Bone dry in the rivers; let’s head for the sea…… And so the weekend of 7/8th July 2018 found five LCC members (Robin E, Mike H, Ian Mc, Ian H, John H) camping at Cocksburnspath, just north of the Scottish border, with the intention of paddling the coastline both north and south of Eyemouth.
Day 1; Eyemouth to Pease Bay
After weeks of perpetual high pressure weather Saturday dawned as expected; calm, blue sky, warm sunshine. Dropping a vehicle off at Pease Bay (pretty location but despoiled by a huge static caravan park) we drove on to Eyemouth where free parking is to be found by the leisure centre and provides easy access to the sea.
Setting off north round the comically named `Hairy Ness` promontory we leisurely explored the many nooks and crannies this stretch had to offer. The sandy cove of Coldingham Bay was reached mid-morning and a landing was inevitable once ice-cream was mentioned! It was also the chance to remove a layer or two as the sun increased in strength. Continuing to paddle past the harbour of St Abbs and the numerous divers and dive boats, the drama of the red volcanic lava cliffs rapidly increased.
Time was taken to investigate every route option between the many stacks and rocky islets. Birdlife was overwhelming – swirling razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes filled the air together with shags, fulmars, herring gulls and the odd resting gannet. The intensity of this visual spectacle was heightened by a cacophony of noise combined with the acrid smell of seabird guano drifting from the enormous cliffs. What a privilege to be in such a place, a high-rise bird city at full-on rush-hour.
Rounding the headland we entered the relative calm of Pettico Wick, a small bay formed at the junction of two differing geologies; resistant red volcanic lava flows one side of the faultline and softer grey sedimentary shales on the other. A stone jetty remains from when the St Abb’s lighthouse was serviced from the sea. We stopped here for lunch and were later joined by other sea kayakers and a party of rowers from the St Abb’s Rowing Club.
Towards Fast Castle Head the dramatic cliffs continued uninterrupted – this is a wild and quite remote stretch of shore with scattered kittiwake colonies providing the background soundtrack. The remains of Fast Castle itself were passed beneath and once round this headland the distinctive shapes of Torness Nuclear Powerstation and Bass Rock could be seen in the distance; Bass Rock being the source of many groups of gannets observed out to sea, and providing inspiration for this bird’s Latin name Sula bassana.
Continuing east with around 6km to go the rocky shore of Hirst Rocks gave an opportunity for an afternoon break and stretch of the legs to explore the ruins of an old fishing station complete with winch building and cableway to the clifftop. Now the final gentle leg to Pease Bay passing by Siccar Point, an attractive headland with an exceptionally important historic role in the development of geological theory and understanding of the origins and age of the Earth. In 1788 local scientist James Hutton took a boat trip along this coastline and observed the unusual geological formation of Siccar Point; more or less horizontal beds of red sandstone lying on top of vertically bedded greywackes. He reasoned that the greywackes had, over an unimaginable period of time, been worn down before the younger sandstone was deposited over them. His friend on the trip later wrote “the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time“. This all at a time when the Earth was believed to have been created in 6 days! A memorable finale to this superb day of paddling.
Day 2; Eyemouth to Berwick upon Tweed
Refreshed from an evening meal and a couple of pints in the quirky Anchor pub in St Abbs we broke camp on another gorgeous though breezy morning. Due to an aggravated finger injury Ian H decided to give paddling a miss, so we were down to four. The objective of day 2 was to again launch in Eyemouth but this time head south, crossing the border to Berwick-upon-Tweed. How could it match up to the previous stupendous day?
Out of the protection of Eyemouth bay we were quickly exploring a complex coast of rocky skeers, jagged reefs, small stacks and endless inlets. Route choices were innumerable and rarely did an obscure passage disappoint in a dead end.
After a couple of kilometres the 100m cliffs of Fancove Head were reached and the variety of rock-hopping reached new heights including a number of deep and ominous caves, sometimes providing a narrow through-passage. Birdlife was more sporadic along this stretch of coast but did include small colonies of auks and some raucous kittiwake terraces.
Although only around 4km had been covered, all the contorted explorations had taken time and an early lunch was enjoyed perched on the rounded pebbles of Burnmouth Bay where the gaily painted terrace of houses appeared to have taken inspiration from Tobermory. This tiny fishing village is the only habitation between Eyemouth and Berwick.
More spectacular paddling, with the benefit of a more-or-less following breeze brought us across the Scottish-English border and round a headland into the sandstone amphitheatre of Marshall Meadows Bay. A rectangular cave was spotted part-way up the vertical cliffs and so we landed on the sandstone shelf in order to investigate. Ropes and a rickety ladder led up to the `cave` entrance which was found to be entirely man-made and actually the exit from a steeply inclined 100m long tunnel rising to the cliff-top. The actual purpose of the “Marshall Meadow Seaweed Railway” seems lost in the mists of time but the transportation of fish (salmon), sandstone and kelp have all been suggested.
The final 5km leg to Berwick included passing through the huge sea arch of Needles Eye and the cliffs remained interesting with further arches and caves – but also the encroachment of large cliff-top caravan parks! The sting in the tail was a long trudge over oozing mud to gain terra firma – fortunately an ice-cream van was parked nearby for much needed refreshments.