Walking Solo: Coldingham & St Abbs

Posted by in May's Magazine

People often ask me if I’m scared when I’m Walking Solo. Well, the short answer is: “Sometimes aye, sometimes naw.” says Carolyn McKerracher

Sadly, I’m not an intrepid explorer, happy to venture into the hills armed only with a compass and a bivy bag. If I hillwalk, I go with someone else, or, occasionally the Ramblers and over time I’ve collected a pocketful of walks I know like the back of my favourite fruit scone (Molly’s in Juniper Green). The benefits of walking on your own – peace, time to think, admire the views at your own pace – far outweigh the fear, but, ever the Girl Guide (sad but true), I always take a map and guide book or pdf download (www.walkhighlands.co.uk is good). Oh, and a whistle.



I discovered this loop from Coldingham to St Abbs lighthouse and back, in the Ordinance Survey Pathfinder Guide to Edinburgh and the Borders. At a mere six and a half miles (with some short inclines), it includes the possibility of no less than FIVE cake stops (description here-on limited to the best), the fascinating St Abbs Visitor centre (shopping opportunity) and the beautiful Number Four Gallery (ditto). But please take the afore-mentioned guidebook, map or download. Otherwise you’ll get lost. Or fall off a cliff. Remember, this is not a walking guide. It’s just a suggestion. And that will be my defence.

Anyway, let’s press on. Coldingham Bay is a stunning half mile beach, peppered with quaint (presumably expensive), multi-coloured wooden beach-huts. With a lifeguard presence in summer and an all-year-round surf-school, it’s an ideal location for swimming (shallow end), Hawaii Five-0-ing (deep end), or sitting quietly with a book (sand end). The choice is yours. 

Picture of St Abbs cliffs by the author 

Park in the car park at the beach, you can get here by public transport via Eyemouth, but it takes over 2hrs, pee (30p) in the loos (or hold on till the café – it’s not far and frankly these loos are not worth the money), then stroll west along the sand. Climb a steep set of steps and pause at the top to catch your breath and admire the view. It’s stunning, but this is just a taster. 

Follow the path to the right, past the straight-out-of-an-Agatha-Christie-novel black and white cliff-top holiday-let and left down into the busy harbour and dive-centre at St Abbs. Here, you should stop at the Ebb-Carrs café (nice toilet, patrons only), for refreshments and, if possible, donate to the Lifeboat Station. 

After cake/soup/panini (or all 3), climb another set of steps at the far end of the harbour up to a beautiful and poignant memorial to the 1881 Eyemouth fishing disaster in which almost 200 men lost their lives – entire villages devastated. Having paused for thought, pop into the excellent Visitor Centre, or keep following the main road for 100yards, to the pedestrian walkway on the left. 

At the end of the walkway, cross back over the road and walk straight ahead to the St Abbs Natural Nature Reserve, managed by the National Trust (excellent information on www.nts.org.uk). The information board shows the loop to the lighthouse, via the Mire Loch, if you choose. 

The walk requires proper boots, a head for heights and ‘nae carrying on’! The views are quite simply breathtaking. Rolling hills, 90m volcanic cliffs, sea stacks and thousands of seabirds – over 350 species – not so good if your name is Tippi Hedren. You can meander off the path up the hills to the very edge of the cliffs. 

At the far end of the harbour is a beautiful and poignant memorial to the 1881 Eyemouth fishing disaster in which almost 200 men lost their lives

Just after the lighthouse (another holiday-let), you can meander off the path again to what I consider to be the most spectacular cliffs. However, if you decide to follow the coastline north, you will still have to retrace your steps back to the lighthouse to rejoin the single-track main road, because you will never be able to scale the cliffs back down to the road anywhere else. Trust me. I tried. 

Follow the road down the hill and just before it starts to climb again, turn left and walk along the side of the tranquil Mire Loch. At the far end of the Loch, turn right and follow the path all the way to Northfield Farm and the National Trust for Scotland Nature Centre, where there are toilets (nice), picnic tables, a café, the Number 4 Gallery – and a tepee. 

After the coffee/toilet/shopping stop, head back to St Abbs and retrace your steps to Coldingham, where you can sit on the sand and watch the sun go down. I guarantee a sense of peace, reverence and accomplishment. Coupled with cake.

Info: www.walkhighlands.co.uk

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