While it may not be the easiest holiday destination to get to, the coastal town of Eyemouth is worth making the detour for...

THE largest port on Scotland’s south-eastern littoral is surprisingly easy to miss.

Blink and the Eyemouth turn-off from the A1 is already in your rear-view mirror. Even after the railway line opened at Reston six miles away last year, the scarce trains scheduled are curiously timed to ensure you have little chance of a connecting bus. That said, Eyemouth is well worth the effort – unmissable even – and you should head there this spring.

Eyemouth’s emergence was something of an accident. A horrific one. When Edward I butchered thousands of Scots in his theft of Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1296, it heralded in a tumultuous time when the port changed hands no fewer than 13 times. Eventually, it succumbed to England in 1482. 

Eyemouth then took on the main port mantle. Given its strategic locale next to the border following the Act of Union in 1707, it became a fulcrum for trade with the Low Countries, the Baltic and Norway. And a hotbed for smuggling. It’s said that at one time, more of Eyemouth’s business went on beneath the ground in hidden cellars and secret compartments than it did above.

The Scottish Farmer:

Hike out to Fort Point and peer over a coastline alive with craggy cliffs, hidden coves and endless wee bays, and it is easy to imagine smuggling skiffs easing in on the tide under the cover of darkness to dispense their cargo to a collage of shady characters, as bemused excisemen struggle to find their way around the web of winding lanes of Eyemouth’s old town.

Often the representatives of the "authorities" were in cahoots with the smugglers and so intermingled were the economy and black economy that members of smuggling families went on to work for more legal trading entities such as the East India Company.

The lasting legacy of those smuggling days is the outlandish Palladian elegance of the James Adam-fashioned Gunsgreen House that presides over the southern bank of the River Eye. Adam may have bristled – publicly at least – at any suggestion of impropriety, as did its upwardly mobile "merchant" owner John Nisbet, but it’s hard not to be suspicious of a building with a cellar as big as some whisky warehouses, a fireplace that hides a hidden wall and multiple floors that are connected via a secret tea chute.

The house is not currently open to the public, but you can stay self-catering and eke a peek inside for special events. Snap up any chance to visit this unique epoch-defining wonder.

The Scottish Farmer:

The smuggling coast extends its craggy tentacles along the Berwickshire Coastal Path three miles north to the fishing village of St Abbs and on to the wildlife wonders of St Abb’s Head. Take the long-distance trail three miles south for another spectacular stretch, where you’ll spy a wee bothy, which was surely swathed in smuggling intrigue, and peregrine falcons who call this wild oasis home. Look out for seals and dolphins too. Burnmouth brings a modest fishing fleet, a pub and a bus back to Eyemouth.

For more on Eyemouth’s rich, endlessly surprisingly story visit the Eyemouth Museum, dramatically set in a vaulting old church. You’ll learn of the dreadful disaster of 1881 when an astonishing 189 fishermen (129 of them from Eyemouth) were lost to a vicious storm, some dashed against the Hurkar Rocks within sight of both safety and their horrified kin on the shore. The existential threat of "Black Friday" to Eyemouth is still riven through the community’s collective consciousness, most palpably in a trio of memorials.

The "Widows and Bairns" sculpture is a striking and moving testament to the fishing disaster that peers over the family frolics of Eyemouth’s sandy beach out towards those baleful Hurkar Rocks. A remarkable bronze work from sculptor Jill Watson, its lifelike figures represent the number of widows and their children left bereft in what is still Scotland’s single worst fishing disaster. 

Today the fishing industry is struggling again post-Brexit, but a decent haddock catch is still landed, along with an increasing haul of shellfish, from the boats that tie up alongside a harbour flanked on its northern side by historic buildings. The Dutch and Low Countries influenced architecture evokes those days of direct trade of all kinds with Europe.

Eyemouth Harbour Trust is currently in the midst of giving the waterfront a makeover: an information board talks of a massive revamp, signs of which you can see with wider pavements in sections along the front and landscaping.

The Scottish Farmer:

A local Italian family have created a successful waterfront business that is a beacon for hope and confidence. In one sprawling complex they run the bright Oblo Scottish-Italian restaurant and shop, while downstairs is the famous Giacopazzi’s chippie, which also sells their artisan gelato. They’ve branched out into accommodation – opening a self-catering hideaway too.

There are other bright sparks. Re-Tweed is a community-focused project that aims to democratise tartan and give local women both skills and confidence. Their work is known throughout the world as they’ve created bespoke tartans for whole nations. They’re a friendly bunch so just pop in here or to their sister outfit International Tartans. Take away a unique souvenir that puts money back into the community.

Eyemouth also has a proper butcher, the excellent Lough’s Home Bakery and a sprinkling of independent shops, including the ultra-fresh seafood of DR Collin & Son, plus, of course, a chandlery. Eyemouth is the sort of place you can just idly wander through the web of narrow lanes looking out for wee shops, cafés and pubs. 

For more structure, follow the Eyemouth Trail (the route is on Scotland Starts Here’s website), a 3km walking trail with multiple points of interest, generally historic and cultural, that takes a couple of hours to ease around. There are plaques en route illuminating Eyemouth’s rich historical web.

I’m finishing writing this in my room at the Ship’s Quarters peering over the harbour that John Nisbet’s smuggling bolthole still glowers over. This is a town of intoxicating ghosts, haunting history and world-class walking. Swirl in boat-fresh seafood, a beach and a sprinkling of independent shops and Eyemouth is definitely worth a detour off the A1, or a rewarding weekend in its own right. Now to work out that bus timetable so I can find a way back to Reston. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Foodie Eyemouth

Rialto Coffee Co

Eyemouth’s lobster is legendary, but in the Rialto Coffee Co it comes with a rather surprising twist. The delicious vegan "lobster" version is conjured up from a combination of lettuce hearts smothered in a lobster-style sauce in a bun. Owners Michael and Eilyn Howes-Quintero are rightly proud of their coffee too.

The Ship

Cosy in by the harbour and savour some of the finest Scottish seafood. Why not kick off with plump Scottish mussels steamed in white wine, shallots and cream, served with crusty bread? Mains include a tastebud-tingling lemon-infused prawn risotto. There is a welcoming and relaxed adjacent bar area too.


An ever dynamic and endlessly energetic local Italian family are the driving force behind this eye-catching and popular second-floor restaurant. The seafood pasta of the day is a tempting highlight; more traditional is Eyemouth-landed haddock ’n’ chips. They have a great chippie downstairs and their excellent Giacopazzi’s gelato, with a swish new outdoor area outside on the waterfront.

Bed down in Eyemouth

The Home Arms

This welcoming family-run guest house is just back from Eyemouth’s beach at the heart of the action. Book a room with a sea view then tuck into a hearty cooked breakfast the next morning peering out towards the water.


This stylish, award-winning relative newcomer hails from the same local family behind Oblo. This self-styled "coastal retreat" is self-catering, sleeping six in some comfort in the centre of town. Dogs welcome for a £20 fee.

The Ship’s Quarters

This self-service guest house is tucked right on the historic harbour, housed in an elegant 18th-century building. The rooms are spacious and the penthouse room also offers a big sofa peering over the harbour. There is no breakfast but the Waterfront Café next door is superb.