Friday, 8 September 2017


The thing that keeps me sane is making sure I get away into the hills, on foot or on bicycle, as often as possible.

But summer in the Highlands of Scotland is not always conducive to this. Part and parcel of being away, and my favourite part of the whole experience, is camping out in my wee tent, but at this time of year the midges are still around, and are guaranteed to swarm around you, just as you settle down with an evening cuppa, forcing you into your home-from-home, looking out through the fine mesh of the tent inner.

So an alternative destination is needed. Something more east of the country.

This year has seen many a trip with Pauline to the midge-free Borders region, and a rare three-day opportunity came up last weekend to get away again to this beautiful part of Scotland.

Just ten minutes from the front door is a local railway station, where we can board the newly completed Borders Railway service to Tweedbank, just outside Melrose. The last time we were here was with our friend Andrew, to trek the nearby Eildon Hills, through thick, sticky, terracotta mud. It was great fun, rounding off with a visit to the Roman site of Trimontium.

Now on our loaded bikes, our plan was to circle back to Edinburgh via Berwick-upon-Tweed on the east coast, and visit a friend on the way in Coldingham.

We were lucky with a glorious sunny day, and hardly any wind, as we passed out of Melrose and headed east, toward Kelso. The narrow back roads, at times lined by high hedges, were an absolute joy to whiz along, and were also devoid of traffic as an added bonus.

Though sunny, there was a definite early morning coolness in the air, indicating the approach of Autumn. The harvest has been in full swing for a number of weeks, and many fields now sported short, blond stalks, after their recent close-cropped haircuts. House Martins, and a few Swallows, still darted about, readying themselves for their imminent departure to Africa.

By mid afternoon we were in warm sunshine, pulling in to the Border town of Kelso. We had both visited here on bikes before, but the route beyond the town, toward Berwick, was one neither of us had pedaled. 

But before this, tradition called, and we settled down at the outside tables of a little coffee shop called Off The Square, for coffee and cake.

Continuing east, we crossed the River Tweed 22km further on, and in doing so crossed over into England.

A little further on, through the village of Norham, brought us to the end of day one, at a campsite next to a local pub called The Salutation Arms. This was no 5-star campsite by any means, but the adjoining bar more than made up for it. Foregoing the usual routine of cooking our dinner at the tents, we opted for a great meal in the bar restaurant.

The following morning, with a light wind at our backs, we set off in a north westerly direction, crossing back into Scotland over an old chain link bridge after just 5km.

We had arranged to meet up with our friends Bill and Agnes in Coldingham around lunch time, and so we bypassed Berwick-upon-Tweed in favour of heading to the coastal fishing town of Eyemouth, taking a short cut through the castle grounds at Ayton halfway there.

On occasion while cycle touring I have the need for a second breakfast, and this was just such a day, and so, in a small cafe called Mackays on the seafront, I tucked into not one, but two bacon rolls, and a mug of tea.

In 1881, on the 14th October, a severe storm hit the east coast of Scotland, and a fishing disaster of biblical proportions decimated the fishing fleet of Eyemouth, and neighbouring villages, in an event that has become known locally as Black Friday. 129 men were lost, some not far from the safety of the harbour, in sight of their loved ones, and a bronze six-inch figure sculpture, depicting the distraught wives and children, has been erected on the seafront to commemorate those lost.

The wind now shifted in our favour, to push us along toward Coldingham, to meet up with our friends, who had moved from our home street in Edinburgh to Coldingham some seven years ago. We were both very impressed, and a little envious, of their efforts in their large garden.

We were unsure where we would camp this evening, but we knew we wanted a wild camp spot. After a long climb out of Coldingham we scooted downhill, with views in the distance to Torness, the east coast nuclear power station. Just past the turn off for Cove, the long distance footpath, the Southern Upland Way, headed off to our left. We decided to explore. Pauline can always be relied upon to find a good camp spot, and this time was no exception. Nestled in the woods, someone had cleared a large circular area, complete with little wooden benches around the edge, and there was space enough for both our tents, with room to spare. I imagined that in times past this was a regular meeting spot for youngsters to share stories and just hang out, probably now all grown up and left the area.

In the morning we retraced our route back about a mile to the quaint little harbour of Cove. The old dirt track descends steeply toward the harbour, but just before you turn the last corner we came upon a dark tunnel, cut out of the hillside, created around 1752. We navigated through the inky blackness to emerge out of the other side, above the harbour itself. Even though the sun wasn't shining, it was very picturesque, and such a wonderful find. It was bought by Benjamin Tindall to save it from development, and is now managed for conservation.

At one time this tiny little harbour, with its tricky access, was one of the most important herring ports on the east coast of Scotland, and now serves as a backdrop for many a fashion shoot and films. Recently scenes were shot here for the Hollywood big budget film, The Avengers. I could see why it is so attractive to filmmakers.

We were keeping a close eye on the weather now, as we headed north toward Dunbar and North Berwick, where we would turn west for home. The forecast was for heavy rain in the afternoon, and neither of us relished the idea of finishing such a great trip soaking wet. There was only one solution: coffee and cake while we deliberated.

If you are ever in this area and in need of coffee and cake in a lovely setting, in a pretty village, then the old Smithy at Tyninghame is the place.

Satisfied, and with dark clouds gathering, we cycled the six miles to North Berwick and took the dry option of the train back to Edinburgh.

Fab trip, and not a single midge in sight.

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