The remarkable coastal scenery of north Northumberland and south east Scotland contrasts dramatically from the long sandy beaches south of the Border, to the high cliffs of sculpted sandstone and weathered limestone to the north of it. I knew of the coast path north of the Border, so I was keen to get out there and discover it for myself.
The coast here has two well mapped trails, the Northumberland and the Berwickshire Coast Paths http://www.northumberland.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=6907 http://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Berwickshire+Coastal+Path they are both part of the impressive North Sea Trail walking route, linking parts of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands as well as England and Scotland.
The Northumberland and Berwickshire Coast Paths are wholly contiguous, merging effortlessly together, I think at Berwick upon Tweed. Then again, it might be at the Border crossing point, high above the grey North Sea, with the words Failte gu Alba (Welcome to Scotland) on a big blue sign to indicate I was crossing a land border. There is no Welcome to England sign to greet the south bound traveller; more about the Border crossing later.
I set off from the steps in front of Berwick Town Hall; it makes an ideal starting place in this pleasant and historic border town. Narrow streets, the Elizabethan Walls and the Georgian architecture make you want to stay and explore Berwick, but the sound of the sea and the views south to Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castles reminded me I was here to walk the coast path into Scotland.
The path leads you out of the town via Berwick Quay, past the golf course and through a caravan site, which was looking a little battered by the elements. Then, suddenly I was on a grassy cliff top with sandstone crags reaching down to the grey waters below and away in the distance, rocky headlands poked out into the North Sea. A strong southerly wind was blowing me northwards, which I would be grateful for when the rain arrived later in the morning.
The path keeps to the cliff top for the majority of the walk and the going is easy with a few short ascents and descents along the way. The ascent out of the village of Burnmouth was the only serious bit of uphill walking that I encountered all day. The narrow muddy path was slippery in places, so it was best to proceed with care. As ever, I was on the lookout for birds, a welcome distraction of course, but I was making good progress, on the flattish terrain.
A sudden flap of wings at my feet and a woodcock, a migrant wading bird, took off and rapidly disappeared into the distance. An exciting bird to see, they migrate to the east coast of the UK from Russia and I always look forward to the first woodcock sighting of the Autumn. I was to see one more, but then again it may have been the same bird seen twice; there’s just no way of knowing.
What was left of the wildflowers made me think it will be worth walking here in late May and early June. The dunes at Cocklawburn to the south of Berwick are a riot of wildflowers; I can see that the cliff tops here may offer something very similar in the Spring, a wildflower display to look forward to in 2013.
Ahead of me was Marshall Meadows Bay and just beyond there is the Border between England and Scotland. There’s something exciting about crossing a border, somewhere new, making progress, a sense of things changing, all encourage the traveller to press on and so that’s what I did, I walked into Scotland. I say that, because just to my left is the East Coast railway; I was watching people in trains watching me, a lone walker, while they sat in warmth and comfort, hurtling either north or south, each on their own journey too.
The cliffs at Marshalls Meadows are 50 metres, or 150 or so feet above sea level. The path is narrow and there’s a real sense of being literally on the edge. Occasional signs suggest for your own safety that you should follow the inland path and they became a regular feature all the way to Eyemouth. The cliffs get even higher and my OS map indicates that at Hurkers Haven, they top out at 103 metres or 350 feet above sea level, I was impressed to say the least.
When the rain came it was ferocious, for the most part at my back, but as I turned corners and the path headed briefly south west, it stung my face hurrying me back on to a more northerly direction.
Soon after Hurkers Haven, I was walking down towards Eyemouth, where my walk would end. I avoided the sign post directing me across the golf course and stuck to the coast coming out on a familiar coastal scene, a harbour, fishing boats and nets laid out to dry on the quay. There were seals in the harbour scrounging fish from a trawler and a collection of gulls, cormorants and eider ducks on the sheltered waters inside the harbour walls.
Eyemouth is an attractive coastal town and I enjoyed my first visit, knowing I would soon be back to try the famous fish and chips and find out more about its history. The Berwickshire Coast Path continues north to Coldingham, but that will have to wait for another day; now it was time to catch the bus back to Berwick, the return journey completed in about 15 minutes, the walk had taken four hours.
Distance 12 miles or 20 kilometres
Start Berwick Town Hall http://www.berwick.org.uk/
Finish Gunsgreen House, Eyemouth http://www.gunsgreenhouse.org/
Duration 4-5 hours
OS Map Explorer 346 Berwick upon Tweed
Features Some dramatic cliff scenery, caution needed near the cliff edge
You can find out more information about the North Sea Trail at www.northseatrail.org.
Do a guided walk with Patrick Norris: Footsteps in Northumberland.
Category: Northumberland Walker's Guide