Freesteel Blog » St Abbs and Eyemouth


St Abbs and Eyemouth — July 2007

After the conference finished at Saturday lunchtime, we drove to St Abbs, squabbled about whether we could launch our canoes in the harbour, and got on the water at 7pm. We dove Wuddy Rocks (Becka disappeared into a cave there, leaving me holding the anchor), and then failed to find Cathedral Rock again. The GPS coordinates in Lawson Wood’s book are bogus. I swam around in all different directions until I got a headache.

The pipefish (relative to the seahorse) were onto everything.

The Youth Hostel on the hill was full, everything else was clearly booked out, two campsites don’t don’t allow tents, but there is a third which served as a good backup. As we were setting up I realized that we could have camped wild somewhere along the road to Pettico Wick with our loud tent and our even louder red and blue kayaks on the car roof.

We got down to Eyemouth on Sunday morning and headed south from the beach to look for two sites. A large dive boat passed us, then pulled over somewhere. Everyone stared at us in disbelief as we paddled past them. We came to a smaller wooden boat whose captain told us of the site he had just dropped a pair off on called Horseshoe Reef. We dropped anchor, hoping not to hit the people below us, and tried it out. He took lots of photos of us.

The reef was not quite as advertised, consistent with what I had determined with the echo-sounder. There was no 20 metre drop-off. It got steeper towards the north, but then we surfaced to save our air for a second dive. We began to notice the number of pipefish that were everywhere.

As we wasted time on the surface, paddling in the direction of Burnmouth, we met two other kayakers coming in the opposite direction. After chatting for a few minutes, we discovered we were all cavers. They had recently moved to Eyemouth and had tried their hand at kayak diving from an inflatable two-person kayak (which they said worked, presumably because they pumped it up properly).

cliffs cavers
Most photos of the coastline come out flat, except the parts which are actually flat, but have nice surfaces and holes. Most of the above water shots suffer from the lens being smeared with droplets. Later on we met some cavers in their kayaks that had been rescued from the dump. I think this is in front of Dove Cave.

Our second dive was probably in Scout Cave which, according to the guidebook, “is the least interesting of the two, in that it does not go as far into the headland as Dove Cave.” I was actually hoping for Horse Cave which bells out underwater and which most divers miss “because of the proximity and very obvious nature of the other caves.”

The text of this guidebook is hopeless for finding your way around. But it’s all we got until some people start adding more useful material into wikiscuba.

Anyway, it was quite fun down there. On the walls was a kind of tiny squat lobster that scurried up and down it like an ant. The far end was contained a jelly-fish mush where they had been trapped by the walls and an eddy current. One of the boulders was plastered in nudibranchs.

We went back to the car, had lunch, changed tanks and dived over on Hincar Rock — the one in sight of the bay — and found it to be a urchin scoured wasteland. Then headed northwest to a peninsula called Hairy Ness. This name has got to be a joke. The current swept us along the impressive drop-off. The rocks are rich in dead man’s fingers, these white rubbery soft corals that sprout out everywhere like big wet pieces of popcorn.

wrasse ucave
Most fish swim away the moment they sense the total racket from a breathing diver. I’ve seen the tails of conger eels as they dash for their holes. Most animals that can move keep their distance. Wrasse, on the other hand, come over to have a look. The next photo is by Becka as I follow her into a cave in Wuddy Rocks.

On returning to the car by 7pm, Becka realized that we had completed 6 dives in 24 hours, which was an unexpected record. To celebrate, we treated ourselves to a night in Rock House, the diver’s bunk-house on St Abbs harbour, and shared the building with one guy who was left-over from the weekend owing to him having lost his car keys at sea and deciding that the best option was to wait for his mother to send up his spare set in the post.

Monday morning saw us out and heading round St Abb’s head. The wind had died down, but there was swell from the north west which refracted into some of the bays. It was also sunny. We kayaked for three hours before bothering to dive, since the coastline was stupendous. You don’t get cliffs like that anywhere else. There were broken pillars and deep caves, and the sea was choppy enough to make it exciting when you discovered you were over a rock with the water rapidly disappearing.

cavepidgeon beckacave
Along St Abbs head is a very deep sea-cave which where you can paddle to a beach completely out of sight of daylight. This is beyond the kittiwakes and cormorants who lean from the ledges and growl, to the realm of the cave-pigeon. I swear I did not see that nest until I was brightening up this photo right now. I wonder if we stepped on it.

We were looking for Tye Tunnel. This is a shallow site, and the surge was probably too great, so we picked a bay somewhere south of that which was sheltered and contained a string of lobster pots. We followed the rope from one to the next, to avoid reeling from the anchor, and met pipefish dangling from it by their tails. In the distance was a school of pollack. The boulders were pretty good, although devoid of life due to the action of the sea urchins.

Last dive was on Wuddy Rocks, this time from the north. We found one of the caves which cut through the headland, and reeled our line into it. Normally we carry the anchor from the kayaks, but this would have lead them to where the waves would have bashed them against the rocks. The current was against us and we literally had to crawl across the gravel to get past the narrowest section. There wasn’t a lot of life in there, but it was very atmospheric. Often caves have deep water species living in them, but this one was probably too short and shallow. We had a good fool around. It’s difficult to find from the south side because you have to swim over a tall rock and it’s easy to miss.

lobsterpot stabbsharbour
Here’s something you’ll find in a Voluntary Marine Reserve: a lobster pot. I hear that Liverpool is a voluntary no-litter zone. Becka towed the kayaks into the harbour as I went round to fetch the car.

When we came out the wind had really picked up, sending chop and spray over us as we climbed onto our canoes. When I pulled the anchor loose I was rapidly pushed towards the rocks and had to paddle fast before I had everything sorted out. It was a rough paddle across the bay back to St Abbs. The harbour-master called the wind the Southern Harst. Or something like that. It’s the sea breeze, from the South-south-east. Then he urged us to contribute to the harbour fund by posting some money into the honesty box. All the divers who park their cars contribute a fiver. I don’t expect any of the other little harbours along the coast experience such a wind-fall, and it’s difficult to tell what the money would be spent on. If it was honest, the funds would be shared among all the villages in the vicinity, since parking cars don’t damage the walls as much as, say, the pounding sea — which they all experience equally.

We went to Eyemouth where there is a bakery which Becka had been obsessing about all day (they had sold out of bread) and made lunch in the carpark. Then we stopped for a huge slap-up feed in Lancaster with Becka’s parents. And then got home for midnight.

The next trip out is going to be a month in Austria caving.



Julian Todd 2007-07-10