Eyemouth is easy to overlook. It stands on the North Sea coast of the Scottish Borders some eight miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. This makes it the first significant settlement you encounter after crossing the Scottish border if you are heading north. Except you don't actually encounter it, and for anyone driving up the A1 it is simply a name that appears on signposts as you pass by, a little inland.
Though small, Eyemouth is a town that offers something for everyone and the slight detour needed to reach it amply repays the minimal effort required. What you find on arrival is partly a seaside resort and partly a working fishing harbour with a boatyard. Its attractions include an interesting layout, shops, beach, piers, a working harbour, and enough visitor attractions to keep you entertained on even the most miserable of days. Plus a fascinating and tragic history.
The Eye Water flows north into the North Sea here and the natural harbour formed by the river mouth has been used as far back as the 1200s, and probably much further. During Henry VIII's incursions into Scotland during the 1540s (see our Historical Timeline) the English used the port and built an artillery fort on the east side of the Eye Water. This occupied the area behind the site used in 1753 for one of Eyemouth's most distinctive buildings, Gunsgreen House. (Continues below image...)
Eyemouth's harbour stretches back along the Eye Water, effectively forming the eastern edge of the town. Fishing played a vital part in the local economy as early as 1298: but it has also been a source of tragedy. During the 1800s, Eyemouth's harbour was not improved as quickly as many, and its entrance was very tricky in rough weather. This meant that when a sudden storm blew up while the fleet was out at sea on 14 October 1881, 189 local fishermen, including 129 from Eyemouth itself, lost their lives. The harbour was later improved to provide a much safer entrance, but too late for the victims of the disaster and their families.
In earlier times Eyemouth was notorious as a centre for smuggling. As the Scottish port nearest the continent it became a natural place for the illicit import of spirits and other goods. One report suggested that the roof space of Gunsgreen House overlooking the harbour was regularly used as a store for smuggled tea. The area to the north of Gunsgreen House now offers magnificent views over Eyemouth, while the house itself and its cellars are open the public, offering an insight into what is described as a "smuggler's palace".
Most of Eyemouth's current harbour dates back to a major rebuilding in 1965, while the "new harbour" and fishmarket were added at the seaward end of the east side of the river mouth more recently, along with a new access road.
At the south end of the harbour are the sheds used by Coastal Marine Eyemouth Limited for commercial repair and refit of vessels up to 200 tonnes, and for the construction of new vessels. Set back from the quay on the town side of the harbour is the striking brick and glass Saltgreens old people's home. Nearby is the old Fishermen's Mission, now the Hippodrome mixed-use arts centre. Standing on the very edge of the town side of the harbour and housed in a recreation of a wooden 18th century frigate is the Eyemouth Maritime Centre, which tells the story of mankind afloat.
In the part of the town nearest the harbour you find the Auld Kirk, now used as the Eyemouth Museum, which tells the story of the fishing and social heritage of Eyemouth. The museum has on display a tapestry commemorating the 1881 fishing disaster. Opposite the Auld Kirk is the attractive Town Hall.
As you move north-west through this small town, the sense of a working fishing harbour is quickly replaced by that of a seaside resort. Eyemouth offers a sandy north-facing beach framed by the rocks of the bay to the west and the harbour walls to the east.
The beach is backed by enough of the usual seaside attractions to give the area a little of that candy-floss atmosphere, without overpowering it. And linking the two sides of the town is an attractive shopping street. On the seaward side of this you can find Mackays of Eyemouth. The side door gives access to a cafe offering absolutely outstanding breakfasts, and other meals and refreshments. The ice creams available via the entrance from the High Street are also rather special.