Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Coldingham Bay and St Abbs Head

St Abbs Lighthouse
The last of our summertime walks and I've only just got around to writing it up!  The main problem with living where we do is that summer lasts all the time and we don't have the clues of weather changing to tell us how much time has elapsed.  Hence me getting round to this some four months after we walked it!  We swapped France for southern Scotland for one of the later weeks of our summer in the UK.  We had fond memories of a holiday in this part of the world a couple of years ago and wanted to explore some more in this area.  This is walk number 13 from the Pathfinder Guide Northumberland and Scottish Borders Walks.  We were joined on this walk by some old friends that we had traveled to this part of the country to be with and this turned out to be our first activity together.

Coldingham Bay
We started our walk at the small grassy car park at Coldingham Bay, which was already pretty packed with day trippers in spite of the relatively poor weather.  As we wandered down to the beach it was pretty clear why it was so popular as it was dog friendly and a place for surfers.  We skirted around the back of the beach alongside some good looking beach huts that were also seeing plenty of use on a gloomy looking day. As we went across the beach something interesting caught my eye - it was a large bin made from pallets that acted as a beach toy exchange.  A pretty good idea if you ask me - must be quite a lot of plastic buckets and spades that are lost which could still be used rather than being binned.

Beach Toy Exchange
We climbed the steps up on to the cliffs and walked along the flat ledge like cliff line to St Abbs, a small fishing village just a mile from our starting point.  Unlike some cliff top walks this one was almost entirely flat with no undulation along the way.  The weather sadly was still pretty gloomy although the early morning rain had eased off.  Sadly it didn't make for particularly good views but when we got to St Abbs village.  Our first contact was with a very handsome looking white house on the clifftop.  We passed down the side of it into the village proper which was hidden behind the headland.  Scotland it may be but the fishing village looked very similar to those that I know so well down in Cornwall.  The buildings are a little different in this part of the world but the layout of the village was very much the same.

Surfing Weather
We found our way to the bottom of the hill and the quayside.  It was quite the hive of activity with diving teams getting ready for trips out and some work going on the local lifeboat.  Unusually this is an independent lifeboat as the RNLI no longer support the boat or station here, having withdrawn their vessel in 2015.  The villagers decided to stump up the necessary funds and have gone it alone, much to the relief of the many dive crews who visit the nearby marine nature reserve.

White House In St Abbs
After loitering on the harbour for a while we headed back up to higher ground and stopped briefly in the visitor centre at the top of the village.  Outside was a sign proclaiming that the village is twinned with New Asgard, a reference to the fact that scenes for the Marvel Studios film Avengers:Endgame were filmed here.  It was certainly significant to my daughters - they loved that the were on set.  Also outside the visitor centre was a small bronze memorial to victims of the so-called Eyemouth Disaster, a windstorm that claimed the lives of 189 people in the surrounding villages of the nearby town of Eyemouth in October 1881.  A much bigger memorial is placed on the seafront there, illustrating the relative death toll in the various places affected.  This disaster quite simply sucked the life out of these villages since most of the victims were fishermen at sea, leaving scores of widows and children behind as depicted in the sculptures.

St Abbs Terrace
We left the village behind and resumed our route along the clifftops.  This time we had a little climbing to do although considering how wild the coast looked it wasn't quite as tough going as we might have expected.  As we got to the top of Bell Hill we had a pretty decent view of St Abbs behind.  Of perhaps more interest though were the colonies of seabirds perched on the  cliffs below us.  The cacophony of noise was quite something too.  With the sound of seagulls screeching in our ears we dropped down into a valley below where we stopped at the beach of Horsecastle Bay.  We lingered here for a bit and enjoyed the sea at level for the last time on this walk before starting the climb up on to St Abbs Head.
Lifeboat Station

As we got to the top we had a brief appearance of sunshine which was quite a treat  St Abbs Lighthouse soon greeted us.  This lighthouse was built in 1862 and was automated in 1993.  As with so many other lighthouses it is possible to stay in holiday accommodation here.  Indeed we almost did but opted for a more convenient one in Eyemouth instead.  Having climbed up here our accompanying kids were tired and so we sat and enjoyed the view for some time before moving on. We watched the relative peace and quiet of watching the passing container ships finding their way through the sea fret like conditions offshore.

Further on and it definitely wasn't peaceful as we came across another seabird colony.  Apparently this one is 60,000 strong and it certainly sounded like it.  Mostly they were kittiwakes although we could also see fulmars and herring gulls.  Supposedly puffins are here too but we didn't manage to see any on this occasion.  How the kittiwakes manage to cling to the cliff side is beyond me.  It cannot be a very comfortable existence although I suppose the eggs are mostly safe from predators.

Eyemouth Disaster Memorial
As we rounded the head we got the most magnificent view along a cloud shrouded coastline.  The Berwickshire coast must surely be up there with the most heralded coastlines in Britain and yet somehow you never seem to hear about it.  I was certainly glad that we had made the effort to come and look for ourselves.  The path wasn't very distinct here but luckily we could see where we were going to go by virtue of the large loch in the valley.  We scrambled down the steep path and headed for the corner where we found the path that headed parallel with the shore, albeit higher up.  Ironically because of the tree cover it wasn't actually very easy to see the water most of the time.
Looking Back to St Abbs
The way back was generally a lot less interesting than the way out which is sadly often true with coastal walks that are circular.  However there were a couple of interesting features as we crossed the fields - a memorial woodland that had now actually grown to the size it was intended.  It looks natural enough showing some vision on the part of the planters.  We also saw a huge number of butterflies, mostly red admirals and painted ladies.  Apparently there was a glut of both during the summer, particularly the latter.
St Abbs Head Seabird Colony
Before returning to the village of St Abbs we managed to find a teashop in a National Trust for Scotland visitor centre.  There were some craft workshops here too and it made for a good pitstop before tackling the last mile of the walk.  We went through the top of the village once again and along the Creel Road, an  ancient trackway that was used by fishermen to transport lobsters (creel is another word for lobster).  It was an alternative route to the clifftop path we had used earlier and we landed up in the car park almost without noticing.

Mire Loch
This was a path that deserved a better day than it got but there was something to be said about its moodiness.  As coastal walks go it wasn't especially challenging and as said before it does suffer a bit from having to complete a loop via an inland route.  The teashop towards the end was a welcome relief and the dockside activities at St Abbs definitely appealed to my children.  A pleasing walk that I think could be unforgettable in the right weather conditions.

Painted Ladies

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