Scottish Coast • Day 3 • Dowlaw to Cockburnspath

Dowlaw to Cockburnspath
Saturday 28 August 2021
17.5km • 4h 30m (including breaks)
lowest: -1m • highest: 213m • total ascent 396m
Swim at Belhaven Bay (on the way home)

The thing about asking to get picked up from the previous stage of a walk at a place inaccessible by public transport is that you need to then get dropped back off there at some point if you want to keep going. But because I have awesome friends, it didn’t matter. I brought lamb steaks to the barbecue the night before as a thank you for depositing me in the middle of some farmland, and they had a walk out to the castle ruins you can get to from the same parking area. And we stopped for cinnamon buns (for everyone) and a fancy sausage roll (for my lunch) at Bostock Bakery on the way. Everybody wins on day 3!

The weather was glorious, the heather was blooming, and the humidity of the first walk was gone, which made the sun much more pleasant. It was at my back most of the day, so the lack of hat was not an issue, and no leeching sunscreen this time either. I had even taken the gamble of leaving my waterproof trousers at home, which worked out. This time.

The first bit of the walk mainly went along the little farm road along the cliffs, but eventually broke off through the fields. The views up the coast were pretty amazing, but I was soon distracted by a field of nervy cows.

The path I was on went through a gate, along a fence at the bottom of this field, and back out a gate at the other end. Every damn cow in that field was within about 20 meters of the path, plenty were directly on it, and most of them were standing. And there were a lot of them. They were eyeing me before I even opened the gate.

I was terrified. This is the scariest outdoor moment I have had since getting to the top of Beinn Damph in a cloud. And even that didn’t make my heart race the way these cows did.

I have previously walked through many cow-containing fields with absolutely no worry, but usually they’re a bit further from where I’m walking and I tend to be with other people. Also, I like cows! I’m the one butting into their space. Usually they just seem to want to stay away – I’ve met very few curious cows. Coincidentally, I’d also recently read and watched a handful of things about walkers being attacked by cows, so I’m sure that didn’t help.

Because of the way the field was, there wasn’t really a way to go around and walk on the other side of the fence, although I could certainly jump over it in an emergency. So I had my jacket ready to throw over the barbed wire in case I had to make an escape. I went through the gate and tried to make myself look as non-cow-threatening as possible. It probably took less than 3 minutes to get from one end of that field to the other, but I haven’t experienced that level of adrenaline for a long time. The cows kept shifting and I didn’t want to run because I thought that would probably be a lot more alarming to them.

I made it through the next gate with immense relief. This all seems very silly, but I guess you never know what the scary bits are going to be. Thank you, cows, for not freaking out.

After that, the path turned towards the sea for a bit and went through various other farms on tracks and minor roads. The brambles were just starting to ripen, so I snacked all along the way.

I took a little detour out to Siccar Point to have a look at the rocks, and another side loop at Pease Bay to walk the beach. I really, really wanted to swim there, but the water was pretty rough. There were surfers about, but no one was really swimming. If I’d have been with someone else who was comfortable with it, I probably would have gone in, but I decided it was too risky and stuck with putting my feet in instead. It’s obviously always smarter to decide not to swim anywhere you’re unfamiliar with, and I’m pretty good at erring on the side of caution when it comes to the sea – it can very quickly and suddenly get a lot scarier than cows. But it’s still disappointing to look at the water and say no.

To console myself, I figured I’d swim at Cove Harbour, which was coming up next. I hiked back up the hill took the short cliff walk along to Cove, which has some excellent beach and harbour views. I still had never been to Cove, so it was nice to approach it from this angle. Although it did quickly make me realise I probably wouldn’t be swimming here either. It was just about exactly low tide at that point, which meant there was absolutely no water in the harbour.

The beach just further on from the harbour looked even nicer, but I couldn’t work out how to easily get there, and as the tide was now coming in, it also looked like the sort of place you could get trapped. Add to this that I had a bus deadline to meet. So this time, the tide won. It was a nice walk down to the harbour beach through the tunnel in the rocks though.

Since I had my heart set on getting in the sea, I decided to go for the earlier bus out of Cockburnspath. As a bonus, I met a giant golden retriever who walked by while I was waiting. I gave him a scratch and he sat down next to me and had to be lured away with treats by his owner.

I got off the bus at Belhaven Bay, where George was surfing and Migle was on the beach waiting for me to join for a swim. It’s a bit more sheltered so there were fun, non-scary waves. And an ice cream van for after. Again. Everybody wins on day 3.

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