The Last Bit of the Southern Upland Way

Berwickshire coast

Berwickshire coast

This is one of those very rare posts where I describe actually finishing a long-distance walk. It is all the more incredible as looking back over these posts show that I started the Southern Upland Way over five years ago.  I know I’m a slow walker but that really is glacial.  Poor Jazz was barely out of puppy-hood when she started getting dragged along.

The official SUW distance is 212 miles but after 22 separate walks involving lots of circuits we took almost exactly 300 miles to complete it.  And today was the last day from Longformacus to Cockburnspath and so something to savour.  It’s such a pity that it was dire.

Looking back towards Longformacus

Looking back towards Longformacus

After yesterday’s great walk we were looking forward to another great day ending up at the North Sea having crossed the country at the wide bit.  The Missus kindly dropped us off in Longformacus tucked in the Lammermuir Hills.  We’d spotted a Hen Harrier on the way over the moors and our mood was good.  Then we got out of the car and were immediately surrounded by flies.  No worries, this breeze will soon get rid of them.  Nope: they just relished the challenge and kept up.  Time for chemical warfare: I applied the DEET which got rid of them.  Temporarily.  They were soon back in force and now we had the ones that like DEET and a strong wind.  They would be my companions all the way to the coast 1  So for most of the day I had this bunch humming away just behind me: it was like being in a five-hour yoga meditation.  I met a local walking her dog covered head-to-foot and making maniacal swipes with a swatter as she walked. She said that it was awful for a couple of months and they couldn’t sit in their garden.  Bet the estate agents don’t put that on their blurb.

Abbey St Bathans church

Abbey St Bathans church

Footbridge over the Whiteadder Water

Footbridge over the Whiteadder Water

Path beside the Whiteadder Water

Path beside the Whiteadder Water

So let’s cut to the next good bit: the hamlet of Abbey St Bathans 2.  This was a quiet spot (apart from the humming, obviously) with a gorgeous church, old phone-box, nice footbridge over the Whiteadder river, and lovely woodland.  Even the local boy-racer in a clapped out Fiesta gave a friendly wave.   We stopped for a quick lunch as our insect friends didn’t make lingering an option.  After crossing the river and following the lovely path on the other side, we turn to head north-east.  If I say that the thing to look forward to on the next section was crossing the A1 road you’ll perhaps realise why I won’t spend long describing it.  Apart from one highlight: just outside the hamlet I heard then saw a Kingfisher that looked stunning in the sunshine and bringing my SUW bird list up to a respectable 87 species.

Jazz searching for the view

Jazz searching for the view

So we cross the A1: “Right Jazz: run or you’re flat”.  And then we enjoy the East Coast main line railway. But we are then into decent woodland.  The SUW does a switchback here to climb Penmansheil Hill.  My guidebook encourages you to do this as you get a great view of the Berwickshire coast.  It’s the last hill on the SUW and I give encouraging words to Jazz about the spectacular view awaiting us.  So we trudge up and emerge at the viewpoint to discover that the trees have all sprouted and we can see bugger all.  At this point we get a phone signal and I get photos from the Brat enjoying a fabulous view from her restaurant in Kuala Lumpur overlooking the Petronas Towers: Jazz and I shared an apple with the flies.  Let’s call this the low point.  So our tip: don’t bother with the switchback – just go straight on as you miss nothing.

Jazz in Pease Dean

Jazz in Pease Dean

Cove harbour

Cove harbour

Memorial to Cove fishing disaster, 1881

Memorial to Cove fishing disaster, 1881

Some knee crushing descent follows and we head into the SWT reserve of Pease Dean 3.  We like this place but there are lots of steps down and my left knee is giving up so I placate it with some Ibuprofen 4.  We emerge in some awful caravan park in Pease Bay but at least we are on the coast – we’ve done the coast-to-coast.  We now head north along the cliff-tops and the scenery is wonderful (if you avoid looking at Torness, the local nuclear power station).  The sea-cliffs here are impressive with nice drops but I’m too tired to bother when Jazz decides to flush Grey Partridges from the edge.  The path pops out at Cove and this is seriously nice with the picture-perfect harbour way below us.  This would be an ideal end to the walk mirroring the lovely start in Portpatrick.  However, for some utterly bizarre reason we have to head west and inland for a mile or so to the dull village of Cockburnspath.  Surely it’s not to enjoy the A1 underpass with its poor graffiti?  Or the fabulous “You’ve made it” celebrations with the world’s press in attendance.  Nope.  There’s a pretty dull SUW board proclaiming this is The End.  Why on Earth it doesn’t stop in picturesque Cove I don’t know but my theory is that the person setting up the route 31 years ago had a B&B establishment in the village.

Arriving at Cockburnspath

Arriving at Cockburnspath

The End

The End

So it was a strange anti-climax to actually finish the walk.  The last section was poor but thinking back over all the sections the bad ones stood out by being very few, and easily out-numbered by the good ones.  So now I just have to do all the other long-distance walks that have sprouted up…

Previous section of SUW: Lauder to Longformacus

Notes:

  1. Note I said “my” because my canine friend escaped their attention.  What is the point of having her along?
  2. Roughly one letter per resident.
  3. As a point of interest this was the location of the last SUW “squelch”.  It is hard to spot the last of anything, e.g. when did you see the last Swallow of the year?  So I was on “last squelch”-watch.  Is that it?  No, here’s one. Is that it? etc.
  4. Other anti-inflammatories are available.
Distance:28km
Effort:
Scenery:
Do It Again:
Duration:6½ hours