Imagine passing through Dorset, Cornwall, North Yorkshire, the West of Ireland and East Anglia on one 45-mile walk.
That gives you a flavour of the Berwickshire coastal path that links the far north-east of England with the far south-east of Scotland. It is a walk that combines lonely moors, sandy beaches, cheery fishing villages and dizzying cliffs.
The coastal path, from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Cocksburnpath, is fairly new, sandwiched between more famous trails named after a saint, Cuthbert (Lindisfarne to Melrose), and a proto-environmentalist, John Muir (Dunbar to Helensburgh).
I started in fine, breezy weather at the Magdalene Fields golf club, north of Berwick and a five-minute walk from the train station.
You don’t need a car at any point on this trip, and southern readers may be surprised how quickly and easily they can get to Berwick by rail. It’s well worth spending a night in the town. If Edinburgh is the Athens of the north, maybe Berwick is the Florence, with its red-roofed houses and spires clustered above a 17th-century bridge. No Michaelangelos here, but LS Lowry did spend his holidays painting the town and its people.
The route skirts the first of several holiday parks and golf courses, the calm, purple-great expanse of the North Sea always just to your right. The early miles are a bit scrappy, until you enter a narrow fern and sheep-filled path tight by the railway line on your left and the dizzying cliffs on your right.
The border is just before Burnmouth. There is a big sign on the path welcoming you to Scotland: nothing as you enter England. This was the last part of the border to be established, in 1482. What I didn’t know until I read about the geology of Burnmouth is that Scotland and England were once on separate continents. It still feels that way, sometimes.
The autumn sun blazed – well, shone, at least – as I entered the Dorset part of the walk: wide fields of grain and wheat above pale-rock cliffs. There’s a glorious moment when the path reaches the brow of a small hill and your next adventures are laid out in bright, children’s storybook colours, before you: Eyemouth, Coldingham Bay and the high cliffs of St Abbs.
I timed my arrival in Eyemouth for lunch at The Ship Inn followed by ice cream at Giacopazzis. The harbourfront is being spruced up and the very changeable fortunes of this tough little fishing town are looking up – Scotland’s latest mega offshore wind project has made its headquarters here.
Above the town beach there is a small square with a bronze sculpture, turned green by the brine and breeze. This is the largest of four along the coast, every one showing women and bairns looking out to sea. In 1881, their husbands and sons, desperate for work, put out to sea in a terrible storm: 189 were lost. Their families looked on in agony as their boats crashed into the harbour cliffs.
It has had a turbulent past, Eyemouth. On the clifftop, there are green ramparts and a couple of rusty old cannons, all that remain of a short-lived fort that found itself at the centre of English, Scottish and French rivalries following the death of Henry VIII.
You walk a few miles above gritty, red-sandstone beaches until you reach the high grassy knoll that protects the curve of Coldingham Bay. This is a proper holiday beach with a row of coloured bathing huts, a whitewashed beach cafe (never open as much as the locals would like) surfers, wild swimmers and hurtling, damp dogs everywhere.
This is my village. To avoid any bias, I’ll just quote a Cornish friend of mine who gets quite misty-eyed when he comes up here. This, he says, is what his coast used to be like before overtourism.
North of Coldingham, you reach the most enchanting part of the walk: the St Abbs Marine reserve. St Abbs is a film producer’s idea of an isolated fishing village – which may be why it has doubled as New Asgard in the Marvel movies and as the backdrop for a very strange Harry Styles video.
Now you are scaling high cliffs punctuated by sea stacks (Mayo! Galway! says a visiting Irish friend). Beyond the lonely lighthouse – you can rent the cottages there and gaze towards Denmark all day – you are into high moorland. This is the North Yorkshire part, all boggy burns and dry stone walls.
You don’t want it to start raining when you are up here. It did. Out of the shelter of a small birch wood, I got soaked making the long descent towards Siccar Point where, in 1785, a local Scottish farmer invented Geology. Sorry, James: I didn’t linger.
I finally wound down to a temporary sanctuary at the Pease Bay caravan park, then the night’s lodgings in a small pod in the Wigwam site.
The next morning, I made the short hike to Cockburnspath via secret, remote Cove Bay, which you reach in a tunnel through the high rock.
Cockburnspath’s cheery and welcoming community shop is journey’s end. It’s also journey’s start if the coastal path has just warmed you up: from here the Southern Upland Way and the John Muir trail meet. But the three days’ walking from Berwick had been ample – a journey through deep time and recent history.
How to get there
Berwick-upon-Tweed is served by LNER trains.
Where to stay
In Berwick, stay at The Walls bed and breakfast. A cold supper is offered to late arrivals – and they will dry your wet clothes. Doubles from £105
Coldingham has two excellent glamping sites. At Templehall Holidays, choose a shepherd’s hut or “tiny house” (adults only) from £90 a night. At Braeview, pods cost £115 if you stay two nights, £150 if you just want one. If you feel like something a bit more Riviera, try The Bay apartment.
This being Scotland, it’s also possible to wild camp along the way, outdooraccess-scotland.scot/practical-guide-all/camping
Where to eat and drink
In Coldingham, there are two pubs, a good chippy and a shop. It is also possible to base yourself here and do the coastal path in day-walks – if you object to doubling the distance, there are plenty of buses.
The wigwams at Cove Farm are the closest you’ll get to Cove Bay. For a meal, you’ll either have to bring your own or pop down to the campsite restaurant at Pease Bay.