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.

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.