Sunday, April 15, 2007

Walk 149 -- Burnmouth, via Eyemouth, to St Abbs

Ages: Colin was 64 years and 342 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 119 days.
Weather: Sunny, calm and very warm. There was a slight breeze, occasionally, which was refreshing because mostly it was muggy with poor visibility.
Location: Burnmouth, via Eyemouth, to St Abbs.
Distance: 8 miles.
Total distance: 1229 miles.
Terrain: Some concrete, a little beach, but mostly grassy cliff paths. Undulating, especially towards the end.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: No.68, Eye Water at Eyemouth. No.69, Milldown Burn at Coldringham Bay — where there was no bridge! (It was shallow enough to paddle across in our boots.)
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.124 near Eyemouth Golf Course. (It didn’t have a gate, so Colin said I could only have a broken kiss!)
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove up the day before from our new home in Malvern to a holiday cottage in Grantshouse, which we had booked for two weeks. In the morning we drove to St Abbs where we parked the car for free at the top of the village (it would have cost £10 to park it down in the harbour on a Sunday!) and watched about a hundred scuba divers set out in small boats. Then we caught a bus to Burnmouth where we alighted at the exact spot where we had thumbed a lift last October.
At the end we walked straight up to our car in St Abbs. We had a cup of tea from our flask, then we drove up a couple of minor roads to ‘recce’ out possible routes for tomorrow. Finally we returned to our cottage in Grantshouse.

We have moved house! We no longer live in Bognor Regis, we now live in a rented flat in Great Malvern, Worcestershire. We used to live in Malvern, it was forty years ago. For the first two years of our married life we made our home in the town. Although we don’t know anybody from those days, it felt like coming home when we moved back here in January. We can now do some real training for our trek round the Scottish coast as our new abode is part way up the Malvern Hills — the hills which inspired C S Lewis to write The Chronicles of Narnia, the hills which inspired J R R Tolkein to write The Lord of the Rings, and most famously the hills which inspired Edward Elgar to write The Enigma Variations and other wonderful music. We feel very privileged to live here.
Moving house for the first time in 28⅔ years was traumatic. That wretched woman from London, who agreed to buy our house last October, kept us hanging on a string for six long weeks before she quietly disappeared from the scene without a whisper of an explanation as to why she had behaved so despicably. We immediately ‘sacked’ the second agent and asked the third, the zany women who had already assessed the house, to take it on — it had been on the market for nine months by then. They sold it for the asking price six days later!!
While we were in the throes of selling our house, two serious things happened in the family. Our daughter, Maria, was driving home from work through the New Forest — a route she took often and knew well — when a fully grown stag leapt out of the gloom and crashed into her car! She was very fortunate that she wasn’t hurt, but the driver’s door was badly buckled. The stag must have caught it a glancing blow, which was her saving grace, because it staggered off into the wilderness before she could get out of the car. Typically, she was more concerned about the stag than about herself!
The same day that we were finally let down by that wretched woman from London over the sale of our house, I had a sad phone call from our son, Paul. His wife, Caroline, was suffering another miscarriage — her second within a year. We are devastated! They waited until they were settled in their own home with a steady income before attempting to start their family, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening. The biological clock is not against them — Caroline is still in her twenties, the ideal age for child-bearing. Paul is in his thirties and they are both in good health, enjoying salubrious outdoor pursuits as their main pastimes. So we can’t understand why it is proving so difficult.
Meanwhile it was panic stations at home, we had to find somewhere to live. We had decided on Malvern, but it is a three hour drive away from Bognor on a good day, and we felt it was impossible to buy a house from that sort of distance. So we planned to rent accommodation temporarily, and had sent for details of a number of properties which were up for rent in Malvern. One caught our eye — a 3 bedroomed flat with huge rooms in the centre of Great Malvern. But we couldn’t afford to put our name to it until we had exchanged contracts, in case it all fell through at the last moment.
Those were nail-biting days! Christmas was approaching, and our agent warned us that once our solicitor signed off for his Christmas break he wouldn’t be seen until well into January. (It is a well known fact that solicitors work in a different time warp to the rest of the world!) I was constantly on the phone hassling him to get on with his job, there was nothing holding up the procedure except his tardiness.
Thursday 21st December:— our solicitor disappeared for his Christmas jollities, having promised to exchange contracts before he went but he had not done so.
Friday 22nd December:— our solicitor’s assistant rang us to say she had exchanged contracts in his absence. (Huge sigh of relief!)
Saturday 23rd December:—we left very early in the morning and drove to Malvern in thick fog to secure the lease on the flat with big rooms. We particularly wanted this flat because it was roomy enough to take all the junk I hadn’t managed to persuade Colin to chuck without us having to put anything into store. We viewed it between two other couples, but the first couple were a bit ‘iffy’ about finance and we raced to the agency to sign on the dotted line while the third couple were still looking round. It was as close as that, and all of this just twenty minutes before the agency closed its doors until January. It was so stressful that I had a fainting fit in a supermarket car park shortly afterwards (I never faint) but Colin revived me with a cup of tea and drove us all the way back to Bognor in the fog and the dark.
Sunday 24th December:— I made up beds and cooked all day as the family arrived for our last Christmas in Bognor. It was lovely to have a rare family gathering and catch up with all the gossip.
Monday 25th December:— our four grown-up children and two grandchildren were all brought up in Bognor, so to spend this last Christmas in the house in which we had lived since 1978 was quite significant for them all.
Tuesday 26th December:— I wrote in my diary, “They came — they ate — they went! But it was nice to see them all even if it was only fleeting.” They lead such busy lives these days, we don’t see nearly as much of them as we’d like.
We had four weeks to move out. Colin had no less than eight motor bikes to dispose of!! He managed to sell locally the three that were in bits. Three others he put on eBay, and the buyers came from as far as Hertfordshire, Huddersfield and Hexham to collect them. He borrowed a clapped out old trailer for the two he planned to keep, and took them down to Maria’s in Lymington to store in her garage — he had a few adventures on the way due to the trailer being well past its sell-by date! We borrowed a different trailer another weekend, which was in good nick except for a broken tail-light which Colin mended. On the Sunday we piled it full of our gardening tools, compost bins, etc and towed it all the way to Cambridgeshire to store in Paul’s outhouses. Caroline cooked us a delicious roast dinner, then we returned to Bognor the same evening — a total of seven hours on the road.
Colin was still trying to sort his junk in the garage when the removal men came, so it all got thrown in boxes willy-nilly. I knew he wouldn’t be ready. It snowed the day we moved, we couldn’t believe it! When the removal vans had gone, Colin went out to buy fish’n’chips. We ate our last meal in the house sitting on the stairs because we had no furniture. Then we waved “Goodbye!” to the noisy seagull on the roof, and drove out of Bognor for the last time.
We love the flat we are living in now — we are very cosy and have exceptional views across the Severn Valley to Bredon Hill and the Cotswolds. The Winter sunrises were surreal! (Now we don’t see them as we are still asleep.) We walk on the hills nearly every day. A couple of weeks after the move Malvern was cut off from the outside world overnight by snow, and 250 cars were abandoned on a main road just two miles north of where we were living! So we went down to a local travel agent and booked a holiday. We felt we deserved it.
In February we paid our first visit to Mallorca, and walked in the mountains on the north side of that beautiful island. In March we went to Prague where we ate a lot of lard and I got locked in the lavatory at the back of a pub (this is not funny) and had to be rescued by a grinning youth with a crowbar! Now we are in Scotland continuing our ‘Round-Britain-Walk’.
So much stress! We haven’t really started to look seriously for a house yet, we’re too tired.

As we stepped off the bus from St Abbs, I looked up and saw a footpath sign directly in front of me. We had thought we would have to go at least half way down the steep hill to Burnmouth, if not all the way down, but not so. When we had wearily heaved our tired bodies up that mountainous slope last October, we had still been on the coastal path without realising it. The way now led us round the edge of a field to the clifftop. We had beautiful views down to Burnmouth, but only if we looked directly into the sun so it was difficult to photograph.The clifftop path was not as undulating as we expected — in fact it was quite easy to walk. The views were wonderful and the sun hot even though it was only April. We saw a variety of birds on the Walk — gulls, gannets, kittiwakes, stonechats, oystercatchers, lots of skylarks and the occasional cormorant. Also a big variety of wild flowers, especially primroses. The gorse flowers were so bright it hurt our eyes to look at them. We also met a large number of people since it was a fine Sunday. Golfers hitting their long shots, walkers striding along the coast path, children enjoying the sea (I love the way they ‘dance’ when they get excited), fat people waddling along in Eyemouth and teenagers being loud and gross. It was all wonderful, and we enjoyed ourselves very much.We ambled along the first bit of the clifftop looking at distorted rocks rising up out of the sea. We came to a stone wall built along the clifftop. It was probably the original boundary of the adjacent field, but it was broken down in places. The old path went between the wall and the clifftop, but this was narrow.So a wider path had been made on the land-side of the wall and a little arrow on a post pointed for everyone to use the safer path. All except Colin, that is. He marched on declaring, “This is the nearest safe path to the sea!” and luckily for him it was. (Safe, that is) We found a neat little nook to sit down and eat the first part of our lunch. We noted a ship’s container washed up in a gulley — more rubbish chucked off a ship. Then we continued in the warm sunshine, looking at the most amazing rocks as we progressed. The rocks seemed to get more and more distorted as we approached Eyemouth. I’m supposed to be a geologist, but I couldn’t begin to explain them all.Near to Eyemouth we came to a golf course. But the golfers had no problem with us walking round the edge of the course even though there seemed to be hundreds of them about. Generally they greeted us with a cheery wave, and we in turn waited for them to tee off their shots. This is Scotland, you see, where golf is more of a family game and golfers are not nearly so toffee-nosed as they are in England.We came to a gully that was swarming with scuba divers. We had watched dozens of them go out early that morning from St Abbs before we caught the bus, and here were even more. This area around Eyemouth and St Abbs is one of the major diving spots in the UK. A notice we had seen in St Abbs that morning told us why:
“The dramatic scenery of the local coastline is matched by equally spectacular scenery under the water.
Rocky reefs, underwater caves, steep gullies and ridges festooned with a myriad of creatures dominate the area under the sea.
Arctic species such as the fierce looking wolf fish and species from warmer waters such as the Devonshire cup coral are found together in this area, adding to the rich diversity of marine life. This diverse and unspoilt marine environment together with the clean, translucent waters make this area an exceptional place for diving.”But there seemed to be something amiss this afternoon. One of the divers was up near his car speaking to the coastguards on his mobile. I heard him say, “They’re drifting south!” There didn’t seem to be a big panic on, but he was concerned enough to call for help.We came to a boatyard round the back of Eyemouth, and Colin climbed on to a wall so he could see the harbour entrance. He watched a small lifeboat go out — it all felt very exciting!We noticed a lot of excited chatter coming from the other side of the river, and realised the people standing there were feeding seals.So we hastened down to the bridge past some pseudo-battlements and lots of guano left by the gulls. Back the other side past the disused fish market now being refurbished as a maritime museum, and they were still there — four grey seals being fed by tourists. They were beautiful! Their huge eyes looked up appealingly from the water below us — I have never seen seals so close. It was difficult to tear ourselves away.It was while we were watching the seals that the lifeboat came back with a few grinning scuba divers aboard. So whatever had occurred on the dive, it thankfully had a happy ending.We walked along the western concrete pier of Eyemouth harbour which had been improved in 1965 and opened by Princess Marina. Then we went along to a memorial garden where we sat on a bench to eat some more of our lunch. We read the memorial stone, telling us about a fishing disaster in 1881. In the town we had previously come across a sculpture of a fisherman called Willie Spears. Subsequently I looked the story up on the internet, and this is what I found:
“The worst recorded disaster was the Great Storm of October 1881. In Eyemouth this is known as ‘Black Friday’. A disaster was prophesised by the leader of the fishermen, Willie Spears. After weeks of bad weather, local fishermen were impatient to go to sea. They ignored the low reading on their barometer and set off to fish. 189 fishermen from the south east of Scotland were lost. 129 were from Eyemouth alone. Many drowned within sight of their own families. A portrait was made of the fishermen's leader, Willie Spears.
Fishermen were also lost from Burnmouth, St Abbs, Cove, Fisherrow and Newhaven. Two days after the Disaster, one of the Eyemouth boats, the 'Ariel Gazelle' limped into the harbour. Her crew were all safe. Instead of trying to make for the shore, they had struck out to sea and rode the storm.”
We crossed the car park, passed a very plain pillar box (don’t they have fancy ones in Scotland?) and walked along the prom above the beach to the remains of an old fort on the headland. There were a lot of obese people waddling about on that bright Sunday afternoon. It was lovely to see children playing happily on the beach. Two small boys caught my eye because they wore bright yellow T-shirts which reflected the colour in the water. They were jumping the waves, and when they got excited they literally danced! They were a delight to watch, particularly as I remembered our eldest son used to do that as a small child whenever he got excited about something. Then we noticed two women walking along the beach, one of whom was carrying a large cat!
As we climbed the headland we seemed to be surrounded by young teenagers showing off very loudly, making sure everyone noticed them. Back in the memorial garden and the car park, we’d had to walk through a crowd of them talking at the tops of their voices and generally being gross. I voiced the opinion that it would be very nice out and about tomorrow when they will all be safely tucked up in school. (I don’t believe in school holidays anymore, ever since I retired from the teaching profession!)
We thought the outline of the cliff at the end of the headland resembled a face. We looked at the cannons which were up on the ancient fort, then continued along the coast path towards St Abbs. The rocks got even more dramatic after Eyemouth. We tried to follow the coastline which is far more wiggly than the official path, so we could look at the rocks from the clifftop. We passed some dead flowers and wreaths attached to the fence which looked horrible. At least one or two silk flowers had been included in this memorial and daffodil bulbs planted in the ground, but cut flowers out of water are such a waste of time and money because they wither and die so quickly.We came to a place called ‘Fleur’s Dean’ where the path went down some steps to the beach. I suggested sitting on a seat before we descended to eat our chocolate, but Colin had a paddy because, apparently, by making this suggestion I was “ruling his life”! (The trouble with Colin is he will never admit that he is tired and feels crotchety, he just argues that he is hard-done-by.) So I sat on the seat with beautiful views and Colin stood on the steps a little further down, resolute that he didn’t need to sit down.
It was nice to walk by the beach for a while, but less than half a mile later we had to climb up steps to the top again. We rounded a headland, and at last we could see St Abbs — our destination for today. But we weren’t finished yet for again we had to descend to beach level in order to cross a stream.There was no bridge, but it was shallow enough to paddle across in our boots. We were already beginning to realise that walking in Scotland is a lot rougher than walking in England.Almost immediately we had to climb up again to round a rock, then we descended a third time to the lovely beach at Coldingham Bay. This was a really nice beach with children playing in the waves and castles built in the sand. We admired the blackthorn blossom as we wearily climbed up to the clifftop once more on the other side of the bay. We were relieved that we could now stay on a level until the end of the Walk.As we approached St Abbs the way became more and more civilised, eventually turning into a tarmacked path. I was amused by a drain cover labelled ‘sampling chamber’ as I didn’t fancy sampling the water running through it!
We rounded a corner, and there was the harbour spread out below us. Unlike this morning it was practically deserted as all the scuba divers had gone home. This morning it had been a hive of activity as dozens of divers had parked their cars, changed into their scuba gear, and gone out in boats to the diving spots. We couldn’t believe there were so many! It is very expensive to park your car down by the harbour — £10 on a Sunday! But where we had parked on a higher level with lovely views over the harbour, it was free at all times.

That ended Walk no.149, we shall pick up Walk no.150 next time at the higher level free car park in St Abbs. We had some biscuits and a cup of tea from our flask. Before we returned to our cottage in Grantshouse, we drove up a couple of minor roads beyond St Abbs Head to ‘recce’ out possible routes for tomorrow.

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