First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Berwickshire coast of south-east Scotland is a rugged one, all sharp-nosed headlands and lumpy sea stacks. On a windy January morning the promontory cliffs of St Abb’s Head looked bleak and exhilarating, just the place for a post-Christmas blow-through.
Yellow buds of winter aconite were struggling out under the trees at the National Nature Reserve car park. ‘And snowdrops, look!’ exclaimed our son George. Long-term resident of tropical Australia, he was revelling in the sights and sensations of this proper winter’s day.
Wrapped up to the eyes, we set out along the coast path above cliffs of volcanic rock so tumbled and jagged that the outcrops resembled shattered castle walls. A greenish wash of guano slathered the rocks, though the seabirds responsible were long gone to their winter quarters further south.
Grey seals had pupped on the secluded beaches of dusky red sand, and we caught glimpses of the adults offshore as they dived like fat Olympic swimmers after shoals of fish.
This was weather to make our expat son gasp and grin. The gale pushed and shoved us like an invisible thug. The dried sea pinks of last summer nodded wildly at the cliff edge, and cold blasts of wind feathered out the whitecaps on the sea into a heaving grey mass.
The path led into a sheltered green valley for a few minutes’ respite before climbing up the flank of Kirk Hill and into the wind again. Here on the slope in 643AD Aebbe – a Northumbria princess in flight from the unwanted attentions of King Penda of Mercia – founded a nunnery. When St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne came visiting, he spent his nights in prayerful immersion, up to his neck in the sea. A hard man for tough times.
Just below the summit stood a lighthouse and the whitewashed cottages where its keepers once lived through wind, sun and wild weather. The walled garden where they grew their greens lay abandoned beyond.
From the viewpoint above a magnificent view unfolded, west along mudstone cliffs stacked and folded towards the Firth of Forth and the distant hump of North Berwick Law, east over the fishing villages of St Abbs* and Eyemouth among their volcanic headlands.
*NB St Abb’s Head has an apostrophe, St Abbs village doesn’t.
George spread his arms and stood flapping like a scarecrow, delighting in the grey sea and wild sky, while I chased after the hat which the wind had snatched off my head and flung far away.
How hard is it? 5 miles, moderate; hilly coast path
Start: St Abb’s Head NNR Visitor Centre car park, St Abbs, near Eyemouth TD14 5PL (OS ref NT 913674) – £3
Getting there: Bus 235 from Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Road: A1 (Berwick – Haddington); B6438 at Reston to Coldingham and St Abbs.
Walk (OS Explorer 346): From Visitor Centre follow ‘Path to St Abb’s Head’ signs; then ‘Lighthouse Loop’ (purple arrows) to lighthouse (914692) and topograph beyond. Left along road. At north-west end of Mire Loch, left (908690) on Mire Loop (yellow arrows). At lower end of loch, right (913685) up stony track to road (912684). Ahead, following road back to car park. Left along B6438 to St Abbs harbour, and return to car park.
Lunch: Old School Café, Ebba Centre, St Abbs (01890-771413, @EbbaCentre) – excellent home cooking and baking, warm welcome all year round. Book ahead if in group of 5+
Accommodation: Home Arms, High St, Eyemouth TD14 5EY (01890-751316, thehomearms.com)