With the early summer sun lighting up the inside of the tent from about 4.00am, we did well sleeping on and off through to six o’ clock. We had not wasted any time going to bed after setting up tent and sleeping equipment. Spared the wearisome bother of a hot shower by dint of poverty there was nothing else to do but sleep.
The breakfast plan had been to cook some porridge and eat the sandwiches we had saved from yesterday but as they say 'the plans of mice and men aye gan agly'. When I crawled out of the tent there was a sandwich wrapper blowing about the green. When I picked it up, I was surprised to find it was the same make and filling of one of the packets I had bought yesterday. On the way back to the tent I noticed a very fat and smug magpie sitting on the fence trying ever so hard to look inconspicuous. Sure enough, when Joanna checked her rucksack it was her sandwiches that had disappeared. I swear to you, the bird was laughing! Ah well, porridge it is.
Despite rising at 6.00am it was nearer eight before we set off what with making breakfast, cleaning up and breaking camp. While breakfast had been ‘adequate’, we worried about when we might eat again as we had next to no money (tell a lie had four pounds) and no knowledge of when we might get some before St Abbs. Leaving the campsite, we had a short walk along the beach before rising up a steep bank covered in wild flowers. Steep banking, or steep hills, was to be the major feature of the day as we made an overall elevation gain of about 4,000 feet going up and down and back up the cliffs heading for St Abbs.
In the early morning light there were few clouds in the sky, albeit there was a cold morning chill. The play of the light on the sand was interesting. We were back to following the John Muir Way as it moved along Thortonloch Beach heading towards Billsdean Creek where there are natural sea arches and, just beyond is the wonderfully named ‘Standalane Otter Hole’ beach. Our trail went away from the beach at this points to go upwards in to an area called ‘The Linn’ where there was an abundance of wild garlic in full flower and the aroma from them was almost over-whelming. There is a crossing here over the Billsdean Burn where we glimpsed a very pretty waterfall through the trees.
Back down on the beach and we walked the short distance to Dunglass where we had to leave the beach again to walk up the road to the small village of Cove. At the top of the hill on the way down in to Cove village there is a memorial by Jill Watson commemorating the 1881 fishing disaster that struck the East Coast fishing communities. While nearby Eyemouth lost 129 men and a third of their boats, Cove lost proportionately more with three of its four boats and 11 men out of a fishing complement of 21 lost. The memorial depicts women and children looking forlornly to sea, searching for their husbands, fathers, brothers and other relatives and friends. It is one of many memorials that we have passed on our coastal journey to people who gave their lives that others might improve theirs including fishermen, the men of the life boat service, miners and shipbuilders and sailors generally.
Climbing back up and out of Cove there were good views south of what are some of the highest cliffs on the East Coast of the United Kingdom and which give an inkling of the day’s challenges. In the distance to the north, Torness Power Station still stands tall against the roiling clouds. Looking back, the very pretty Cove Harbour sits like a wee jewel beneath the red sandstone cliffs. The harbour was bought privately in 1990 by Benjamin Tindall to save it from development and it does have a certain timeless quality to it. It is popular as a location for still photographers (fashion shoots, etc.,) and filmmakers. An architect by trade, some of Tindall's work and influence can be seen in the holiday accommodation 'the blue cabin by the sea' here.
It is a short walk along the cliffs from Cove to Pease Bay where there is a beautiful beach that is becoming popular with surfers. The John Muir Way diverted from our path here to go and link up with the Southern Upland Way. We had been warned about a huge caravan park that was on site that reportedly spoilt the enjoyment of the beach for outsiders. Before we arrived, we had already made up our minds that it was the most horrible caravan park in Scotland and, when we first viewed from the cliff top, saw nothing to change our minds. It was only when we went in to the park and find out that they had a shop that sold bacon rolls and gave cash back that we reviewed our position on this loveliest of holiday locations. Self-interest is a great thing!
Rising up very steeply from Pease Bay there is a small B road that takes you back up on to the cliffs above Greenheugh Point, from where we were able to access a grass path along the cliff edge to the point. However, we were forced back in land by a gully before resuming along the cliff. Just after Greenheugh Point, are the remains of St Helen’s Church that contains one complete hogback stone and the remains of another. Hogbacks are carved stones from the 10th Century that were generally used a grave markers and they are thought to be of Scandinavian origin. Almost immediately below St Helen's is Siccar Point which is famous in the history of geology as one of the sites where in 1788 James Hutton and friends observed the geological feature known as 'Hutton's Unconformity' which Hutton regarded as conclusive proof of his theory about the nature of geological development.
We continued along the top of the cliffs until we could go no further and were forced to go even further uphill to make progress. The views from up here to north and south, just below an area called "Haud Yauds', were pretty spectacular. With only a thin trail of white cloud out on the horizon, the sea and sky were an endless 'nocturne in blue'. After crossing a number of fields we reached a small track by a mast and quarry in an area called Harly Darlies. The names in this area were just wonderful and it was fun to play with them in your mouth as you tried to pronounce them in different kinds of Scots dialect. From the Darlies, we followed the track until we reached Dowlaw Farm and Deans, where we stopped for lunch.
I decided to undertake a wee bit of foot care here as I had been having problems with a compeed plaster that I had put on the day before. The plaster had been put on a sensitive area on the pad under my right big toe as a preventative measure. There had been no blister when it went on. As one does when removing plasters, I shut my eyes to hide from the pain (what? I'm a man!) and gave it a hard yank hoping to remove it fairly painlessly in one movement. Unfortunately, a blister had developed since the plaster went on and, not only did I remove the skin from the blister but also a fair old wallop of the healthy skin round about it on the pad of my toe. The poor wee white hare that had come down to see what all the commotion was about got the fright of his life and disappeared at a fast rate of knots back over the brae. Me, I just felt like greetin and was gie near to it before the day was done. It was a fair old mess.
There is no confusion in such circumstances. There are no choices. You just have to tidy it up the best you can and carry on walking home. The fact that we still had a fair number of miles to go, most of it up and down very steep hills didn’t matter a sparrow’s fart, I had to walk home. At this point, those of you who know me and experienced my response to set back will appreciate that by the end of the day Joanna deserved a medal for staying the course and not burying me in some bottomless bog on a border hillside.
From Dowlaw Farm we had dropped back down toward the cliffs only to have to come back up again when we hit the Dowlaw Dean (or ravine) forcing us back inland where we followed sheep paths across the line of the cliffs. The OS maps show various settlements and homesteads for this area but there is actually very little to see. On the cliff top, between Oatlee Hill and Pettico Wick, there are four Admiralty Distance Poles that were used to test the performance of ships before the invention of GPS systems and we walked along this route. Known as the 'measured mile' they are relatively rare in Scotland.
At the end of the measured mile we started the descent down from the cliff tops. Given the state of my foot we had to decide not to walk out on to and around the headland. Instead we headed for the path that goes along the side of the Mire Loch to exit at Horsecastle Bay and the rock formations known as The Wuddy, which are a popular place for people to go diving. Following the coastline round and over Bell Hill into Starney Bay we enjoyed beautiful and glorious views over St Abbs.
The walk along the last section of cliffs going into St Abbs was reinvigorating. Even a grumpy old sod like me could appreciate it. The next section (St Abbs to Eyemouth) I knew was equally as spectacular but from the sloshing in my right boot I knew that I would not be able to complete the final four miles and had to tell Joanna I needed to stop for the day. We had just walked on to the road going in to St Abbs when the bus to Eyemouth passed us on the way out. It was one of those days!
We had not expected to have to catch the bus and had not looked in to the timetable so had no idea when the next one would be. As it was getting late we decided to telephone our landlady for the night and advise her we might be late. Without any hesitation she offered the services of her husband to come out and pick us up and sure enough, within twenty minutes we were booking in for the night. When we were settled and I was able to get my boots off it was obvious from the state of my state of my foot that I would not be walking on the next day either and our three day trip came to a premature end.
Today's walk, planned as the first of a three-day hike, was one we fully expected to be tough given the fact that it will be a camping trip and we will be carrying full packs of up to thirty pounds with tent, sleeping and cooking equipment, clothing, food and water. The distance involved is considerable (for us) and will involve a fair degree of road walking, as there are areas of the coast that we cannot access.
Looking across the top of the isle of Craigleith we can see the coast of Fife sitting in the light mist on the horizon and, to the front of us the Bass Rock looms over the sea. Equally dominating, inland from North Berwick, the green Berwick Law tussles for attention against a wispy blue and white sky. There is an Autumnal sharpness in the Spring morning air that makes you feel alive. The tide is high as we drop down to walk on the initially rocky beach that gradually gives way to sand that is still damp and therefore firm to walk on.
To give us a good start, we travelled down to North Berwick the night before our first start and stayed in a lovely little B & B called 'The Wing' at the end of Marine Parade. Definitely recommended! The accommodation is on the seafront looking over Milsey Bay and, when we left the next morning, there were beautiful views across the bay over the tops of the isles of Craigleith and Lamb and further out to the Bass Rock. The little post box on the seafront must be one of the best placed in Scotland.
From Berwick we parted company with the long distance path, the John Muir Way, as it goes inland towards Berwick Law, while we hug the coast for as long as we can. Our route goes along the promenade before rising up and through an area known as the Rugged Knowes, bordering yet another golf course, the Glen Golf Club. At the top of the hill the views back to North Berwick and beyond are dramatic in the early morning sunshine with blue sky and sea and green, green grass.
As we progress up the beach the Bass Rock comes more clearly in to focus and we begin to see the individual features that dot the shore-side of the rock. The lighthouse appears to hold on to the rock face by its fingernails, while just above it the ruins of St Baldred’s Chapel sits in lonely contemplation. Not visible in any of our photographs are the remains of the castle that was here. Initial entry to the castle was either by ladder or a bucket and chain that was attached to a crane bastion that is still shown on ordnance survey maps. Thereafter, it was up about three flights of stone stairs, each flight topped with its own secure door entry. Guess it would have been difficult to fight your way up there?
St Baldred, also known as Saint Balthere (died 757), is sometimes called the ‘Apostle of the Lothians’ and was the founder of the nearby Tyningham Monastery (located in the grounds of Tyningham House), was said to have had a hermitage or cell on the island where he liked to retire to for periods of solitary meditation. The chapel, built on what was thought to be the site of the cell or hermitage, is mentioned in a Papal Bull issued on 6 May 1493. Nearby on the mainland there are numerous reminders of the Saint’s life with various natural features using his name including St Baldred’s Cave just below Auldhame / Seacliff and the rock formation known as ‘St Baldred’s Boat’ and on which a cross and plinth memorial to the saint have been built.
We were able to stay on the beach until Canty Bay, just below the small settlement of Castleton where we were forced to take the higher ground to get around the major remains of Tantallon Castle. As we walked up from the beach Tantallon Castle began to show just beyond the headland. We had our first experience of road walking at this point up a short section of the A198 past Castleton and the castle itself up to Auldhame where we headed back down again to the coast by the Car Rocks. We had tried to access the coast earlier by going through the grounds of Tantallon Castle but an entrance fee was required that we were not willing to pay just for walking across the ground.
From Seacliff Beach we made our way along the Car Rocks to emerge on to the beautiful Peffer & Ravensheugh Sands, which we followed up to the end of Bathan’s Strand. Just beyond here lies the mouth of the River Tyne (no, not that one) that we needed to cross. Although we knew there was a footbridge somewhere in the grounds of Tyninghame House, we also knew there were issues about access to it. Following one of our Buddhist discussions, we decided to take the path of least resistance and to make the slightly longer detour back up to the A198 again to cross the river at the Tyninghame Bridge. Knowing what we know now, if we had the decision to make again we would try for the footbridge. It was a long detour.
We left the beach at Bathan’s Strand and walked through Links Wood (where we got lost) and on to the Limetree Walk (very long) before meeting up with the road a couple of miles later. It was while walking up Limetrees that we spoke to a local lady out exercising her dogs who shared with us some of her adventures working as a volunteer looking after elephants in India. It sounded great fun and I suspect it will not be long before she is off on her travels again. As we exited on to the A198 rain set in and was to stay with us pretty much for the remainder of the walk to just before the campsite.
At the Tyninghame Bridge we met up again with the John Muir Trail, which we followed along the Ware Road heading for Hedderwick Sands. As the tide was out by this time we were treated to an endless view to the horizon as Hedderwick Sands ran out past the Tyne Sands on the other side of the Tyne River. The Hedderwick area is part of the John Muir Country Park that covers a major part of the coast here including the Tynemouth estuary and on up to Peffer Sands. It includes a varied landscape of beach, grassland, salt marsh and woodland and contains a varied degree of wildlife, particularly wading birds.
We stopped for a few minutes at the bridge over the Hedderwick Burn for some foot care. Here I got the first inklings of the major foot blister on the pad under the big toe of my right foot that was to cause me some major difficulty later. Some minor first aid at this point enabled us to continue, albeit at a slightly slower pace. As we reached the outskirts of Dunbar, it had been raining quite consistently and we decided to seek some shelter and a meal, which would mean we did not have to cook dinner when we arrived at our campsite for the night. As usual, we were too optimistic about the progress we were making and lingered too long over a fairly indifferent meal, no doubt reluctant to return to the rain.
As it turned out, the rain had pretty much stopped by the time we were back on the road and it stayed away for the rest of the journey. From Dunbar we made our way round by the harbour and up on to the edge of Dunbar Golf Club. From here looking back (north), we looked across Bellhaven Bay to Tantallon Castle and Berwick Law in the distance. The rock on which the golf course sits is a vivid red sandstone that is riddled with caves and other wind and sea-made features. To the south, we could now see the Barn's Ness Lighthouse and Torness Power Station through the gloaming. The campsite we were heading for, Thortonloch, was just the other side of it, literally within a few hundred yards. Initially from Dunbar, it did not seem too far away. However, the further we walked in the gloom, the further away it seemed to be.
Distance is sometimes difficult to judge on coastal walking because you tend to see things in the distance 'as the crow flies'. Unfortunately, there are usually a couple of wide bays with long arms to go in and out of before you reach the destination and it can easily add three or miles to your estimation. Visual illusion leads you to think two features are on the same land mass but when you get closer you appreciate they are actually a few miles apart. Like Barn's Ness Lighthouse and the power station.
Our route now followed the John Muir Way, making life a little bit simpler. When we are left to our own devices for too long, we tend not to consult the map often enough and usually end up slightly lost or wandering about in muddy salt marshes. Consistent signage on a route is a godsend.
Shortly after the golf course we were able to drop down on to the White Sands before being forced up for a long walk following the line of rocks just after the lighthouse at Barn’s Ness. Towards the end of this section the route skirts around the area known as Skateraw Harbour. The harbour was built between 1799 and 1825 to ship limestone to ironworks in Devon and then to return with coal. The harbour went out of use between 1853 and 1892. There are also very well preserved lime kilns with information boards Dunbar.
We were worried about the time because we knew the camp did not accept people after 9.00pm and it was now about fifteen minutes past that. At first the warden informed us because of the time she had cancelled the booking but eventually she relented and left her cosy static home to come out and complete the booking in process. There was further panic when we realised I had used most of our cash to pay for the meal in Dunbar and we just had enough to pay the camp fee. We did not have any money left to pay the deposit for the shower room key and had to do without the hot shower we had been thinking on for the last few miles. By the time the tent was up we were too tired to worry about showers and soon both conked out to sleep through to about 6.00am when we wakened up to another wee drama!
Continuing on the John Muir Way, our route took us round the Torness Power Station on the seaward side. After about eighteen miles we could have done without the long, albeit interesting, detour round the power station. By now it was after 9.00pm and with heavy cloud above dark was settling in. With relief, we were able to see our campsite from the walkway of the power station and this encouraged us to quicken and get the walk finished.