Linkim Shore to Dowlaw
Saturday 10 July 2021
12.57km • 4h 46m (including breaks)
lowest: 1m • highest: 181m • total ascent 743m
Swim at Pettico Wick
Amazingly, I probably slept better than I have in a tent in a long time. I put this down partly to having pitched on a non-awkwardly-sloped surface like I usually manage to. I woke up around 5.30 and decided that was ridiculous, so slept for roughly another hour. When I first got out of my tent there was someone standing down the other end of the beach on the path, which was a bit weird, but they seemed to be waiting for their companion, and they eventually wandered past and away while I was classily brushing my teeth and could not say hello due to a mouthful of toothpaste.
I proceeded to make tea and put everything away. It was already hot and still damp. I put sunscreen on and it almost immediately leeched into my eyes. This would be the battle for the rest of the day. I could also already tell it was going to be a lot harder than yesterday, simply because of how tired and sore I was. But off I went. I needed to find a place to refill my water.
I was at Coldingham beach within the hour, and it did look very inviting for a swim, but as I had only just set off I decided I would save it. Coldingham is easy enough to drive to and I live close enough, so I wasn’t exactly missing a one-time opportunity. I went back up the cliffs and on to St Abbs, where the lovely people who ran the Post Office shop refilled my water for free. Village Post Office shops are one of the best things about being in small or remote places in Scotland. They have absolutely everything crammed into a tiny space, much like Mary Poppins’ handbag, but with added services. You can post a letter, pay a bill, buy some interesting local products and a surprising number of groceries, and very often, get tea and cake. And the St Abbs one is also a dive centre and provides balls and putters for the local putting green.
I should have bought something. I usually do. But the shop was tiny and there were people waiting and I was taking an awful lot of space faffing around with my bottles, so I got out before I became a nuisance. And it’s too bad, because the one cafe down at the harbour in St Abbs was shut because a staff member had tested positive for Covid. No coffee and cake for me or anyone. So instead I went back up the hill on the path towards the lighthouse and had a mildly disappointing cereal bar thing, wishing I’d bought a second-breakfast ice cream from the Post Office.
It was around this time that the sunscreen in the eyes thing started to become a serious and very burn-y, sting-y problem. It was very, very hot (for Scotland), and humid. My burning eyes were making me feel extra faint and dizzy because I couldn’t really open them enough to focus. I had to keep stopping on the path up to the lighthouse, which wasn’t particularly steep, but there was no breeze because it was sheltered from the sea. No amount of wiping my eyes was helping so this bit took so much longer than it should have, and I really did not want to pass out. I did spot dolphins again once the little bay came back into view, so that was encouraging. But when I got to the top of the hill, I just wanted to douse my face in water. I couldn’t waste it though, so I started thinking about a swim.
Luckily, just down the hill from the lighthouse is Pettico Wick, a little old harbour in a tiny bay, and the water was super clear and impossible to say no to. I picked my way down a steep path to the beach and changed into my bathing suit probably faster than I ever have in my life. The water was delightfully freezing, and I saw a bunch of fish. I tried to wash out my eyes and get everything off my face, although I was kind of horrified at the slick of sunscreen coming off me into the water. After this day I promptly found, A: a natural face sunscreen made for surfers that is wax-based and does not budge to the point where it’s actually quite difficult to get off, and B: reef-safe natural sunscreen for the rest of me as well. I like my eyes and I like the fishes.
In any case, I highly recommend checking out Pettico Wick for a swim. I’d actually like to go back with some snorkel gear. But even though my swim was a massive relief and very, very nice, my problems for the day were not over. I did get some of the stuff out of my eyes, but not all of it. All my clothes were already damp when I put them back on from a combination of sweat and humidity, which comes with its own discomfort and chafing, booo. And I hesitated to put enough sunscreen back on my face because the screaming pain in my eyes seemed a lot worse for once than the prospect of sunburn. Unfortunately I did not have a hat either. I know this is dumb, but I still haven’t found one that fits properly and isn’t annoying. Even 2 months later when I’m writing this, I’ve solved the sunscreen problem, but not the hat one.
The walk back up to the path from the beach and onward to the next set of cliffs was damn near vertical. Do not be fooled by the lower elevation gain number on the stats for this day versus the first. My pedometer app clocked 129 floors on this day, versus 80 floors on the first day spread out over twice the distance. There were a lot of brutal descents and ascents where a burn was emptying into the sea, or just because the cliffs are really high here. I was also coming into peak heat and sun for the day at this point. So the next section, while providing incredible views, was very hard work. I was getting through a lot of water and a lot of stamina, and I pretty quickly determined there was no way I was going to make it all the way to Cockburnspath, which was my original goal.
I sat down for lunch amongst the sheep shit at the top of a dizzyingly high cliff and sent a slightly defeated message to George and Migle to see if they could pick me up earlier than planned, and in Dowlaw instead. There wasn’t great service on this random clifftop, so I put the phone away and hoped they’d see it before I got to my new endpoint for the day. Another walker came by at this point and said hello. He was also aiming for Cockburnspath to try to get the last bus. He did not look nearly as winded, sweaty, or wrecked as me. He also only had a daypack, so I’m sure that helped. I have no doubt he made it.
I eventually picked myself back up and soon made it to the point of the path that turns inland to Dowlaw to go around a big ravine-type drop to sea level. Once I walked away from the sea I lost any scrap of breeze there was and made my way through farmland with zero shade until I got to the little parking area that I was hoping to be picked up in. Unfortunately my friends hadn’t yet seen my message, so I phoned them to see how long I’d have to wait. Only about 30 minutes, because they are awesome, so I sat down against some metal thing and put my still-damp towel over my head to keep the sun and the flies off while I waited (so many flies, which we will thank the cows for). This actually felt great. I had no energy left to even listen to a podcast or anything. I was so wiped out I had failed to realise that If I’d sat on the other side of whatever box I was leaning on, I’d have had a sea view.
Eventually George and Migle showed up. They had just come from a kids’ birthday party, so they brought juice boxes and little packets of mini-cheddars and Haribo with them. This was the most perfect thing I could have asked for. I inhaled them all and we went off to check on Migle’s bees (who live in a hive with a sea view that would make a lot of money on AirBnB) before heading back to Haddington for some very cheese-heavy Italian takeaway. All perfect rewards for my first big walk and solo wild-camp in the kind of humidity I came to this country to escape.
Despite how hard I found this day, I don’t think the walk would have been that bad if it wasn’t for the heat and the poorly applied, melty sunscreen. The climbs under my pack weight would still be rough, but I think I would have pushed through if I could see properly and wasn’t worried so much about fainting. But I was very happy with my decision to stop rather than make myself miserable for another 12k when the whole point is to enjoy the thing. Why should sunscreen and heat exhaustion ruin what should (and did) turn out to be a very pleasant bit of the walk?