot for lunch so had lunch here out of the wind.

Resuming the walk the path ended up following the edge of the field with walls and fences to the left meaning I could not get into the next field. Part way along there was a gate, but the top had been covered with a wire fence topped with barbed wire making it difficult to get over. I continued, coming to a second gate that although had had the same treatment the fence had been bent down obviously by other people crossing over here. I decided this was better than heading back to the A198 again. I therefore followed the path around the coastal side of the field where there was a wide field margin making it easy. Ahead I got to woodland and climbed over part of the wall and found a bit of a path in here. Part way down I was pleased to see a better path and a sign which marked it was permitted parking to the beach. Again, I was pleased to get to this as I knew I wouldn’t have to turn back again.

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I followed the path from the little car park down to the beach. I can’t remember what the beach is called I’m afraid and it is not marked on the map, but it is lovely.

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Part way down through the woodland I came across the ruins of a house, probably Auldhame, as marked on the map.

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Once on the beach I walked along the hard sand near the shore. There were no other footprints on the beach so I was the only person to have come here so far today.

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Auldhame

Out to sea I could just see the small lighthouse marked on the map at the end of an area of rocks marked as “St Baldred’s Boat”. I assumed the name of someone whose boat had run aground on these rocks in the past.

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At the end of the beach there were low cliffs, but looking at the map I hoped I’d be able to walk around this, rather than try and find a path along the fields again.

This turned out to be the case, although the going was awkward in places, with rocks and large pebbles intermixed with sections of sand.

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There were also some red cliffs, like those in Devon.

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I passed several beaches, some sandy, some shingle until eventually I rounded the corner into Peffer Sands.

Auldhame

This is a glorious beach with golden sands backed by a large dune system.

Peffer Sands

It was totally deserted, at least initially, I was joined by a few dog walkers later. The only downside was there is a stream flowing across the beach. I could walk around it to a bridge but I didn’t know how far this was so just picked my way through the water as best I could, managing to keep dry feet.

Peffer Sands

Once over, it was a lovely walk for a mile or two over the golden sands, with just a few dog walkers the only other people on the beach.

Peffer Sands

As I got further around the beach, there were glorious views back to Bass Rock, too.

Peffer Sands

Peffer Sands

At the end of the beach there were again low cliffs and I had already spotted someone else walking around them.

Peffer Sands

There was a path marked on the map and this turned out to be easy to follow around the little headland of St Baldreds Cradle. Once around the corner I came to Links Wood. I followed a fairly coastal track around this following someone else, but she soon continued inland, I suspect to the car park marked at the end of the road.

St Baldreds Cradle

St Baldreds Cradle

I headed down to the shore for a while heading partly round Sandy Hirst, but with no path I didn’t want to get stuck in the mud, so I cut inland where there was a track into the woodland with a car parked.

Tyne Sands

I realised the track I was on would lead to the car park, so I forked left off this on another good track, closer to the coast.

Ahead there was the River Tyne, (not that one, this one is in Scotland!) and I had wondered if I might just be able to wade over it. But one sight of the muddy bay and the river, which looked quite wide and deep ahead convinced me this was a bad idea and I’d have to head inland to cross it. The first bridge is on the A198, about a mile inland, so I would have to reach that.

The track I was on was heading to a place marked as The Avenue which headed to Tyninghame House beyond which was the road. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk here or if I should head back to the road, but decided to give it a go. The track was easy to follow more grass than a track really, although boggy in places. It was lined with trees and I could soon see a monument ahead.

The map helpfully showed this as Monument too, but I have no idea as to what it was a monument for. I was getting a bit nervous here because I suspected this was a private estate and I would not be welcome, but I hadn’t seen anyone. As I got nearer the house, a track went left to right and a van drove along this. I wondered if I might be stopped, but they didn’t react to me. Carrying on I came to the house, but could see that ahead it was very much the garden of the house and I shouldn’t really walk over it (and I would be seen from the house).

Tyningham House

Whilst there is a right to roam in Scotland this doesn’t extend to private gardens. I was also worried that if I kept along the track and made it to the road I might find it was a locked gate and I’d be stuck anyway. So I decided the best plan was to head back to the track where I had seen the van and follow this north to a house I could see. I assumed this house would have access to the public road.

I followed this and saw the van driving close by to he right, but again no reaction. I headed for the house and turned just to the left of it. It was not right by the road as I thought but there was a gap in the trees, a fire break probably, that I hoped I could follow ahead to the road. Unfortunately, as I got near the road it became very overgrown and a bit of a battle to get through. Unfortunately, when I did, I came to a high stone wall with a locked gate in it. Perhaps it was once a road, but if it had been, it was a very long time ago. Either side of this “track” it was very overgrown. I tried to follow the wall to the right for a while, but ended up battling through thick bushes and undergrowth. It was looking a bit hopeless that I might have to head all the way back.

Just as I was about to give up, I spotted someone had dumped a fridge (I assume by dropping it over the wall from the road beyond). I was able to climb onto the fridge and get a step up onto the wall. However looking over the wall it was too high to jump to the ground on the other side safely, without risking an injury. I got back down to look for an alternative, but couldn’t really see one, other than going back. So I decided to at least climb onto the top of the wall to see if I could find a way down. I managed this, although it was rather awkward and now became concerned by being spotted by passing car, as I surely looked suspicious climbing over a high wall like this. However once on the top of the wall my luck was in, as there was a small tree growing out of the wall part way down. I used this as a footing, it held my weight, and I was able to make it down onto the road (Limetree Walk), the one with the car park at the far end.

Not the most graceful way to do it, but at least I’d made it without getting caught or injured. I now head nearly a mile walk along the road, alongside this wall. There were no other gaps without locked gates either, so I think I did the right think climbing the wall.

Unfortunately, the road took me back to the A198, a road I had been very much trying to avoid all day because it doesn’t have a pavement. However here there was little choice, so I turned left along the road and trudged along it. Thankfully it was very straight, meaning I got plenty of warning of approaching traffic. It also had a verge in places. Best of all though, for an A-road it seemed to have very little traffic, so it was not too bad at all. Soon I reached the village of Tyninghame. With the state of my feet I considered ending the walk here and I wondered if there might be a bus from here but with no bus stop I assumed there isn’t (in fact there is, but I didn’t know it at the time).

Still I could see from this point it wasn’t far before the John Muir Way joined the road ahead and soon after, turned left off the road, so I didn’t have far to go before I could leave the road. The road took me across the river Tyne. I headed down on a path under the bridge to get a view of the river.

The River Tyne

It was a lovely but I could also see the river looked to wide and deep to have attempted to cross on the coast. Once over the river I was pleased to see that the John Muir Way did not in fact follow the road but followed a path in the field alongside it. At the end of the first, large field, it followed a track to the left. This was a surfaced track, but part way down there was earth across the path. More oddly, the earth had been ploughed and it looked like it had been done today, as there were no footprints. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a path that has been ploughed like this (by which I mean ploughed earth on top of the tarmac path). It was all very odd, but I could follow this back to the coast at the back of the muddy and sand bay at the mouth of the River Tyne.

Tyne Sands

Hedderwick Sands

From here there was a pleasant walk across the earth bank beside the bay.

Hedderwick Hill Plantation

Hedderwick Sands

After about a mile along this there was another river, more a stream really. This is Hederwick Burn but this time, being on a marked walk, there was a footbridge over it. Once over this I was at an area of pine woodland behind the large beach of Belhaven Bay.

Hedderwick Sands

The John Muir Way cut off this woodland, sticking to the inland side of it. But I decided this would be cheating, so took a fairly well walked path around the coastal side of this. I like areas where the trees go straight down to the coast and here was no exception, it was lovely.

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I was also beginning to see people again, a sure sign I was nearing a town. As I rounded the woodland I soon rejoined the official John Muir Way, beside yet another golf course on the right. Here the official route of the path was around the back of Belhaven Bay, but there was a signed path over the salt marsh back to the beach. I decided this was the best bet and followed it. It was a good path too, as whoever had built it, had put board walks over all the boggy parts. It was also signed to keep to this path to avoid disturbing nesting birds.

It was good to finally be back on a beach after all the hassle of getting around the Tyne. Once on the beach I followed the hard sands towards the town I could now see ahead, Dunbar.

Approaching Dunbar

There is another river over the beach here and the John Muir way keeps inland behind the beach to cross it. But I was pleased to see another footbridge, built onto the sands ahead, I could use to cross the stream.

Belhaven Bay, Dunbar

On reaching this I could easily get across, although it is obviously surrounded by sea at high tide. I was tired now and my feet really hurting and I considered heading inland to the station and leaving the coast through Dunbar for the next day. But I had to go home the next day and was not sure if I would have time and if not, would leave an awkward gap to fill on my walk.

So I continued on the coast path, you can see the tidal footbridge I used to cross the stream below.

Belhaven Bay, Dunbar

Belhaven Bay, Dunbar

The coast path went past yet another golf course but for much of the way the path was segregated by a wall.

The John Muir Way, Dunbar

In any case, it was now into early evening and the weather had clouded up, with a bit of occasional drizzle, so there were no golfers about.

The John Muir Way, Dunbar

Once the golf course ended the path continued as a tarmac path, beside a wall around a series of little rocky bays. The cliffs here were very red and I liked how someone had gone to the effort to build this good path around the edge of the town, as it went up and down around the various bays.

The John Muir Way, Dunbar

The John Muir Way, Dunbar

At the eastern edge of the town I passed a large leisure centre and swimming pool on the cliff top, and with an impressive house to the right.

Dunbar

Just past this I came to the harbour and the remains of the castle alongside it. There wasn’t much of the castle left though, mainly just a few standing outer walls.

Dunbar

Dunbar

Rounding the corner from the harbour I followed the John Muir Way as close to the coast as I could, partly on a road one street back from the coast, as the houses backed right onto the coast, but soon the road had the sea on the left again. As I could see the church ahead, I knew the station was just behind it, so followed the road up to the main road, crossed this and followed Station Road to the station.

By the end of the walk my feet were really hurting and I was more or less hobbling. I had noted earlier that there was an hourly service from the station. I knew I had missed one train about half an hour ago, but then realised that whilst the service was mostly hourly, there was a 2 hour gap in trains in the early evening.  I had arrived near the start of that gap, with 90 minutes to the next train. Highly frustrating, and it was now wet and windy outside. I decided I had better eat here, because by the time I would get back to my hotel the restaurant was likely to be closed. All the station had was a vending machine, so I had to walk painfully back to the town centre and had a meal at the bar of the nearby Hillside Hotel. Refreshed I returned to the station and took the train back to Edinburgh.

I enjoyed this walk, and it was quite an adventure in places. The beaches were glorious, the scenery spectacular and I had the bonus of a couple of castles with Tantallon Castle being especially good. The only slight downside was the problem getting around the Tyne river, which required a long inland diversion and my feet hurting. Both North Berwick and Dunbar were lovely towns too, though I didn’t explore Dunbar much because the weather had turned by the time I got there.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. Whilst I used the train (as I was staying near Edinburgh) a bus is easier to travel between North Berwick and Dunbar if you have driven to one or the other.

Eve Coaches bus route 120 : DunbarWest Barns – East Linton – Tyninghame – Whitekirk – Tantallon Castle – North Berwick. The bus runs approximately once every 2 hours Monday – Saturday and twice per day on Sunday. It takes around 35 minutes to travel between Dunbar and North Berwick.

If you prefer to travel by train Scotrail services run broadly hourly between North Berwick and Edinburgh Waverley on Monday – Friday and on Sundays but oddly every 30 minutes on Saturdays. The service to Dunbar is more erratic with two hourly local trains (Monday – Saturday only) and some longer distance services from London and Birmingham also calling (seven days a week). To travel between Dunbar and North Berwick, change at either Musselburgh or Edinburgh Waverley. Details of all these trains are in the Scotrail timetable Glasgow – Edinburgh – North Berwick & Dunbar.

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

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3 Responses to 265. North Berwick to Dunbar

  1. That certainly was an adventure! I know the start and endpoints well but haven’t walked any of the coast between. We’ve been to Tantallon several times though. It’s lovely, I agree.

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