Just an hour from Edinburgh, Berwickshire is a naturally beautiful region in Scotland’s southeast, imbued with maritime heritage, and yet shamefully under-visited.
Its coastline runs south from Cove Harbour, just a few miles south of “Sunny Dunny” Dunbar, all the way to the English border, where Berwick- upon-Tweed topples just over onto the English side (and has toppled onto the Scottish side more than once).
Perhaps one reason this part of the Scottish Borders has been overlooked as a travel destination is because it’s so unassuming. It’s a place of big skies, high cliffs, working fishing harbours and quiet beaches, and yet Berwickshire either doesn’t realise how attractive it is, or doesn’t want everyone else to know.
A certain amount of obscurity worked in the region’s favour in the 18th century, when smugglers brought in contraband such as brandy, tobacco and tea, utilising the many sea stacks and hidden inlets that characterise the coast to conceal their cargo.
Today, kayakers and paddleboarders nose in and around these same coastal features to reach otherwise inaccessible beaches, or to get closer to the thousands of seabirds that breed on the St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve from April to July.
An outdoorsy vibe has been adopted further along the coastal path, too, particularly on the section between St Abbs and Eyemouth, luring locals from Edinburgh, many of whom have holiday homes here – some of them have even decided to relocate to the area.
It’s easy to see why they come. With a small population and plenty of space to play, Berwickshire is ripe for adventure sports and activities.
Both diving and snorkelling have taken off here, thanks to some of the clearest coastal waters in the whole of the British Isles and a soft coral reef with colourful marine life. Wild swimming is also popular – and it’s not unusual to see people practising yoga on the beach before or after a cold dip – while nature walks are the perfect tonic for the overworked and overstressed.
Reasons to visit Berwickshire, Scotland in 2022
Among the best beaches on the east coast of Scotland
There are many lovely beaches along the Berwickshire coast, but Coldingham Sands, just a 10-minute walk south along the coast path from St Abbs is the kind of beach where you’ll dream of owning a beach house one day. There’s a cool café, a wide expanse of soft golden sands, rock pools, safe swimming – from June through to September lifeguards are on patrol – colourful beach huts, wildlife-rich grasslands, even surf lessons.
Further north, past St Abb’s Head, Pease Bay is another gorgeous sandy beach popular with surfers and families, this time framed by red sandstone cliffs and within walking distance of the village of Cockburnspath.
Walk round the villages
Aside from sheep farming, fishing is the main traditional industry of Berwickshire, as you’ll discover by exploring its unpretentious villages. In St Abbs, an operational fishing harbour, you can buy lobster and crab straight from the boat. If St Abbs looks familiar it’s because it starred as New Asgard in Avengers: Endgame – an association celebrated in the visitor centre above the harbour, even if not all locals are proud of the link.
Further down the coast and a little inland, Coldingham is a conservation village that dates back centuries. The best way to walk between the two is to follow the Creel Path, a narrow country lane that fisher people would once have taken to sell their fish in the village square.
About three miles south from Coldingham is Eyemouth, a harbour town, which has a sandy beach, a historic Georgian house and museum known as Gunsgreen (currently being renovated), which was home to John Nisbet, a notorious tea smuggler and has the secret tea chute to prove it, and a decent selection of places to eat and drink. Plans are underway to regenerate the town’s waterfront, which will hopefully work with the authentic charm of the harbour rather than against it.
Visit Berwickshire Coast (visitberwickshirecoast.co.uk) has lots more inspiration for things to do in the area.
Enjoy the nature and wildlife
This region is teeming with wildlife and the hub of activity is St Abb’s, which is a frenzy of activity from spring to early summer as guillemots, razor bills, kittiwakes, shags – and even a growing population of gannets – fly to and from their nests during breeding season. Head to the Nature Centre to learn more about the birds and other wildlife you can see here or book a tour with Liza Cole a former National Trust ranger with 30-plus years’ of experience who runs nature and mindfulness walks around the reserve and further afield through her company In Our Nature (inournature.rocks) and also teams up with a local skipper to offer wildlife cruises.
Seals are also prevalent along the Berwickshire coast. In November during pupping season, you can see hundreds – sometimes even more – on hard-to-reach beaches along the coast such as Lumsdaine – but please keep your distance.
At most other times you can see them bobbing in the water as you walk the coast path and you’re virtually guaranteed to see one or two in Eyemouth Harbour.
With Tim Grimshaw at the helm, Eyemouth RIB Trips runs seasonal (April to October) fast-RIB rides from Eyemouth, which will get you closer to the birds and other marine life. Tim also runs a shuttle service from Eyemouth to St Abbs (£10 one way), which is handy for those who fancy walking back via the coast path.
For wildlife below the water, book a snorkelling session with Snorkel Wild (snorkelwild.com), which runs lessons and tours for beginners and families, where you can expect to see anemones, crabs, sand eels and prawns.
Eat fresh seafood from the coast
In Eyemouth, you can sit in or order delicious, battered fish and chips to go from Giacopazzi’s (which also sells fantastic ice cream made fresh on the premises every day), or book a table next door at The Ship for more of a slap-up affair – check out the catch-of-the-day specials.
A short (but very steep) walk out of town will bring you to Eyemouth Golf Club where The Heathers restaurant might look like it’s seen better days, but the staff are warm and friendly, the views (on a clear day) are fabulous, and the scallops are out of this world.
In St Abbs you can pick up a crab roll for a few pounds from Ebbcarrs Café by the harbour, with crab supplied by one of the two boats sat on the opposite side on the harbour. Interestingly, for some unknown reason, locals refer to crab as ‘poo’ but a ‘poo sandwich’ doesn’t sound nearly as appetising.
If you want to buy local, head for Jarvis Pickles, an artisan pie-maker which sells award-winning pies – with fillings such as Cullen skink, and pork and blue cheese – to self-catering guests who can order and collect on arrival. You can also buy the pies in some local cafes, including the Old School Café in St Abbs.
Bottles of hand-crafted Left Field Kombucha drinks, which blend the town’s tea history into its fermented flavours, can be picked up in the Oblo shop/bar in Eyemouth, and Gunsgreen House is even getting in on the act by producing its own gin, inspired by the tea-smuggling past of its former owner, which is for sale at the house and will also soon start popping up in local bars and restaurants.
Key information for visitors
How to get there
From Edinburgh, it’s about an hour’s drive to Berwickshire. If you’re happy to ditch the car for the weekend, trains from Edinburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed with LNER take 40 minutes. If you’re coming from London, LNER trains run to Berwick-upon-Tweed in just over three and a half hours, from where it’s a short cab ride to Eyemouth (kiwi-cabs.co.uk). Once there, walk the coastal path between the villages or make use of the new Pingo app (bordersbuses.co.uk), an on-demand bus service that makes travelling around without a car much easier.
Where to stay
Nisbet’s Tower (01890 752062; gunsgreenhouse.org), a renovated 18th-century doo’cot overlooking Eyemouth Harbour and the former home of its namesake, Gunsgreen House, is an immaculate self-catering property for up to four, with a walk-in shower, double bedroom, kitchen and living room with sofa bed. From £160 per night, two-night minimum stay.
Tower Farm, near Cockburnspath (01368 864 782; tower-farm.co.uk) offers two properties, each sleeping up to 10, for holidays with friends. The Farmhouse (from £964 for a four-night stay) comes with its own walled garden, plus an open fire in the sitting room, while Red Gauntlet (£1,530 per week) is a more modern house with plenty of room for two families.
The Old Grain Mill (0345 268 0766; cottages.com) is an incredible self-catering property sleeping 12 in a converted mill in Eyemouth with jaw-dropping features including a wine cellar, sauna, cinema room and games room. From £6899 per week.
Kidcleugh Hide (sykescottages.co.uk) is a contemporary first-floor open-plan cottage sleeping two with a private decked balcony overlooking two acres of serene grounds near Duns, 15 miles inland. From £584 per week.
Braeview Glamping (07939 119 662; braeviewglamping.com) is an adult-only rural retreat with just four pods set in a green field just outside Coldingham that comes with luxury beds, smart TVs and optional extras such as afternoon tea – two of them even have hot tubs outside. From £495 for a three-night stay.
This article is kept updated with the latest information.