Berwick-upon-Tweed to Linkim Shore
Friday 9 July 2021
24.49km • 9h 14m (including breaks)
lowest: -2m • highest: 103m • total ascent 1876m
‘Do you have any advice for a traveller?’
‘Yes. Get a beach house.’
The man stared out over the hot dry scrubby landscape. From here Arthur could just see the old woman, a tiny speck in the distance, dancing up and down swatting flies.
‘You see her?’ called the old man, suddenly.
‘Yes,’ said Arthur. ‘I consulted her, in fact.’
‘Fat lot she knows. I got the beach house because she turned it down. What advice did she give you?’
‘Do exactly the opposite of everything she’s done.’
‘In other words, get a beach house.’
‘I suppose so,’ said Arthur. ‘Well, maybe I’ll get one.’
The horizon was swimming in a fetid heat haze.
‘Any other advice?’ asked Arthur. ‘Other than to do with real estate?’
‘A beach house isn’t just real estate. It’s a state of mind,’ said the man. He turned and looked at Arthur.
Oddly, the man’s face was now only a couple of feet away. He seemed in one way to be a perfectly normal shape, but his body was sitting cross-legged on a pole forty feet away while his face was only two feet from Arthur’s. Without moving his head, and without seeming to do anything odd at all, he stood up and stepped on to the top of another pole. Either it was just the heat, thought Arthur, or space was a different shape for him.
‘A beach house,’ he said, ‘doesn’t even have to be on the beach. Though the best ones are. We all like to congregate,’ he went on, ‘at boundary conditions.’
‘Really?’ said Arthur.
‘Where land meets water. Where earth meets air. Where body meets mind. Where space meets time. We like to be on one side, and look at the other.’
–Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams
When I decided I was going to walk the whole coastline of Scotland, I also decided that the first book I should read on the trip was The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I have a physical copy of the combined ‘trilogy of five’, but it’s also one of the first things I bought for my kindle, because I thought, if you’re gonna have an e-reader, it better have the Hitchhiker’s Guide on it.
I’m bad at remembering the detail of what I’ve read before, and I’m not entirely convinced I’ve actually read all 5 of them in the past – either because it’s been that long, or because I didn’t. In any case, as I write this I’ve only done 3 days of coastal walking, and already, the Guide has been relevant. Having a towel is of utmost importance, a well made sandwich on a long walk equates to something like nirvana, and I even saw dolphins on my first day! Which I’ll get to. But I wanted to start with that bit from Mostly Harmless, because, while there isn’t really a specific explanation and probably never will be, it goes some way to provide insight to why I’m doing this.
You can think about these things as much as you want but at some point you have to book a train ticket (all of two days ahead) and get on with it. One of the plus points of this endeavour is that I don’t have to do the whole thing alone. It’s easy to bring people along for as much as they’re up for doing because I’m doing it in pieces. But it seemed important to do the first bit by myself, including the first camp. Perhaps because it meant I could start without conditions.
I packed everything the night before aside from food, which I finished up in the morning. I made some killer sandwiches for my lunch to make up for the fact that dinner was dehydrated. I will always get excited about good sandwiches. I also maintain that half the reason for doing any outdoor activity is that you get to eat a lot, and you might as well put some thought into it. Especially snacks.
I took a train from Edinburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed, which is the first time I’ve been out of the country (er, to England) since last August, when I also went to England for a few days. This time I stayed for a wild 3-4 hours before re-crossing the border. But on foot!
I got in to Berwick just before 10 and pootled around trying to get myself sorted. Adjusting bags straps, applying sunscreen, sorting headbands, working out whether my OS maps app was recording, all that shit that I assume will get easier and less faffy the more I do this. I’d looked up where I might get a nice coffee ahead of time since one of the things I decided not to bring on this section was an insulated flask because it was SO HOT, so I stopped at Northern Edge, which was pretty much en route from the station to the path. This was a brilliant place to start a walk. I had a homemade blueberry muffin, a long black, and they had some Hammond Charcuterie hanging out near the till, so I snagged a wild venison with seaweed and cider for later snacking. They also had lovely, clean toilets. Plus plus.
After I finished my coffee I finally went off to find the path. Heading out of Berwick you turn a corner from the mouth of the river to head up the coast. there’s a lighthouse and a very nice beach, which I would have gone down to walk on had I realised you could get back up to the path on the other side. As it was, I stuck to skirting the golf course. And the caravan park.
The majority of the east coast of Scotland seems to be nothing but golf courses, caravan parks, and farmland. The former closest to towns, the latter in between. Happily, Scottish law means you can walk through all of these things. No livestock on the English side of this walk, but the Scottish border is a gate, through which are many skittish sheep living with a very nice view.
There were lots of dog walkers near the towns, and a handful of day walkers, but for the most part, I didn’t see many other people walking this section. Certainly none with full camping gear. Unsurprising given the temperature and abnormal humidity. It was overcast for the first couple hours, but the sun peeked through just as I was nearing the border. And I saw dolphins jumping right off the coast, having a grand old time, which was pretty magic.
I’d packed my whisky solely for the purpose of having a nip at the border to welcome myself home, and I did have a bit, but it was so hot that all I really wanted was something very cold and fizzy. Or a dip in the sea, which was so close, yet soooo far, as much of this walk was along the tops of epic cliffs.
I stopped for lunch near the ruins of an old bothy where it looked like there might be a way to get down to the rocky beach below, but upon closer inspection, it looked way too dangerous to attempt, so I went back up to the top of the hill and ate my first sandwich with a view and a breeze and reapplied all my sunscreen. Sandwich one was a smashed chickpea salad with some oven dried tomatoes, cucumber, and sriracha mayo. I was very hungry and it was very delicious. I had a bit of the venison salami as well, and some electrolyte-spiked water.
I then hit the monotonous bit of the afternoon where I was just walking along a farm road sweating, looking off into the distance at what appeared to be a rain storm over the sea, wishing it would come rain on me for just a little bit because it was so hot. This is a dangerous wish in Scotland, because it may well come true, and I’m not sure getting soaked would actually help given that the air was so damp nothing was going to dry. In any case, it didn’t happen. I plugged on to Burnmouth, which was very pretty, but involved a descent to the sea front and a sharpish, steep ascent back up to the cliffs soon after. I probably should have stopped at the bottom to eat my other sandwich. Back at the top of the cliffs there was a long walk around a weedy, overgrown field to yet another golf course on the outskirts of Eyemouth. But with lovely clifftop views of the still incredibly flat sea. I watched a kayaker for a while while I neared the town, happily anticipating the ice cream I would definitely be having.
I arrived in Eyemouth around 4 and promptly scarfed a scoop of mint chocolate chip with a flake while I made my way around from the harbour side, saying hello to the resident seals, to the high street to try and find a water refill. The Berwickshire coast website goes on about how many places would refill your water for free, but clearly no one had updated this since The Before Times because no one seemed to want to let me fill up. And this is fair. No food-serving establishment wants to risk some sweaty walker spreading covid from their water bottle. But it does highlight the necessity for more water fountains and public refill taps. I was so angry I had to buy water in plastic, because it’s absolutely unnecessary in this country where we are lucky to have more than enough fresh water. Scottish Water have been installing some top-up taps, which is great, but these should be everywhere. Particularly in towns on long distance walking routes. It only makes sense. Hopefully the project expands. More water fountains! And more public toilets, while we’re at it!
Anyway. I ate my other sandwich (peanut butter, gochujang, spring onion and cucumber, yum) and decided to buy a couple beers for camp along with my water. But the whole no refill thing made me a bit grumpy, and I was getting tired, so I left town and got myself back up to the cliffs for the last bit of walk to where I planned to camp. I met a very excited dog on the way, and his owner who seemed to approve of my camping choices, which gave me a bit of a boost.
I’ve camped alone before in the grounds of a YHA in the Lake District, but I had not wild camped on my own, so I was a bit nervy about it. One of the reasons for making this my first go at it was that I camped in the spot I was aiming for with friends last year, so I was familiar with it. It’s also on a relatively well-travelled path. So I wasn’t going to be in tricky or totally remote terrain. But being in a tent on a beach alone, while really cool, is still a little spooky. I had kind of expected there might be a few other little groups around because last year the weather was a lot nicer and there were a bunch of people scattered about. But there was only one person down at the end doing some fishing. And one other person can be unnerving in the way that multiple people are not. It was fine in the end though, and they weren’t even camping anyway.
Normally I’d have gone for a swim. I was certainly hot enough. But Linkim Shore is very rocky and shallow, and the tide was quickly receding, so there wasn’t much to swim in unfortunately. I opened a beer, went to put my feet in the water before the tide went all the way out, then set up camp before making my mushroom risotto dinner.
Unfortunately everything was quite damp from the humidity, and there was almost no driftwood around anyway, so there would be no fire. I had a little walk down the beach and wrote some stuff, read a bit, and was in my tent ready to sleep by 10.30. An unheard-of early bedtime for me, but I was completely wiped out. 25k with I’m-not-even-sure-how-much weight on my back in heat and heavy humidity (for Scotland) is a lot. My hip joints were burning, I’m assuming from the weight, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that level of exhaustion. But I did it!
I am notoriously horrible at sleeping the first night I am anywhere but my own bed, even if I’m very comfortable (which I was). And I did have some very bizarre, creepy dreams. But surprisingly, I managed something like 7 hours of actual sleep. It wouldn’t be enough to complete the section I’d planned next though, as I severely underestimated how exhausted I’d be and how steep some of the inclines would be the next day. But to continue on a theme, ‘You live and learn. At any rate, you live.’
The next line is very rarely included in this quote, and that is, ‘You also panic.’ Luckily I had the Guide, so I was reminded not to.