A runners perspective

I hope this blog is of use/interest to walkers, runners and cyclists living in or intending to visit Scotland. Most of my entries below are described as long-distance runs - just because that's currently what I enjoy doing...

Monday, 26 May 2014

Edinburgh to England

Distance: 67 miles (108km) Ascent/Descent: 1380m/1360m  
Start/Finish: Edinburgh - Berwick upon Tweed 
Terrain: First 35miles flat and easy, bikepath/established trail, then it gets bumpy. Short sections of thick vegetation (R. Tyne)   
Transport: train stations at start/end.  Perrymans Buses link Eyemouth, Cockburnspath, Dunbar, Berwick, Edinburgh  
Route: Map Part 1 Map Part 2

A long day, but a fun project to find a route with interest between Edinburgh and England.  Nice rural and coastal bits with hills, but unlike me you should be able to enjoy a prevailing tailwind.  Unless as I suspect global warming has "broken" this!  If you want to break the 70mile barrier, start in central Edinburgh and follow the bikepath around Holyrood Park into Brunstane, part of the John Muir Way and clear on the OS map.


Brunstane Path - from Brunstane Station
Thanks to Sharon I was setting of from Brunstane Station on the East edge of Edinburgh at 6am - it was an early start just to ensure there'd be enough time for food and drinks in Berwick this evening - possibly the best tasting food and drinks ever!  The sky was a dirty grey and there was drizzle in the air, but it was also mild and calm and I'd had enough coffee so wasn't grumbling.  I felt pretty fit and confident that I'd enjoy most the journey - especially as it was all new trails to me, excluding a few miles along the Edinburgh Marathon route at the start.

Down the recently-surfaced Brunstane Burn Path towards the coast and into Musselburgh, thank God for the garage there as the public loos were locked at this early hour and I was in pain.  Which chocolate bars to buy for the right to use the facilities is probably the quickest decision I'll ever make.

I continued much more comfortably following arrows and signs and police cones prepared for the Edinburgh Marathon tomorrow (I never got my entry in this year - possibly over-compensating for that today!) then cut off along the John Muir Way which heads East between the wierd landscape of Ash Lagoons and Musselburgh Race Course, through Portobello and around the decommissioned coal power station,  Those chimneys are coming down as the facility get refitted with gas-turbines!  This was the first of two concrete walkways around powerstations that featured on today's route. There were some nice bits too I promise!

Re-joining the marathon route, which gets much nicer as it leaves Cockenzie behind and parallels Seton Rocks/Sands, I followed a path along a quiet winding road through hawthorns, about the 15 and 21 mile points of the race. I turned right up a lane by the Golf Course and then into Longniddry Dean, then out onto the road at the top and along pavement for a mile to Longniddry Station where Sharon was waiting patiently with some replacement water for the bottles. 

About 10 very easy miles done, fairly urban, was looking forward to getting into the countryside a bit more...

Looking back along Longniddry - Haddington Railway Bike Path
I entered Longniddry station and crossed the tracks via the footbridge, picking up the railway bikepath on the other side which would swing off SE towards Haddington.  This was more like it!  Again very easy running being an old railway path, it climbed gently through hawthorns with views back NW over wheat fields, as far as Fife's Lomond Hills across the Firth of Forth.  I followed the bike-route signs under the A1 and eventually down through town along West Road with its large houses, through the square and onto the bridge over the Scottish River Tyne, where Sharon was parked with some salt n vinegar crisps ready!  The idea was that next time I'd see her, she'd be warmed-up and ready to run after enjoying a nice lunch in a warm deli/cafe in Cockburnspath that didn't actually exist and was a figment of my badly eroded memory from being there to start running the Southern Upland Way over 3 years ago!  Oops.
Abbey Bridge over River Tyne
River Tyne
From Haddington, I'd pretty much be following the River Tyne to the coast near Dunbar, thanks to a right-of-way called the "River Tyne Walkway".  To get onto this, I had to continue East after the bridge until reaching a park after a cemetry on the left, where I turned left down a lane to a bridge back over the river again, then sharply right to pick up an excellent bikepath for about 1.5 miles.

The bikepath finishes at Abbey Bridge, from where a much more rustic riverside path continues via a style beneath one of the bridge's arches.  At this time of year (late Spring) the route was already fairly overgrown in patches, so my pace slowed accordingly, and I was glad to be wearing calf-guards as there were a few nettles hiding in there!  Otherwise it was fine to run, with care, I'm not sure what it would be like in July/August, or if it gets any maintenance.

The river is quite modest, the scene was very rural now, if you ignored the A1 a couple of fields away, and it all felt very English already!  Literally through the hamlet of Sandy's Mill, ncluding across someone's garden via gates with signs that ask you to respect the owner's privacy, i.e., don't loiter.  Then past Hailes Castle and back under the A1 into the tidy town of East Linton.  

Hailes Castle across the River Tyne
Mouth of the Scottish River Tyne
Bellhaven Bay
After consulting a map at what felt like the centre of the village, I followed the High Street then turned Right onto Preston Road joining the John Muir Way for the second time today.  A JMW sign pointed me off this back to the River Tyne and a footbridge across it.  From here the good signposting of the JMW took me down towards and then onto an Embankment, which to my surprise turned out to be part of the East Coast of Scotland!  On its other side was the estuarine mouth of the Tyne.  The JMW took a lumpy route along the S shore of the estuary before swinging away more E through trees and back out towards Belhaven.  In spite of the wind which was wearing me a bit, I tried to stay true to the JMW along the outside of the golf course, but erosion blocked the route past the Club House so I was forced S onto "Back Road" into Dunbar.  No great loss, I'm not that keen on flying golf balls as they can make holes-in-one. (Sorry).

It was almost sunny in Dunbar, and it was busy.  Maybe too busy for a thirsty runner who'd run 30 miles.  I grabbed myself a couple bottles of powerade and got on my way, again needing my map to find the path out of town onto the coast - just so easy to just keep following the road instead especially when a bit tired.

Leaving Dunbar, about to brave more golf balls
Barns Ness
Thus followed some more golf-ball dodging, hemmed between a 2ft cliff to the beach and the out-of-bounds markers, with occasional signs reminding you that you were entering the flight path of golf balls. Joy. 

I sped up and kept my head low, glad when the fairways were behind and I turned a coastal corner away from that wind for half a mile.  Only to re-enter more golf-ball avoidance territory and then a large opencast lime quarry.  You may have gathered this wasn't my favourite bit of the route.  Although not grumpy, I probably hadn't eaten enough to be enjoying my day's chosen activity at this feeling wasn't helped by the non-prevailing NE wind tilting me a bit from the sea!  Thankfully at Barns Ness, with its big white lighthouse, the coast swings more SE and I really felt the difference, especially enjoying the shelter of the dunes there.  Lovely white-sand beaches followed, spoiled only by the blight of Torness Nuclear Powerstation.  And so I was routed onto another concrete nature trail around a powerstation, where I got to run above the sea-water cooling inlets and the site of an infamous jellyfish incident.

A bit overgrown heading towards Cockburnspath
 Things rapidly improved South down into Thorntonloch Caravan Park, where I was immediately routed onto the lovely beach (head for the wet sand ASAP!), then back inland to gain a footbridge, eventually down to the very start of the cliffs that would be major feature of the rest of the coast down to Berwick!  As soon as the N frontier of the cliff appears, the JMW climbs up onto it, and then follows some fairly over-grown and barely-used trail squashed between cliff and fields for a few miles. To make up for the underfoot toughness, the coastal views ahead were becoming more inspiring!  Even the layer of gloom cutting out the tops of the higher cliffs Southwards just complemented the scene.

A dramatic, brief scenery change as the path veered inland then dropped through trees into "the Linn" which felt like a rainforest environment with its ferns, dark greens, waterfall and canopy instead of sky.  At the bottom of this was some tiresome shingle beach, pretty, but tiresome.  

I had missed the track cutting into the next Dean, and ended up pointlessly crossing a burn, only to recross it, pull myself up a steep muddy slope where others had clearly made the same mistake, and found the much more formal route back inland and into an impressive gorge beneath the old and new "Dunglass Bridges".  To think I've probably been over these bridges a dozen times on the A1 without noticing!  After crossing beneath the bridges onto the old A1, a sign for "Cockburnspath/Southern Upland Way" directed me away from my planned route along the road.  It looked much more inviting, a little farm track continuing up the dean, it was uphill but so nice I didn't care.  Just before the steepest part another sign directed me left out onto what felt like an ancient track across a field, then skirting some woods to gain Cockburnspath from the N, where poor Sharon was still doing hill reps to stay warm having taken a bus there from Berwick in her running gear and finding that the Deli/Cafe I'd imagined was actually a Post Office with a Hot-drink Vending Machine.  On the bright side I had arrived bang on time!
Dunglass (High contrast)
Lucy arrived 5 minutes after me on a bus from Dunbar - funnily enough the first and last time I'd been in Cockburnspath before was with Lucy when we were exploring the Southern Upland Way.

Just over 40 miles done, about 27 to go, and having sat down to eat a muffin, half a packet of cheesy watsits and a vending-machine-made cappacino (with powdered-milk-crutons), I was finding it difficult to keep up with the girls as we headed downhill right past the start of the southern-upland-way (mistake) and under the A1 by Cove.  So we just followed the road down to Pease Bay Caravan Park, momentarily joining the SUW before following the road a little South then taking the steps North which were well marked as being part of the "Berwickshire Coastal Trail".  Which was immediately excellent!  Up onto the cliffs proper now, 50m above the North Sea, then back inland to pick up a track winding gently down a vale of bracken and bluebells, then taken right gently uphill to and through a farm and out into fields.

The signposts were pretty good, when they were present and you actually saw them.  A couple times along this very hilly coastal section, we felt a bit lost and travelled of course.  Okay the general rule of keep the sea on your left applies a bit, but its always more comfortable to be on the official route.  So yeah a bit of map-faffing on my part, we did eventually concede to the need to climb fairly steeply South on damp divotted ground, climb a fence into a field of curious bullocks, and thankfully re-attain the waymarkers E, eventually higher into the murk and onto a single-track road about 220m above sea-level, the highest point of the journey today.  This was Dowlaw Road, and it was a shame we were up in the mist because I'm sure the views would have been pretty good.  It certainly had a remote feel, being so exposed and well away from the busy A1.  At Dowlaw Farm we ignored the option of visiting "Fast Castle" provided by a fingerpost, instead continuing more directly for the pub at Berwick.

Heading towards St. Abbs Head
The closer to St. Abbs Head we got, the more up-and-down the route became, and also the more pretty.  My favourite section of trail was actually one of these ridiculous downs-and-ups, Lucy had pointed the fingerpost on the far-side of a deep dell that we would first drop down into almost to the level of the sea from about 130m up then back to 150m on the other side (Westerside Dean I think).  There were more people around as we came down to Mire Loch.  The route ignores the easy option and took us up onto St. Abbs Head proper, then down to the sea and dramatically back up again now facing South with a great view over St. Abbs and miles beyond.  The hills really seemed to have sorted my legs out and I was loving this section!  And it was all new territory for us, although Lucy had walked the dog in the area before.

At St. Abbs, we made our way down to a cafe right next to the harbour for some drinks (and a big slab of malteseer cake that I'd strongly reccommend) before continuing South to the surfing hotspot of Coldingham Bay.  After another short climb over a low headland we were onto a nice secluded, grassy cove for a bit then some easier cliff-top running took us quickly into the top of Eyemouth, quite a metropolis after the last 25 miles.

St. Abbs from the North
 We had to go around the harbour, over a metal footbridge and up steps onto a road through a golf course, turning left down a trail nearly opposite the club house, leading back to the tops of the cliffs.  This is where it started to rain, and the air seemed to cool.  We were nearly heading due S so at least the wind was behind, which did make a difference.  A lot of this was beside a stone wall, eventually we dropped down into a place called Burnmouth, had to consult the map to find that we needed to go down a very steep and slimy tarmac road to Lower Burnmouth and its harbour.  I recall mentioning how much of a bastard that brae would be to cycle up, as it happens there's a bike race up it each May!

Lower Burnmouth Harbour
After dropping so far back down to the sea, it felt inenvitable that we'd just be going back up again fairly soon.  We weren't disappointed.  Back up a dean to the level of the railway, then contouring left along a track, eventually path, soon sandwiched between railway embankment and mini hilltops upon the cliffs.  A few trains went by, and we thought about how next time we were on the East Coast line we could look down at this track and remember the day's adventure!  With the damp and the long distance in the legs, we were starting to count down the miles to the pub.  "3.8miles" answered the geek with the mobile application.

At Marshall Meadows Caravan Park we missed the path back upon the cliff-top and ended up at a dead-end of cut-grass surrounded by stone wall and railway.  After some very soggy nettle-bashing (low point of the day) we found the narrow path again, along the top of the cliffs, and soon the industrial estate marking the Northern frontier of Berwick was in view, not too far away.  Then the housing estate.  Yet teasingly the clifftops veered away, curving around what's marked on the map as Magdalene Fields.  The trail was a bit rough and our shoes laden with water now, it really had become beer-o-clock.  Thankfully on arriving at the Caravan Park, we could finally head up a track, around the leisure centre and up a lane direct to the train station, quickly grab some drier gear and head straight for the bar in the Castle Inn.  Mission accomplished.  Those beers and crisps tasted very fine.  6:30pm arrival I think, pretty chuffed with that as it meant plenty time in the pub to refuel and hydrate.