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Smuggling along the Berwickshire Coastal Path

1st Nov 2017 by Jackie Wright

Smuggling along the Berwickshire Coastal Path

Over the last couple of years, the Berwickshire Coastal Path has become a really popular walk with Shepherds Walks Holidays customers.

Not only does the walk deliver stunning scenery but also a fascinating history of Smuggling. As a result of research conducted by Derek James the historian and curator of Greensgun House, Eyemouth the Smugglers Trail has been developed which follows the Berwickshire Coastal Path from Burnsmouth, south of Eyemouth to Cove, Cockburnspath, although our clients will generally follow this in the opposite direction.

In the 18th century, smuggling was rife on many parts of Scotland's coastline, no more so than around Eyemouth. This port near the border with England has many little coves and deserted stretches of dramatic coastal scenery – in those days they made ideal cover for smugglers!

After the union with England in 1707, Scotland had to use the English customs and excise regime. Certain goods in Scotland - such as brandy- were taxed at a rate of seven times their pre-Union level. Many Scots soon justified ‘free-trading’ (i.e. smuggling) almost as a patriotic duty! Both the Jacobite faction in the politics of the time and even the Church either turned a blind eye to or positively encouraged smuggling activities.

To complicate matters, the 'revenue men' – the body employed by the Government to enforce excise duties – were often under-resourced and unpopular, though the job itself was a secure one. These 'Collectors of Duty' were sometimes even threatened by the merchant-organisers, who had the support of many in their community. However, the Revenue could at least call on the support of the local militia. Not everyone everywhere in Scotland agreed with the principle of smuggling. There were definitely shades of opinion. In addition, the Smugglers Act of 1736 introduced the death penalty for any smuggler wounding or threatening with arms an employee of the Customs and Excise.

The Trail

The Smugglers' Trail runs along the coast towards St Abbs from Eyemouth, passing by the Linkim Shore, where ships used to wait for the tide before entering Eyemouth Harbour. Some ships, mostly those not wanting to bring too much attention to themselves, waited a little further on: in the bay by today's St Abbs. Walk the Trail hereabouts to view the many little bays and coves where, at dead of night, a small boat could easily row out to a waiting cargo vessel and begin unloading...

Further on, beyond the seabird colonies at St Abb's Head, the coast is even wilder and – not surprisingly – featured in these smuggling stories. The coastal path gives a high-level view of the Lumsdaine Shore and you can still faintly trace a zigzag path that traverses the grassy cliff from top to shoreline. (It's also visible from Pettico Wick, the small bay just west of St Abbs Head.)

Then there is the nearby Dowlaw Shore – hardly visited 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. Who would have thought that such an out-of-the-way location would have ever known drama like that?

So, if exploring the old haunts of smugglers along the spectacular Berwickshire coast is something you would enjoy please get in touch.

© Shepherds Walks Holidays 2019
Muckles Yard, Bridge Street, Rothbury, Northumberland, NE65 7SG

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