Friday, October 13, 2006

Walk 148 -- Berwick-upon-Tweed to Burnmouth

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 158 days. Rosemary was 61 years and 300 days.
Weather: Sunny, calm and very warm.
Location: Berwick-upon-Tweed to Burnmouth — which is in SCOTLAND!!
Distance: 8½ miles.
Total distance: 1221 miles.
Terrain: A little concrete and a little beach, but nearly all grassy cliff paths. Undulating.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos. 121, 122 & 123 once we had crossed the border into Scotland.
Pubs: None.
‘English Heritage/Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday flat in Longhoughton. We drove to Eyemouth, stopping at the Scottish border to photograph Thomas the Travelling Teddy in Scotland. In Eyemouth we parked on the seafront for free, and the toilets were open! We caught a bus back to Berwick, and were surprised how cheap the fares were. We like Scotland!
At the end we realised, when we got to Burnmouth, that we were running out of daylight. With four more miles still to go over steep cliff paths that we didn’t know in gathering darkness, we decided it would be dangerous to continue. So we wearily climbed the very steep hill to the main road, and thumbed a lift. A very pleasant and friendly gentleman drove us right back to our car in Eyemouth. We had a cup of tea, then drove back to Longhoughton for the last time. On the way we stopped at a pub in Seahouses which Colin had ‘missed out’, but it was very crowded. We bought some fish & chips locally and took them back to the flat.
The next day we drove home to Bognor — it took us all day even though the traffic was light. What a long way we have walked! We are very proud of ourselves because —

We started today’s Walk by going through the ‘Kipper Gate’ and continuing along the harbour road in front of some cottages. We never did find out why it was called ‘Kipper Gate’, I even tried to look it up on the internet but got nowhere.
We soon came to the concrete north pier, and we walked the full length of it by the River Tweed. As we walked along we saw seals playing in the river mouth. It was a delight to watch them, but they kept diving so quickly we didn’t manage to photograph them.
There is a lighthouse at the end of the pier, and we sat near it to eat our pasties. We couldn’t get over the weather — it was warm and sunny like a Summer’s day and didn’t feel at all like the middle of October.
We walked back along the pier until we were able to climb over the wall on its north side and slither down on to the beach.
The tide was out and the sand was nicely firm, so it was very pleasant. But when the cliffs started to rise we thought we’d better rise up with them because we knew the beach would soon peter out. It was quite a steep path up to the clifftop where we found ourselves on the inevitable golf course. The official coast path skirted round the edge of it, then past a huge caravan site followed by more of the golf course. Further on we were passing an enormous field where the winter wheat was just poking through alongside last year’s broad beans.
All the while we were right on the cliff edge looking at the rocks. A large swirl of rock visible at low tide reminded me of my OU days, and I was convinced that it was the remains of a volcano plug. It is difficult to remember back eighteen years, but I think we were taken to see a similar phenomenon at the village of Crail in Fife when I was on a summer school in Scotland.According to my geology map, we were walking on carboniferous limestone but the cliffs looked like a layered sandstone to me — so I was a little puzzled.Whatever, they were very beautiful, especially in the sunshine.We came to a rock arch, a bit like Durdle Door in Dorset, so we found a patch of grass to sit on and eat our sarnies while we admired it. This part of the coast is very pretty, and we felt good.Further on the path closed in on the railway, and we seemed to be squeezed between it and the cliff edge. There was a fence all along the edge to protect us from falling over, but we found a gate in it. Was it for those with a death wish? A little yellow notice on a nearby post told us the footpath was ‘legally diverted’, and to follow the waymarks. This we did, and we came to another caravan site. This was completely filling the space between the railway and the clifftop with no waymarks that we could see. So we bumbled our way through and eventually managed to find the path leading out of the other side.Soon we came to a very significant stile — the border with Scotland! We crossed it into another country, so we celebrated with Thomas the Travelling Teddy who goes everywhere with us when we visit foreign parts, ever since he came into our care five years ago. (He has been to Scotland before, also to Wales, the Channel Islands, France, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Kenya, Tanzania, Qu├ębec, New York, Jamaica, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica. So he is a well-travelled bear.)We were amused to find that, after the stile, there was no longer a fence between us and the clifftop. Also a notice more or less saying that now we were in Scotland it would be our own fault if we fell over the cliff, not the landowner’s for neglecting to warn us that falling over a cliff can be fatal! That is a much more sensible attitude. It stops all the litigation that goes on these days because people have always got to prove that an accident is someone else’s fault. This means that many activities are barred to us ordinary folk for fear of litigation because they are a tiny bit risky — like not allowing home-made cakes to be sold at a school bazaar or banning children from playing conkers, to quote two silly examples. Also it means that the English countryside, and coast, is plastered with ugly warning notices stating the obvious.
The ‘right-of-way laws in Scotland are much more liberal than those in England. Basically it means you can walk where you like so long as you are not a nuisance, don’t cause any damage and you take responsibility for your own actions. That is such a relief — no more PRIVATE KEEP OUT notices which have plagued us in southern parts. If there is a way through along the coast, we can take it. But it does have its down side. The green dashes and dots which denote public footpaths on our maps disappear as soon as we get north of the border. Footpaths are marked with a simple black dotted line, because all footpaths are ‘public’. These are not so easy to see, especially in mountainous areas where the contour lines are close together. In subsequent weeks we found out that there are a lot more very good footpaths in Scotland than are marked on the maps, and there is no way of finding out they exist until we get there. Also, many of the paths which are marked don’t exist in reality. Others start off okay, but take the unsuspecting walker into a swamp, up on to a rocky moorland, to a vertical cliff face, are crossed by a myriad of barbed wire fences or they simply disappear a couple of miles on. Planning our Walks in Scotland became a bit of a guessing game, and we had to make several contingency plans each time before we set off.
Back to the border. We continued along the path squeezed between the railway and the clifftop — sometimes it did get very narrow and we had to take a risk — and the A1 squashed up to the other side of the railway, all using the same ledge to get by some rather high hills.
There were loads of sheep on the Scottish side of the stile, but they seemed very sure-footed on the rocks so we didn’t worry about them. They regarded our intrusion with disdain and got on with their grass-munching.
Colin always picks out ruined buildings with the supposed estate agent’s description, “In need of renovation!” So when he saw a dilapidated cottage clinging to the cliff edge, he went on about it so much I asked him if he was planning on buying it when we eventually manage to sell our house in Bognor. I didn’t really fancy it as a retirement cottage, especially when the wind gets up, so I left him to his fantasies!We walked a long way next to the railway line and main road, then we started to go downhill leaving the train-track and the road up above us on a bank where they were out of sound and sight. We were in the shade by then because the sun had already sunk behind the bank. All the way we had wonderful views of the rocks and cliffs. We saw a green crop field stretching out before us, but we couldn’t see any way of getting down to it on to the clifftop. So we stayed on the path at our higher level.
Through a gate, the path suddenly turned almost back on itself and descended a very steep hill all the way down to sea level. In fact the last bit of the path went down steps through someone’s back garden — that’s Scotland for you! We were in the tiny fishing village of Burnmouth where the sun had already set because it faces East. Situated at the bottom of the cliffs, it is a pretty little hamlet of colour-washed houses, a rocky beach and a small harbour. It was the first of many such communities we would walk through on our way round the Scottish coast. We walked along the front and round the harbour walls looking at the boats. We used the public toilet which was a chemical one, but clean and sweet-smelling — well done Burnmouth! Then we made a decision. Eyemouth, where we had parked the car, was four miles further on. We were tired and it was already beginning to get dark. We didn’t know how good or bad the path was between Burnmouth and Eyemouth, but either way the clifftop was not a place to be walking in the dark. So we wearily walked up the steep lane to a bus stop on the main road at the top, not realising that it was the way we would have to go anyway in order to continue our Walk towards Eyemouth.
That ended Walk no.148, we shall pick up Walk no.149 next time at the bus stop situated where the lane comes out from Burnmouth. We didn’t know the times of any buses, or even if there were any at that hour of the day, so we decided to hitch-hike. I reckoned that any vehicle turning off the A1 into the road where we were standing would be going to Eyemouth because there was nowhere else. It was about the third car which stopped, and the kind gentleman drove us right to our car which we had parked a little too optimistically in Eyemouth that morning.
We had a cup of tea, then drove back to Longhoughton for the last time. On the way we stopped at a pub in Seahouses which Colin had felt he had ‘missed out’ because it was closed when we passed on foot. But it was very crowded, and I was too tired to enjoy it much. We bought some fish & chips locally and took them back to the flat.
The next day we drove home to Bognor — it took us all day even though the traffic was light.


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