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If you have ever wanted to go down the rabbit hole like Alice and discover something truly amazing, then I would say that Cove Harbour on the Scottish Borders is your spot.
It’s a secret beach and historic harbour that you can only reach by walking through a tunnel carved out of the cliffside!
As I was walking about St Abbs with my camera, a local fisherman stopped me and asked why I was there.
When I told him I was a travel blogger looking for amazing places, he tipped me off about a secret beach even the locals didn’t know about just a few miles from there…I knew I had to find it!
So, off I went and I have to admit I was a little dubious at first. But, what I found was this paradise by the sea with absolutely NO ONE there.
I almost feel bad writing about it! But, I feel I have to tell someone or I’ll burst. So, here’s a complete guide on how to find the concealed Cove Harbour beach on the borders!
Table of Contents
- Cove Harbour history
- A historic fishing harbour & geologists dream
- East Coast Fishing Disaster of 1881
- The Glasgow Boys
- Smuggling & an old changing rooms
- Who owns Cove Harbour today?
- Where is Cove Harbour?
- How to reach Cove Harbour on the Scottish Borders
- Exploring Cove village
- Walking down to the historic Cove Harbour
- Down the rabbit hole into Cove Harbour Beach
- Cove Harbour Beach facilities
- Stay in the Blue Cabin by the sea!
- What has been filmed at Cove Harbour?
- Tips and warnings for visiting Cove Harbour Beach
- Places near Cove Harbour
- St Abbs
- Like it? Pin it!
Cove Harbour history
Despite Cove Harbour being a hidden gem today in the south of Scotland, it actually has a long history of a busy working fishing harbour. The area dates back to pre-historic times!
Ever since the 17th century the natural protection of the cove has meant that fishermen could trade and also export coal.
Geologists 300 years ago have also felt the need to study the cliffs here and The Glasgow Boys based themselves here to paint its beauty.
So, the question remains, what happened and why is it so secluded today? Well, the storyboards around the area for visitors paint a pretty clear picture.
A historic fishing harbour & geologists dream
Despite many failed attempts of building a harbour overtime, the harbour we see today was founded by Sir John Hall of Dunglass in 1752.
As he was curious about the red sandstone cliffs below, he comissioned for a a tunnel to be created in the sandstone cliff face. It was dug out completely by hand!
James Hutton, known in those days as the ‘father’ of modern geology, visited Cove with Sir John Hall. He wanted to further investigate the “unconformities” of the rock foundations to determine the age of the earth.
It was Joseph Mitchell, a pupil of the famous civil engineer Thomas Telford, that built the harbour piers in 1828.
It was to become one of the most important Herring ports on the east coast of Scotland. A bustling place with lots of boats and fresh catches every day. There was even a Haddock House installed on Cove Harbour. But, unfortunately, an unexpected tragedy struck the village.
East Coast Fishing Disaster of 1881
In 1881, one of Scotland’s worst fishing disasters took place off the east coast. The Eyemouth disaster came about after a violent storm at sea and claimed the lives of 189 men and 29 fishing boats.
Although there were warnings of a storm afoot, it was ignored on what is still known as Black Friday.
Cove felt the worst of the disaster as they lost 11 out of 21 men and three out of four of their boats. It left many families without means and meant that the harbour couldn’t fish or trade.
A series of statues has been installed along the east coast by local artist Jill Watson to commemorate the surviving widows and their children.
The Glasgow Boys
In the late 19th century, a loose group of artists emerged on the Glasgow art scene. They were fed up with the traditional academic style of historical subjects and decided to paint more contemporary portraits.
This group were called The Glasgow Boys who were largely responsible for Scottish modernism in art. It was a big movement for culture in the city of Glasgow, as the art world usually centred around middle class Edinburgh.
Due to the soft lighting and pretty scenery of Cove, it was a popular subject for artists. The Glasgow Boys decided to base themselves in the boathouse and some even spent two long cold winters!
You’re also right in the heart of Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Bride of Lammermoor’ country. The novel is centred around a tragic love affair on the south-east coast but his descriptions of the area made it a tourism hotspot in the 19th century.
Smuggling & an old changing rooms
Despite the disaster, there were still many families who were based on the harbour involved in the fishing trade. Some families lived in the hamlets up the top of the cliffs and some residents were based in the pier cottages until the 1950s.
The tunnel that is used to access the beach also has some underground chambers. They were originally used to store herring and mackerel. Some even said that these used by smugglers to store illegal whisky and brandy!
Later, these chambers were used as changing rooms for those that wanted to swim or bathe in the cove. But, they were eventually closed off to the public in 1981 for safety. Today, the tunnel is still here for access to the beach.
Who owns Cove Harbour today?
Cove Harbour was sold to Berwickshire County Council in 1974 and there were plans for redevelopment. So, Benjamin Tindall decided to purchase Cove Harbour in 1990 to save its heritage and character.
Today, Cove is still managed for fishing and you’ll see some boats bobbing in the harbour. Although it is privately owned, it is open for the public to enjoy!
There are always new renovation and conservation projects that take place each year. Recently, they have been working on the Boyne Pier at the far end of the cove that fell into disrepair.
Where is Cove Harbour?
If you were interested in discovering this secret haven for yourself, Cove Harbour is located in Cockburnspath on the Scottish Borders.
It’s in North Berwickshire, so it lies just off the border of Northumberland in the deep south of Scotland.
You can easily access this hamlet off the A1 which is the road that will take you straight up to Edinburgh.
How to reach Cove Harbour on the Scottish Borders
Unfortunately, there is no vehicle access to the historic Cove Harbour which lies on the coast. But, you can walk down to it from the quaint hamlet of Cove perched on the cliff top.
As it is in a remote area, it is easiest if you have your own means of transport to access. It has a small but FREE car park for visitors which is open daily.
The nearest railway station is Dunbar and the closest bus stop to Cove Harbour would be Cockburnspath. This is around 1.5 kilometres away from Cove village.
Exploring Cove village
The hamlet of Cove is extremely tiny with just a few adorable cottages on top of the clifftop. There are no landmarks or facilities to speak of here, not even a school, shop, church or post office!
But, you can get some incredible views from the top of the cliffs and you can take a look at the memorial statue for the widows and children affected by the East Coast Fishing Disaster.
It’s really easy to spot the access route down to Cove Harbour from the car park as you’ll see a kissing gate. This is right next to the memorial statue. Walk through that and take the steep route down the cliffs towards the harbour.
Walking down to the historic Cove Harbour
I’m not going to lie to you, the path down towards Cove Harbour is incredibly steep but it is well maintained. You’ll be walking on an even gravel path the whole way down.
The walk will take you around 5-10 minutes, no more than that. Even if you were at a snails pace like I was. Mainly because I couldn’t stop taking photos. The scenery as you make your way down to the bay is fabulous! So make sure you have your camera to take a few snaps.
You’ll pass the secret tunnel in the cliffs for the beach on the way down. However, I would encourage you to first have a look around Cove Harbour at the end of the path.
From here, you can see the historic pier houses. These did have residents living in them until around 1951 but after that they have been used for fishing equipment! If you did want to go crabbing or fishing in Cove Harbour you can do so. But, the owners say that it’s rare you catch anything in these waters.
From the harbour, you’ll also get some amazing views of the famous Head Rock that has amazed geologists for centuries, the old Haddock House which is now the Blue Cabin by the sea and the secret Cove beach.
Down the rabbit hole into Cove Harbour Beach
I’m terrible for taking my own advice and I didn’t look at the harbour first off. I just wanted to know what was on the other end of this mysterious tunnel!
As I was by myself and there was no one around, I have to admit I was a wee bit scared to walk through. It was pitch black and I had no idea what was on the other side.
So, I switched on my phone light and just decided to go for it. I was blown away by the beach I found on the other side.
It almost looked like a movie set to me, like it had been set up for some kind of period drama. It was completely empty, almost abandoned!
It’s not a big place but you could easy go on an adventure here. Strolling around the white sands, checking out the historic houses, climbing onto the forgotten pier and the sea caves formed on the cliffs.
My only regret was that I didn’t take a good book with me. The peace and quiet here makes it the perfect reading nook.
Cove Harbour Beach facilities
It’s good to note on your visit there are NO facilities here. Not at the beach or even in Cove village.
So, I would definitely use the loo before you visit and bring a picnic with you if you wanted drinks or snacks. On that note, remember to take your rubbish with you as there are no bins.
The nearest facilities for Cove would be in Cockburnspath or Pease Bay that you can access on the coastal path. It’s a popular walk you can take after your visit if you wanted to see more of the area.
If you were looking for a supermarket to purchase food or drinks, it would be the big ASDA in Dunbar.
Stay in the Blue Cabin by the sea!
If you did find yourself in a daydream and wondered how you could make this incredible place home. There is definitely a way to make that possible… for a few nights at least!
The Blue Cabin by the Sea has transformed the old Haddock House on the bay into a delightful holiday home on the beach.
You’ll have absolute privacy here and it will be almost like having your own private island! You could wake up to the sound of the sea or build sandcastles on the beach. Explore the coast in the day and snuggle up by the fire at night in your seaside cottage. It sounds too good to be true.
If you were interested, you can check out their website here for rates.
What has been filmed at Cove Harbour?
The beauty of Cove Harbour and its seclusion has not been lost on film producers and location scouts. It has worn many hats and portrayed Ancient Greece, Lyme Regis and the Isle of Wight to name a few.
Plenty of TV and film productions have been filmed here like ‘Tour of the Western Isles’ and ‘Mrs Brown’. Renowned actors like Stephen Fry and Helen Mirren have wandered about this area for the big screen.
More recently, fans of the ITV detective drama Vera will love the fact that Cove Harbour featured in season 10 of the series!
Tips and warnings for visiting Cove Harbour Beach
- Access – You cannot drive to Cove Harbour, the only way to go down is on foot. No vehicles are allowed down onto the pathway unless given permission. You must abide by the Scottish Outdoor Access Agreement.
- Drones – are strictly prohibited here at Cove without explicit permission from the owners.
- Litter – You must take your litter with you and dispose of it yourself! The cove is open for everyone to enjoy, so take care to leave it as you found it.
- Mooring in Cove Harbour – is allowed from April – October. But, mind for tide times. You will need explicit permission from the harbour master who is strict on things like boat colour and your purpose for being there.
- Is Cove Harbour beach dog friendly? YES, dogs are permitted on Cove Harbour Beach. Access laws in Scotland are very different to England just a few miles away. But, remember to clean up after your dog.
Places near Cove Harbour
So, after you’ve explored Cove Harbour Beach, what next? Well, you’re right in the heart of the Scottish Borders.
Ever since I visited my first Border village, I’ve had a slight obsession with them. I love the quaint nature, the friendly locals and of course the famous Border tart!
Here are a few of my favourite border villages nearby Cove;
St Abbs is one of the cutest harbour villages on the borders. It has a visitor centre, a few cafés and access to the St Abbs Head walk along the coastal path here.
I loved this walk as it takes you over the cliff tops to headlands, lighthouses, lochs and you can spot dolphins who make their way here in the surf. It’s a really popular spot for bird watchers as the cliffs have sections which seem like they have truly taken over!
You can spot puffins or pufflings (eek!) on the cliffs as well as herring gulls, kittiwakes and razorbills. There were plenty of wildlife photographers about in camouflage with lenses as big as my head.
Avengers Fans will need no introduction to St Abbs as this is this the village where they shot New Asgard. The locals do say that Fat Thor and Korg are still playing Fortnite drinking beer and eating pizza, so the WiFi maybe down (wee joke).
If you were an Avengers fan, you can see my whole post on finding New Asgard here
Eyemouth is much bigger than Cove and is a town that’s located nearby on the coast. It’s the first big settlement you’ll find after crossing the border point.
The harbour was founded all the way back in the 1200s and it played a pivotal role for the English throughout Henry VIII’s turbulent campaign with Scotland.
It was a notorious area for smuggling, where sailors would store contraband sourced from shipwrecks. The driving force of the operations was found at the iconic Gunsgreen House, at one point it was described as a Smugglers palace!
Today, it’s a seaside resort town with a gorgeous harbour on the sea, cafés, shops and parks to relax in. You can watch the commercial fishing boats make their way into the harbour, with a flock of hungry gulls following close behind them!
Dunbar is a former royal burgh of Scotland and a gorgeous settlement on the coast of East Lothian. As well as its rugged coastline, it’s also known for its sunshine record!
As an ancient parish, it’s steeped in centuries of history with battles and monarchs. You can visit the ruins of one of the most important Scottish fortifications of the middle ages here.
Dunbar Castle was the place where Mary Queen of Scots fled to from Edinburgh after the murder of her husband David Rizzio. Some say she plotted the killing herself.
As well as exploring Dunbar’s Victoria harbour, you can check out famous residences like Lauderdale House. You can also go shopping on the bustling High Street or pop into one of the many independent cafés. The serenity of John Muir Country Park is nearby.
Alnmouth is a picturesque coastal village on the English side of the border in Northumberland. You’ll find a cluster of colourful houses that line the coast.
It used to be a historic grain port until 1806 when a ferocious storm changed the course of the river and the livelihoods of the residents forever.
The main attraction here is the large stretch of sand that is extremely scenic. Many choose to go horse riding along here. You can visit the shops, cafés or the bitesize museum of The Ferryman’s Hut.
A famous pub that was featured on Most Haunted was the 17th century Schooner Hotel. It’s said to be the most haunted in the country, so pop in if you dare.