Eyemouth

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.