This mad plan did in fact involve sleeping on a bus. The night bus from London to Edinburgh is only barely useful, as booking train tickets in advance can be not too much more. But I was disorganised about when to travel, booked last minute and then nearly missed it, thinking that it left Victoria Coach Station at 11:30 pm when departure time was actually 10:30 pm. It was exciting to be waking up in a new place.
Edinburgh in the early morning was a treat, no tourists and clear skies. I had given myself one day to gather some kit together before setting off to walk the Berwickshire Coastal Path. From Cockburnspath (pronounced Co-burns path) to Berwick-Upon-Tweed, it’s just 50 kilometres along the cliffs of Scotland and then into the northerly city of England. Thanks to friends Beccy and Charlotte I could borrow a raincoat, sleeping bag and big backpack. I’d brought my brother’s (now mine I think, finders keepers, sorry Ben) Bivvy bag from my mum’s but I still needed a sleeping mat. Enter Alastair’s twitter followers. Minutes after asking Al to retweet my request, I was in touch with Nicholas, via someone else, who came and dropped off a roll mat. I couldn’t believe the generosity of going out of his way to help a complete stranger with a mad plan.
My previous near-miss with a bus had me at the bus station rather earlier than necessary to get the 253. I had to remember to get off at the right place, otherwise I’d end up in Berwick without having walked anywhere. An hour and half after leaving Edinburgh, I was a bit dozy from the journey, but it was suddenly time to get off. Within minutes of starting my walk, everything was wrong. I needed to pee, my water bottle fell out of its holder, I was too hot. Ok, kit sorted, now to find the sea.
“He stopped at the beach by the first Ferris Wheel to be built in Africa, to readjust pronouns and rehydrate, then off I walked… the whole world smelt of rotten fish.”
My first milestone was Siccar Point. Nicholas of roll mat fame had told me of the geological importance of this bit of coast. It’s called somebody’s Unconformity. Henderson’s? No, that's the name of the veggie restaurant. Hudson’s? Could be. It provided proof in the 18th century that the world was aeons old and not just 6,000 years old. (No fact checking here, might be all wrong.) To reach the point, which offers no view of the rocks that are so famous, requires dodging cowpats and their menacing producers. After a windy swig of water in celebration, I had to return along cowpat path to continue. But I took a selfie with the information board, so that’s ok.
Whilst the stunning scenery and surprisingly good weather were a joy, there’s always those moments when you question your sanity. I’d run out of water and was traversing a long, slow, grassy gradient. Sheep shit everywhere. I was hungry but didn’t want to stop in the shitty field. My left ankle was tired of constantly walking along the sloping ground and the wind was so strong it nearly knocked me off balance. It is in these moments that peanut butter scoped from a jar with a pita bread tastes the best!
My impeccable timing meant I reached the quaint village of St Abbs just as everything was closing. I heard the bolt slide shut on the visitors’ centre (and loos) as I rounded the corner. But I didn’t need amenities, I had the ocean (and sufficient nutrition). Sitting on a stone bench in the sun, overlooking the harbour, munching on raisins and chatting to my OH on a video call was all I needed right then.
I don’t mind my own company at all, something James and I share. “Naturally introverted, I could easily walk for six months without talking to a soul, and all I’d have to show for it at the end would be half a haiku.” At 4:30 am I peaked out at the stunning sunrise. Reds and golds sparkled on the sea. Then promptly fell back to sleep until my alarm at 7 am.
Never has the automatic door of a Co-Op made such a welcoming noise. Eyemouth is my new favourite place. The little sandy beach was the perfect location for my breakfast of Diet Coke, apple and well travelled Plenny Bar (see this post if you don’t know what that is). I had to have a paddle. I’d just seen a man wade in in only swimming shorts, so I can’t be that cold right? Wrong. But so refreshing. Especially given how much of the path was high up on the cliffs, I wasn’t sure when I’d be at sea level again.
“Nobody cares that much. I’m sorry that’s not true. Nobody cares at all.”
James quotes Bill Bryson in his book, about reading other people’s blog posts about walking, so boring. So I won’t bore you with the hours of jagged coastal rocks, grassy cliff tops, occasional caravan park. You’ll see them all when you walk it yourself. But the constant sun (yes I got sunburnt in Scotland) was remarkable. James too focuses on encounters and people rather than his route. The friendly old chaps who filled my water bottle, and the dog walker who spotted the deer and the cyclists walking their bikes up a steep hill, those are the memorable things about my journey.
Berwick-Upon-Tweed was welcome when it came. By which I mean, after I accidentally continued along the coast instead of turning inland. After purchasing some much-needed aftersun location, I sat by the River Tweed, composed new words to a tune that was stuck in my head, and let James arrive in Tangier. We shared the feelings of relief, disappointment, triumph and agitation at the temporary end to our journeys.
Massive thanks to Nicholas, Beccy and Charlotte for lending me kit, and James Scanlan for keeping me company. And to Alastair Humphreys for constant encouragement of mad plans.