Cove to Siccar Point

Dunglass Collegiate Church

On our last day in Lower Burnmouth, we chose a walk on the Berwickshire Coastal Path from Cove to Siccar Point. However, the morning was wet and drizzly so we decided to postpone that till the afternoon when the forecast was better. Our first stop then became the ruined Dunglass Collegiate Church, built for Sir Alexander Home around 1443. We didn’t realise it had a connection to our later walk until we saw this memorial to Sir James Hall. It’s not terribly legible, but the important reference is to his favourite science of geology.

A nearby information board explained that Sir James (1761-1832) was a friend of James Hutton, the father of modern geology. In 1788 he and mathematician John Playfair accompanied Hutton on a boat-trip from Dunglass to see nearby rock formations at Siccar Point. The expedition convinced them of Hutton’s new theory that the Earth was not thousands but millions of years old.

After giving that some serious thought, we had a bit of fun before leaving!

We then headed to the nearby village of Cockburnspath, the eastern end of no fewer than three long-distance footpaths: the Southern Upland Way, the Sir Walter Scott Way and the Berwickshire Coastal Path. Despite this, it appeared not to boast any kind of café. However, it’s a pretty little place with an unusual round tower on its parish church.

The Market Cross was erected in 1503 by James IV of Scotland to mark his marriage to Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England, to whom he presented the lands of Cockburnspath as part of her dowry. This was known as the Marriage of the Thistle and the Rose, representing the Scottish and English national symbols, and the cross has carved emblems of a thistle on two of its faces and a rose on the other two.

Still in search of sustenance we set of for Dunbar. No photographs here – as soon as we arrived we were dive-bombed by a seagull. I heard John cry out behind me as a torrent of guano shot past me, and I assumed it had hit him. In fact, the gull had attacked his head and he was bleeding. Our next quest was therefore for antiseptic wipes, and once John was cleaned up we had lunch – fortunately no shortage of cafes in Dunbar!

The weather having improved as predicted, we got our afternoon walk. The starting point, Cove, is one of the villages with memorials to the East Coast Fishing Disaster of 1881, which you can see in my earlier post. The natural harbour here is, unusually, accessed via a tunnel. We were already finding the rock formations interesting.

Climbing to the clifftops, we had great views back down to the harbour and a natural sandstone arch known as Hollow Rock.

As we continued along the cliffs we could see the Pease Bay Leisure Park coming into view. It’s a beautiful location, but I’m not sure I’d want to spend my holiday in amongst so many identikit chalets.

Having descended to Pease Bay, we then had to climb back up the other side. We saw neither slow toads nor attacking sheep.

The path took us through farmland to a minor road. Here we turned off for Siccar Point, passing the ruins of the 16th century St Helen’s Church – and a stray toilet! What’s that all about? Very strange.

The view from Siccar Point was stunning.

A very steep slope led down to the rocks to which James Hutton sailed in search of a visible “unconformity” to demonstrate his theories of the processes and cycles that shaped the Earth. We did not venture down the slope which looked rather precarious, and the unconformity was clear from above anyway. To spot it, have a look at the photograph below and compare it to the explanatory leaflet.

The grey, tilted rocks are Silurian greywacke formed in an ancient ocean. The much younger Upper Devonian Red Sandstone above it formed on land 65 million years later, during which time the older rocks were changed by folding, faulting, uplift and erosion. Hutton’s Unconformity is what separates them, a time gap in the normal geological sequence.

Hutton’s Unconformity at Siccar Point
Hutton’s Unconformity explained (Edinburgh Geological Society)

After our geology lesson, we turned round and returned to Cove. Out and back, this walk totalled 11km. As we approached the harbour we could see the tunnel exit clearly and, when we got to the carpark, I was delighted to see the same little mint-green Nissan that I’d spotted in Berwick a couple of days before.

Our day wasn’t quite finished yet. We dropped into St Abbs to complete our set of East Coast Fishing Disaster memorials, and had a walk round the harbour while we were there.

Then it was time to return to our cottage, have our final dinner, and pack up ready to leave the next morning. We’d had a wonderful week in Berwickshire.

Edin’s Hall Broch

Riverside Bakehouse, Abbey St Bathans

This 10km circular walk was topped and tailed by stops at the Riverside Bakehouse in the tiny hamlet of Abbey St Bathans. The café and bakery is run by Aliona who first came to Scotland from Russia in 1999. As well as serving light lunches, she bakes and sells bread on the premises using locally grown flour. This is one of the many small businesses throughout Scotland that we’ve used and loved over the years that we hope against hope will survive the current crisis.

Our walking guidebook instructed us to return to the road, turn left to pass the timber yard and arrive at “Toot Corner”. What? Well, we knew it when we saw it!

From here, a signpost directed us through woodland to the lower slopes of Cockburn Law. The unusual Retreat House, a circular late 18th century hunting lodge, could be seen below.

Brochs are Iron Age drystone roundhouses unique to Scotland, but Edin’s Hall is one of only a few found outwith the Highlands and Islands. Its central space is also unusually wide with relatively thin walls, suggesting that it is unlikely to have been roofed. Perhaps more of a small fort than a broch?

Descending the hill on the other side of the broch we came to the Elba Footbridge across the Whiteadder Water.

The rest of the walk was on minor roads and farm tracks until we arrived back at the Riverside. Sheep were abundant!

This was the second last day of our 2019 Berwickshire break, so just one more post to go. This one is linked to Jo’s latest Monday Walk post.

Paxton House and Berwick-upon-Tweed

Welcome to England

Because of the way the border runs, when we travelled from our holiday home in Lower Burnmouth to Paxton House we crossed into England and back into Scotland again. Here I am on the way down crossing into the country, and indeed the county (Northumberland), of my birth.

Paxton House was designed by John and James Adam in 1758 and built between then and 1766. The National Gallery of Scotland describes it as “perhaps the finest example of an eighteenth-century Palladian country house in Britain”. It has extensive interiors (c1773) by Robert Adam, as well as furniture by Thomas Chippendale. In 1811, the Edinburgh architect Robert Reid added the largest purpose-built picture gallery in a Scottish country house which today contains paintings from the National Galleries. Visiting is by guided tour only and no photography is allowed.

However, there is plenty to photograph outside with 80 acres of grounds, gardens, riverside and woodland.

The engineer enjoyed visiting the old waterworks.

I preferred the children’s Fairy Trail …

… and the sculpture by Julia Hilton – Entrances, inspired by the stages of an opening bud.

Paxton has a good café in the old stables which we used for morning coffee and lunch. When we had exhausted its delights we decided to stop off in the Northumbrian town of Berwick-upon-Tweed on the way back to Burnmouth. We liked the sign on the wall of the carpark wall, showing that it had originally been the cattle market, and this rather less than pleasant street name.

Berwick was founded by Anglo-Saxons and for hundreds of years was affected by border wars between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland. Possession of Berwick changed hands several times until 1482 when Richard of Gloucester retook it for England. It’s a traditional market town and also has some notable architectural features, in particular its medieval town walls, its Georgian Town Hall, its Elizabethan ramparts, and Britain’s earliest barracks buildings, which Nicholas Hawksmoor built (1717–21) for the Board of Ordnance. We set off to walk the walls and ramparts. Here are some highlights.

Part way round, we spotted this lovely little car. Such a pretty colour – and two days later we would spot it again.

Having stopped at the English border on the way out, we had to stop on the other side of the road as we returned. Welcome back to Scotland!


Duns Law

Duns, Berwickshire

This is a short circular walk (7km) from Duns, the historic county town of Berwickshire. We had a quick look round the marketplace before we set off and found the Mercat Cross, a statue to Wojtek the Soldier Bear, and a nicely preserved ghost sign. Wojtek’s statue was gifted to the town by the people of Zagan in Poland in 2016. The Syrian brown bear was adopted by the Polish Army in 1942 in Iran. During the battle of Monte Cassino in 1944 he helped carry shells to the guns, as shown here, then at the end of WW2 he stayed with the Polish Army at Winfield in Berwickshire. Wojtek moved to Edinburgh Zoo in 1947, where he died in 1963.

From the centre of Duns, we made our way to the archway at the entrance to the grounds of Duns Castle.

Just inside, a woodland path led up to the 218m summit of Duns Law. As we climbed, we could see the castle gateway below us with the Cheviot Hills behind it.

On the hill’s flat summit is a Covenanters’ Stone, which marks the spot where General Alexander Leslie raised the Covenanters’ standard in 1639 in defiance of King Charles I’s imposition of Episcopalianism on his Scottish subjects.We descended part-way, then struck off across the flank of the hill where we passed a stone on the site of the old town of Dunse (sic), destroyed in the border raids of 1588. We could also see the castle peeking through the trees below us.

We tried to make our way down to the grounds of the castle, which we did with some difficulty. We formed the impression that not many people did this walk – the path was very overgrown and we felt we were hacking our way through at times. Once we got down, the walk through the castle’s woods was very muddy and not especially picturesque. However, we saw some lovely swans and the Neo-Gothic castle itself definitely was picturesque.

From the castle, we headed down the drive and through a different archway to the road, from which it was a short walk back to our car in the marketplace.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.


Eyemouth beach

We visited Eyemouth three times while staying nearby in Lower Burnmouth. The first time we arrived late one afternoon, after walking elsewhere, to restock at the local Co-Op. We were in time to see seals being fed in the harbour (with the gulls looking on with a beady eye in case they missed anything).

The Harbour itself was a colourful area – with the fishermen making their feelings for the EU rather clear.

We stopped short looking across at Gunsgreen House because the bridge across to it was closed and it would have been a long detour via the road. Gunsgreen was built around 1753 for local merchant John Nisbet, who was also suspected to be a smuggler. The house was rumoured to have secret passages and huge cellars large enough to hold hundreds of kegs of smuggled brandy. It is now a museum.

Back in the town market place we saw a statue of Willie Spears (1812-1855) who, at great personal risk, led a revolt against the tithes on fish levied by the Church of Scotland. After a 20 year battle, during which Spears served time in jail, the fishermen were allowed to buy out the tithe for £2,000. Spears was not at sea during the great fishing disaster of 1881, but watched from land. Nearby is the monument to that disaster, which I wrote about in a previous post.

Our second visit was the day we walked along the coastal path to Eyemouth, as described in my last post. This brought us in behind Gunsgreen House, so we were looking at the harbour from the other side. Nisbet’s Tower, the building with red painted door, is a renovated 18th century doocot (dovecote), now a holiday let. I want to stay there next time! There’s a rather inanimate workman on the bridge which is being repaired – his notice says “Bridge over the River Queye – eventually”. At least his mate has managed to catch a fish – in someone’s garden?

More colourful tiles etc – and a rather scary marker for the flood of 1948.

On this occasion, we had lunch in a bar called Oblò.

We liked it so much that we returned there for breakfast on our final day, the occasion of our last visit to Eyemouth. After breakfast, we visited the town’s museum which I’ve already written something about in my Great Fishing Disaster post. However, there was more to see than that. I spotted an old picture of our cottage in the days when it was, literally, a lobster house, and there was a small display about local suffragettes, always of interest to me.

And they had a very good interactive 3D recreation of Eyemouth’s 16th century fort. Seen here is a shot of the 3D fort and an aerial view of it in real life.

We decided to walk out there next. It was a beautiful morning and the sea was stunning.

You wouldn’t really have known you were in a fort, apart from a few cannons here and there. It was originally built in 1547 as an English fort, part of the “Rough Wooing” campaign to marry Henry VIII’s son Edward to the infant Mary Queen of Scots. Three years later it was abandoned, then rebuilt in 1557 to house French troops, Scotland and France being allies against England. This was also short lived, and it was demolished again in 1559 – so it’s not surprising there is little left.

Finally, a picture that didn’t fit into any of the galleries, but I thought The Old Bakehouse was too pretty to leave out.

This third visit to Eyemouth may have ended our holiday, but there are several gaps still to fill in. There’s much more information about this part of Scotland to come.

Burnmouth to Eyemouth

Lobster fisherman heading out

We visited Eyemouth several times during our stay in Lower Burnmouth last summer – it’s a pretty little town in itself, but is also the nearest place to buy provisions. One morning, we set out to walk there (and back) on the Berwickshire Coastal Path. As we left, the local lobster fisherman was heading out of the harbour.

The path led us steeply out of Lower Burnmouth towards the clifftops. As we went, we could see our little cottage, The Old Lobster House, retreat further into the distance below us. It’s the little white building opposite the row of coloured houses.

The path reached the road at the upper part of Burnmouth. As the old sign tells us, it’s 6 miles to Berwick and 52 to Edinburgh. The pub is The First and Last – the first or last in Scotland, depending on your direction of travel.

I liked this house’s quirky gate and name sign.

Before moving on, we stopped for a while to read an information board telling us how Burnmouth used to be a hotbed of smuggling in the 18th century. One notorious family was the Lyalls who organised a raid on the Customs Warehouse in Eyemouth in 1780. John Lyall later moved to Sussex where he became a respected resident, operating ships out of London. His five sons showed how quickly and effectively the family distanced itself from its criminal past: they included a Conservative MP and a Dean of Canterbury. Clearly a talented family on whichever side of the law they operated.

The path then led us down the side of the Village Hall and back on to the cliffs. Burnmouth Harbour and our little house were still in view!

The clifftops were lined with fields of crops, mainly barley, and wildflowers.

We wondered what this brown crop was, and only identified it later. Had we been earlier in the year, these fields would have been bright yellow – it’s oilseed rape. 

This was the first, but not the last, day we noticed an abundance of painted lady butterflies. Apparently, last summer was a once in a decade mass emergence when weather conditions and food sources provided ideal conditions for the species to thrive.

Looking out to sea, we admired the folds in the rocks. Geology writ large.

Then Eyemouth came into view, and we were almost there.

After spending the afternoon in Eyemouth we had to walk back. Remember The First and Last in Burnmouth? We naturally stopped for a beer and some good pub grub. I liked the way it was decorated with old advertising boards.

Then it was down the hill again, home to The Old Lobster House. Next time, I’ll show you round Eyemouth itself.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

The East Coast Fishing Disaster of 1881

East Coast Fishing Disaster Memorial, Burnmouth

On Friday the 14th of October, 1881, hurricane Euroclydon struck the south-eastern coast of Scotland. Nineteen fishing boats were lost and 189 men did not return, leaving 73 widows and 263 fatherless children. Until our visit to Burnmouth last summer, we had never heard of what some locals still call Black Friday. When we strolled round the village on our first evening, we wondered what this sculpture on the harbour wall commemorated.

A few years ago, Jill Watson was commissioned by the people of Berwickshire to create memorials representing the exact numbers of surviving widows and children in four of the communities affected. These tiny figures represent those of Burnmouth.

Along side them is an older memorial which lists all the men drowned.

Around the village are planters representing each boat lost: Alice, Christina, Excellent, Guiding Star, and Transcendent. We only found the first three.

Throughout our week in Burnmouth, we went in search of the other Jill Watson sculptures. This is Cove:

And St Abbs:

And by far the biggest is in Eyemouth, the main town of the area:

On a hill overlooking Eyemouth Harbour, there is also a commemorative wall, built in 2017, with each lost man represented by a pebble at the base.

The town’s small museum has more information and displays about the disaster. (These are all fairly terrible pictures because of reflections in the glass cases.) The poster below has a quote from Alex Burgon, Skipper of the Ariel Gazelle – “We’ll not see Eyemoth today boys”. The men clearly knew what was coming. Pickit Men by Emma Mackenzie (2010) has a figure for each of the 129 Eyemouth men lost, standing together in their crews. Pickit is a Scots word meaning plucked. “Ye wad juist think that they had been pickit” was a frequent comment made about the men at the time.

A remembrance plaque and mourning artefacts:

The Eyemouth Tapestry telling the story of the disaster is displayed in a small, narrow room. It is thus very difficult to photograph, but I hope you can get a small impression below of this wonderful work. Hand crafted by 24 local women, it took two years to complete. I foolishly didn’t note when it was made, and neither the leaflet I took away nor the museum’s online information tells me. However, I recall that it was long enough ago for most of the women who worked on it to be no longer with us.

Poignant facts gleaned from other parts of the museum: during the great storm, there is no record of the lifeboat having been launched. As the lifeboat was manned by the fishermen, it must be assumed that its crew were out there fighting for their lives already. In any case, the wind was so strong and the sea so rough that the boat would have been unlikely to get out of the harbour. The Census of 1881 was taken just before the disaster when Eyemouth’s population was 2935. The town went into decline, and it was almost 100 years (1976) before it reached that level again. Today, the population is about 3420.

We were very glad to learn about this disaster through Jill Watson’s sculptures which led us on to find other commemorations. I hope many more people are made aware of it as we have been. Eyemouth today is a relatively unspoilt town which combines being a working fishing port with tourism. I’ll tell you more about it in my next couple of posts.

Lower Burnmouth and The Old Lobster House

Burnmouth is the last village on Scotland’s east coast before crossing the border into England. It’s also one of those divided villages with a steep, winding road down to the harbour. We booked a cottage in Lower Burnmouth for a week last July / August, and I was surprised to find that the small settlement around the harbour actually counts as four villages!

If you turn left at the bottom of the road, you end up in Partanhall.

Ahead is Burnmouth Harbour.

To the right is Lower Burnmouth (and beyond that, Ross and Cowdrait of which we have no pictures). The colourful 3 storey houses, numbers 14-20 Lower Burnmouth, were designed by the architect Basil Spence in the 1950s. The lower floors were intended to be net stores, but now serve as garages. The little white building to their left in the view from the harbour is The Old Lobster House, our home for the week, a cottage converted from an old lobster holding pen.

Here are some closer views of the exterior:

And the interior:

But what had really sold us on this cottage when we saw it online was this view from the main bedroom window:However, when we arrived we were very disappointed to find that it looked like this:

It would be some days before high tide was at a suitable time for us to see it, i.e. not while we were out during the day or while we slept. However, we found the view endlessly fascinating and have many pictures in different conditions of weather and tide. Here’s more from the main bedroom:

From bedroom 2:

And from downstairs:

We had a wonderful week in this cottage, and did far more than just gaze at the sea, mesmerising though that was. And we learned something too. Strolling round the harbour on our first evening, we came across this sculpture:

It’s one part of a memorial to the East Coast Fishing Disaster of 1881, of which we’d never heard, and we made it our mission to track down the other three sculptures. The whole of my next post will be dedicated to the disaster.

A weekend without rain!

In honour of a weekend of glorious weather, I’m taking a break from my holiday diary to add some pictures of Scotland basking under blue skies. It doesn’t happen often enough.

The Glasgow Alphabet Map

Through social media, I’d been aware of Rosemary Cunningham’s gorgeous Glasgow Alphabet posters for some time. I just hadn’t got round to buying any yet. Sorry Rosie! Then I read that she was creating a map and was looking for people to talk about their memories of the various letters. As J was for Jordanhill (the Campus where I used to work) I jumped at the chance and some of my words now adorn the back of the map. Rosie has also been offering guided walks through the summer, and on Saturday John and I joined her and eight other people to stroll through Glasgow from the Lighthouse to the People’s Palace, both of which I’ve written about before. Some of the letters, such as W for Wellington, were exhibited on the Lighthouse windows – I love that the People make Glasgow slogan on City of Glasgow College is clearly visible too. On one of our first stops, we met the Wellington statue for real. The cone is a Glasgow tradition, though his horse doesn’t always join in.

Glasgow Alphabet exhibition
Glasgow Alphabet exhibition
Duke of Wellington and cone
Duke of Wellington and cone

Just a few of the other stops are shown below….

…. and we added some of our own sites on our way back to the Subway. The kelpie sits atop the Briggait, the mural represents the Year of the Tiger 2010 (commissioned by Tiger Beer) and the statue is La Pasionaria, a heroine of the Spanish Civil War. She is one of only three statues of real women (as opposed to idealised muses) in Glasgow: the others are Queen Victoria (and doesn’t everyone have one of her?) and 19th century philanthropist Isabella Elder. See Isabella on my Elder Park post.

You can find out more about Rosie’s work on her website, and she also has an Etsy shop where you can buy the maps. Although the current season of walks is over, she is doing one for Doors Open Day next month. Booking opens on the 27th, so get in quick – it’s great!

Fast Castle

On Sunday, we headed over to Berwickshire on the East Coast. I’d read about Fast Castle on Undiscovered Scotland and was keen to see it. There’s not much of it left – you hike down for three-quarters of a mile to a rocky promontory with a few ruins clinging to it – but the walk was beautiful with a new view at every turn. The sea really was that blue and the heather was even more purple.

Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister, stayed here on her way to marry James IV in 1503. We amused ourselves on the way back imagining the reaction to Fast Castle of a girl (she was only about 14) brought up at the Tudor court – and pitied her.


We pressed on to the village of Coldingham for a late lunch (thumbs up to the New Inn) and a quick walk round the priory ruins and parish church before heading for our final destination, St Abb’s Head.

St Abb’s Head

We spent about two hours on a circular walk here, another beautiful spot.

When we were at Fast Castle we noticed a helicopter hovering and a lifeboat circling, but we thought they might just be on an exercise. By the time we got to St Abb’s there were several more boats combing the sea and it was obvious something was wrong. Apparently, a group of divers went out on Sunday morning and one failed to resurface. The search has resumed today (Monday) and, as I write, the diver is still missing.  This tragedy (I can’t see a good outcome) cast a pall over what was otherwise a very happy weekend. My thoughts are still with his / her family.