First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Nearing the border where Scotland hands over to England, the cliffs of the south Berwickshire coast form a spectacularly folded and tilted rampart, partly ancient volcanic outpourings, partly sedimentary rock some 430 million years old with the curiously pleasing name of greywacke. Tucked away at the back of a sea-sculpted hollow lies the old fishing and smuggling town of Eyemouth, pungent with a whiff of fish and a smack of salt.
On the cliff path south of Eyemouth I stopped to watch the waves dashing in white foam on the Hurkers, jagged black teeth of rock at the entrance to the bay. On that reef and adjacent cliffs the Eyemouth fishing fleet was wrecked in a vicious autumn squall in 1881 that claimed the lives of nearly two hundred local fishermen in the space of a few hours. A devastating toll for the little town, and the stumpy, storm-proof build of the modern trawlers sheltering in the harbour today told of a sea that has lost none of its deadly power.
On a ledge of rock high above the waves a solitary figure in a yellow oilskin was wedged for a gull’s-eye view of the dramatic pull and suck exerted by the sea on its timeless mission to whittle away the land grain by grain. A last northward glimpse of Eyemouth sprawling down its cliffs and the lighthouse on St Abbs Head beyond, and I faced into a strong southeast wind laden with salt spray.
At Hurker’s Haven the sea has taken a great bite out of the cliffs, exposing green, red and yellow layers of rock scrunched up together by ancient subterranean upheavals like a Danish pastry squashed in a giant’s fist. Near the crest stood a wartime lookout, a plain concrete hut transformed into a child’s dream eyrie with fun-size table and chairs, a couple of pictures and a toy boat.
Beyond Hurker’s Haven the path ran between the cliff edge and fields stretching inland. The sea murk cleared to reveal the English coastline running away south. A tiny blob some fifteen miles off was Lindisfarne Castle, with an even tinier Bamburgh Castle beyond, both strongholds apparently floating far out at sea.
Now the long pincers of Burnmouth Harbour came into view with the houses of Ross beyond, twin fishing settlements clinging to the base of the cliffs where the waves rolled and retreated. The bent-up cliffs and solid breakwaters made a striking contrast with the diffuse energy and hunger of the sea, and I gazed my fill before turning for home with wind and spray at my back.
How hard is it? 9 miles there and back; easy; clifftop paths
Start: Eyemouth Seafront car park, High Street, Eyemouth TD14 5EY (OS ref NT 944644) – free
Getting there: Bus 235 (Berwick-upon-Tweed to Eyemouth)
Road: Eyemouth is on A1107 (signposted off A1 between Berwick-upon-Tweed and St Abbs)
Walk: (OS Explorer 346): Facing sea, bear right along harbour. At corner, right. In 500m, beside Quayside Chandlery (945641), left up causeway; left along fishing boat moorings. In 600m road curves right; on this bend keep ahead (948645) to post with arrow, and follow cliff path (posts with arrows) round edge of golf course. Follow ‘Coastal Path’ signs along cliff edge for 3¾ miles to road at Burnmouth (955610). Bear left (‘Coastal Path’) down road to Burnmouth Harbour and on along shore road to Ross community at far end (963604). Return to Eyemouth by outward route, or by bus from Burnmouth.
Lunch: Oblò Bar and Restaurant, 18-20, Harbour Road, Eyemouth TD14 5HU (01890-752527, oblobar.com)
Accommodation: The Ship’s Quarters, Harbour Road, Eyemouth TD14 5HT (01890-769515, theshipsquarters.com)