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.