Have you ever noticed that when you get back from vacation, whether it’s good or bad trip, the first two to three days you are running around like crazy; putting things away, trying to get back into the work routine, doing laundry, cleaning the house, talking to people about your trip, wondering when the crazy is going away, and then…
Just like that, the real world settles back in and it’s like you have never even been on vacation, let alone in another country on a crazy adventure where you and you adventure partner decided to go it alone in the wilds of Scotland. (okay maybe not exactly the wilds, we did see at least 4 people that weren’t in or near a town, and a ton of sheep and cows).
A week ago I was walking along the beaches of Berwick-Upon-Tweed (a small town that for over 400 years was pivotal to border disputes between England and Scotland. Changing hands due to wars and treaties it was an important and strategic town. It was where Robert the Bruce made his claim for king of Scotland and was summarily declined in 1292. Then in 1482 England gained control of it for the last time and to this day it remains and English town. The town was so important that Queen Elizabeth the 1st spent large sums of money *reportedly the biggest expenditure of her reign* to fortify the walls against artillery and attack. These walls still exist today.) Now the good beaches are on the Tweed side but the impressive walls are on the Berwick side. We visited both.
But before the beach strolling and wall walking let me take you way, way back to at least three days and 30 miles (48 km) prior to Cocksburnpath where our foot journey began.
I guess you could actually say our trip began in Edinburgh when we got off the plane but after a cab ride in rush hour that still managed to take us past JK Rowling’s house we arrived at our hotel. We did go downtown for some propane fuel and found a fabulous place to eat called The Boozy Cow but since our story ends in Edinburgh I’ll tell you about that later.
Sooo, back to Cocksburnpath, after a two hour bus ride from Edinburgh we started our journey. When the bus dropped us off I was a little shocked. I mean I knew in my head that it was a small village but still… (I had apparently missed the Wikipedia article letting me know that in 2001 the population was 411). Seriously, I am not sure what there was there besides a bus stop but then we didn’t venture into town, nope we adjusted our packs (again) and headed down the path following route markers, a map, and directions that I had copied down from the website (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/borders/berwickshire-coastal-path.shtml) we used to conjure up this harebrained scheme.
So we began to walk, and walk, and walk, and walk some more…
Now, I am a cyclist by nature and even touring with a fully loaded bike you cover miles much quicker than you do walking. And we weren’t just walking, we were trudging with our bags loaded for bear! (The idea was to take everything we could possibly need if we were to go on a long distance walk, twice the distance, more rural and in the higher elevations *you know, like the real Highlands* this way we would know if it was something we could do at a future time).
I am not a fast cyclist (12-13 mile (19-20 km) to the hour) but I had no idea I was such a slow trudger. I assumed we would make Dowlow easy on the first day (Yeah, I know we didn’t even get on the trail until noon but I have an optimistic outlook when I start an adventure, it isn’t until 25-ish miles (40-ish km) or so and my husbands professed love of tacos that pessimism takes hold)
A quick aside here, I would like to note that we used everything we took with us except our rain gear (surprisingly it didn’t rain while we were outside our tent, a rare occurrence in Scotland) and thank all the gods we didn’t break into the first aid kit (though I had to bandage Will’s blisters by the end of the trip).
Trudge, trudge, trudge… beautiful scenery… trudge, trudge, trudg
Scotland is breathtaking in a wild sort of way. I mean they have these vibrant yellow flower bushes. They carpet the hillside with a shot of color that doesn’t look like it could be real. Then you get close to one of these plants and BAM! The damn thing has thorns on it the length of my thumb. Like, seriously Scotland WTH?? I wasn’t going to take any of the flowers with me, I was already carrying enough stuff but did you have to threaten me with skin ripping thorns, sheesh! (The bushes are commonly known as Gorse plants https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulex) *Note the yellow bushes in the back of the bridge, they are gorse bushes.
Oh, and another thing I should mention, when they say coastal path they mean coastal path (though we did deter from the coast occasionally; see the parts about pastures full of sheep poop). They assume that everyone is taught some form of common sense as a child and that no one would be undertaking this walk while drinking vast amounts of alcohol. Why do I say that? Well, fences were meant to keep the animals from falling off a cliff not humans. In some places there was nothing separating us from a 500 foot (150 m) drop except roughly 2-5 feet (.5-1.5 m) of grass, that may or may not have been stable. In one place they had a piece of nylon rope up as a barrier. I am guessing that wouldn’t have stopped us or the sheep.
See what I mean? Beautiful scenery (flowers and ocean views) wildness (life harming thorns and plunging cliffs).
Anyway, we did pass by the remains of 16th century St. Helens church and Siccar Point where James Hutton (the father of geology) concluded that proof existed of the uniformitarian of geological development. (The principle of uniformitarianism states that the processes affecting Earth today are the same ones that affected it in the past. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniformitarianism)
After that we were inland for a while walking some roads and pastures. Finally, we decided to make camp, assuming that the rest of the distance to Dowlow would be a hop, skip, and a jump the next day.
We set up camp on a hillside that was about 20 feet wide (6 m) with our backs against some rocks. It was a nice little spot and we managed to get some rehydrated dinner and cozy up in our tent before the rains came in.
By morning the rain was gone but the fog was out in full force, nary an ocean to be seen. Not deterred we packed up and headed off for Dowlow, we promptly got lost for at least a mile and a half, trudging around fields, up hills, down, circled around, checked the map, checked the description of the route, ran into a couple sheep carcasses until we said screw it and headed in what seemed to be the quickest route to Dowlow. Straight across a farmers pasture, and… right into the back side of Dowlow (which by the way is a farmhouse, not a town).
We looked for water but this was obviously someone’s residence and so we didn’t want to intrude, pretty sure that we would have a chance to fill up at a stream later on. (Don’t worry we had a water filtration system, no e-coli or other bacteria sickness for us).
On the other side of their pastures we found a place where their well water was running off into the creek and used this source to fill up. I need to say that we spent possibly a third of our trip away from the coast walking through pastures and fields and if you haven’t had much experience with pasture animals then there is the potential that you are picturing green fields with baa-ing sheep and moo-ing cows and everything is idyllic and peaceful. Well, the green fields part is right, I mean it was green where it wasn’t covered in poop. There was A LOT of poop, cow poop, sheep poop, baby lamb poop… it just went on and on. And sheep are noisy, we had one little lamb troublemaker, he kept running in front of us baa-ing at the other lambs, getting them all riled up so they would get in our way!! There are signs (I didn’t take a picture but I should have) that tell you not to spook the sheep because apparently they will run right off the cliff to their death. Now, I don’t know what that says about a sheep’s intelligence but I do know it was a problem when a certain little lamb was a particularly loud noise box. You might think all lambs are sweet, like Mary’s lamb, nope that guy was a jerk!!
Well, after water retrieval and getting sheep poop all over our hiking boots (no matter how careful you were it happened) we came through a kissing gate (these are rounded or V shaped gates that have a swinging partition in the middle, you step in and swing the gate past you and then step back out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kissing_gate) and realized we were facing the mother of all hills!
It might have had a 25% grade, and no, I am not joking. We walked (haha, we didn’t walk we slogged and partially crawled) with our trekking poles in a forward lean up the hill, The trekking poles were the only thing keeping us from face planting. Will made the mistake of standing up to straight and almost rolled backwards down the hill. I have to be honest… I am not completely sure I would have gone back for him.
When we got about 2/3rds of the way up we had to make a left, go through another gate and climb some more. When we came through the gate we saw the oldest bunny I have ever seen, his fur was brown with grey through it and he was partially blind as he kept running into things when he tried to hop away from us. Not wanting him to die from a heart attack caused by us we quietly watched him for a minute or two, snapped a dozen pictures and left him to his business (I am guessing his business was ruling his bunny kingdom, but maybe that’s just me) We decided to bestow some grandeur on our old bunny and named the mother of all hills Old Bunny Hill! His warren was extensive and we took care not to put our foot in a rabbit hole as we plodded uphill some more.
We finally made it to the top and got to walk on relatively even ground, back along the coastal cliffs. While we were toiling up Old Bunny Hill the fog finally lifted enough for us to see the ocean again. We decided it was more than time to stop for lunch. So we found a nice thicket of gorse and set up lunch camp (boiled water added it to dehydrated food and coffee and consumed on our little chairs. Now some may think we are silly for bringing the chairs but they weighed less than a pound and when you are out trekking through the unknown a few creature comforts can make the difference between enjoying your breaks or not).
Lunch consumed we took off again hoping to see St. Abbs sooner rather than later.
I am going to leave you here, our tummies were full and we were back in walking mode, happier for fully rehydrated belly’s. In my next post I will continue our trek along the coastline of Scotland.
Until next time,
Ciao miei Amici!