Home » The England and Scotland border ‘badlands’ where tragic history and epic scenery converge

The England and Scotland border ‘badlands’ where tragic history and epic scenery converge

In the 18th century the closest Scottish customs house was in Dunbar 20 miles north. I naively conjure up scenes of savvy smugglers sneaking around the tight wynds of Eyemouth’s old town while Keystone Cops excisemen give comical chase.

The reality was darker, as Janes reveals: “They would have used force if they had to. And some parts of the system were in on it. We’re talking everyone from some excisemen, through to potentially John Nisbet’s clerk, who was the nephew of Daniel Dow, customs officer at Eyemouth.”

Gunsgreen House is currently closed to the public. I hope it’s because they’ve rekindled nefarious dealings in the cellar, though they tell me it’s more prosaic: storm damage. You can still stay in its self-catering accommodation and embrace the ghost of Nisbet with a shot of their Gunsgreen Gin – smuggled across the border from a Northumberland distillery – and tuck into the ‘Smugglers of St Abbs’, a Victorian novel that talks of a ‘Mr Jessop’ in his grand Eyemouth house. Surely Nisbet and Gunsgreen.

To Eyemouth’s north the Berwickshire Coastal Path continues on its epically scenic way to New Asgard, or at least St Abbs, the postcard-pretty old fishing village that has starred in a Marvel movie.

A light-hearted, official-looking road sign marks the connection in this border country world of signs, where a lack of signs reveals too.

There are further signs in the border country’s hinterland. I find exhibits pointing to clandestine Jacobite intrigue at nearby Paxton House, another Palladian masterpiece from the Adam family.

Paxton overlooks the Union Chain Bridge – the world’s oldest suspension bridge still carrying road traffic – where another of those cheery Scottish welcome signs greets. 

England ruins the continuity with an actual sign this time. A muted one, but a sign nonetheless. In border countries, you can look for patterns, for consistency, but those frissons continually emerge from the irrepressible friction between these two ancient countries. 

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