Smugglers Trail ~ St Abb’s Head to Cove
Secret Smuggling Places on the Wild Berwickshire Coast!
St Abb’s Head to Cove
Advice for walkers ~ Between Pettico Wick (below St Abb’s Head) and Dowlaw Farm to the west there is well over 1000ft / 300 metres of climbing on (in places) scanty paths, and some steep-ish descents. (Keep an eye on the signposts.) There are fields with livestock – so the route is not suitable for dog walkers. Most, but not all, of the path, is separated from cliff edges by stock-proof fencing. In short, this part of the Smugglers’ Trail on the Berwickshire Coastal Path is the most demanding part of all. Though close to or in farming country this has a wilder ambience than the other parts of the trail – in short, it’s a little off the beaten track. (That’s why the smugglers liked it!)
Though St Abb’s Head to Dowlaw is rugged, as can be seen from the picture above, from Dowlaw to Cove there are some tarmac sections. (There is a motorable road from Dowlaw.) The path then joins the Southern Upland Way at Pease Bay for a pleasant clifftop section that leads to Cove.
Smugglers Tales – St Abb’s Head to Cove
1. Around St Abb’s Head. Records show numerous incidents between customs officers and smugglers taking place along this stretch of shoreline. The Ann & Peggie of Eyemouth was boarded by officers off St Abb’s Head in 1769. Ten years before, there are records of accusations of collusion between the Revenue men and the smugglers regarding contraband hidden in a cave somewhere near this spot.
2. The Lumsdaine Shore takes its name from the farm a little way inland – another of the many farms formerly involved in the smuggling trade. In the Victorian smuggling novel Eustace the Outcast, the author, David Pae, sets his tale very firmly in this area, with a vivid description of the zigzag path from the shore here that can still be traced down the cliff-face. (It is also faintly visible from Pettico Wick and the high ground above it.) The path is not accessible today.
Pae has a vivid description of a cargo landed at Lumsdaine Shore being taken up the path by horses. Clearly, this was a spot favoured by smugglers. A new edition of Eustace the Outcast is available from the Gunsgreen House shop.
3. Dowlaw Shore – near the Lumsdaine Shore and once again, taking its name from the nearest farm – may seem deserted today, but in 1783 the Customs men seized contraband here, including tea, nankeens (Chinese cottons) and silks. They were threatened by ‘bystanders’ – presumably locals sympathetic or working with the smuggling team. Consequently, the Customs men had to request that a company of soldiers be sent to guard the Custom House in Dunbar.
4 Red Heugh – the ‘red cliff’ – marks another smugglers’ shore. Coastguard houses were built here, to house the Coastguards whose original job it was to watch for smuggling activities. The dwellings here are in a typical location: what would once have been a remote setting deliberately designed by the authorities so that these coast watchers would not have too much contact with local people sympathetic to smuggling activities. A good view of the shore here can be seen by looking east from Siccar Point. (See above pic.)
5 Pease Bay. In 1784 a Norwegian wood-carrying ship got into difficulties and the crew threw much of its cargo overboard to lighten the vessel. After permission was granted by the local customs, the timber washed ashore was used in the building of the famous Pease Bridge, opened two years later, when it became (briefly) the highest bridge in Europe. In the winter of 1787 the ship Lively of Banff likewise got into difficulties in Pease Bay and was swept ashore further west, at Thorntonloch. Her cargo was wholly contraband. Her crew all perished.
6 Cove. Though there are tales of smuggling going on here, surprisingly, hard evidence is hard to find in ‘official records’. Perhaps the Customs Officers both at Cockburnspath and Dunglass kept a close watch!
What else to see on the Smugglers Trail St Abb’s Head to Cove
On this dramatic shore, as well as spectacular cliffs, there are a number of historical features:
Admiralty Distance Poles. The route passes by four prominent, white-painted poles, braced with wires. These were official ‘measured mile’ markers formerly used for sea trials of new vessels.
Fast Castle is an optional diversion from the main path but can be accessed from the Dowlaw Farm carpark. The route goes steeply downhill to the narrow neck of land where scanty ruins can still be seen. The fortress here was first recorded in the 14th century, but was ruinous by the 17th century. Some say the name is really ‘Fause’ castle – or false castle – from the habit of lights being lit on the castle by wreckers who would plunder ships that ran ashore here.
Pease Dean and Pease Bridge. The bridge over Pease Dean was once sketched by the artist JMW Turner. Pease Dean is a nature reserve in the care of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It can be accessed by the Pease Bay Leisure Park, close to the ford.
Cove Harbour .This picturesque harbour is privately owned but is accessible from the clifftop village of Cove. The tunnel access to the harbour is associated with fish storing – and rumours of smuggling!
All walking information provided here by Gunsgreen House and their agents is purely advisory and offered free of charge. Walkers must assess their own fitness and the route’s suitability for their party. Gunsgreen House can accept no responsibility for any accident or loss while on the Smugglers Trail or Berwickshire Coastal Path.