Across the Border

It is ten degrees as we leave Scotland. Arriving in England, it might be a little warmer but there is a thick mist. Too late we realise that the earliest entry on the site at Berwick on Tweed is not midday but 1.00pm. We arrive at 12.10pm and are third in the queue. There is not much room for queuing so our arrival effectively blocks the exit, meaning that no one can get a vehicle, much less a caravan, in or out. The harassed warden arrives, pointing out that we are all early. She has no option but to let at least one of us through the barrier. In the end she kindly allows us all on site. Having set up we return to Scotland. The sole reason for us stopping here is to see a Bucks ledge boat that is currently owned by World of Boats in Eyemouth. This small west country fishing boat is carvel constructed in a style that is unique to Bucks Mills and it belonged to a member of the Braund family. We arrive in a very chilly Eyemouth and locate World of Boats. We pay our modest entrance fee and converse with the very chatty custodian who explains all about their new acquired whaler. World of Boats own over 400 boats from across the globe. Unfortunately, 395 of them are not on display, including, inevitably, the Bucks ledge boat. On enquiring we learn that they are off site in the ostrich sheds. The ostrich sheds? These are not open to the public on the grounds of health and safety as the boats are stored on racks. Illogically, we can however view these if accompanied by a custodian. I assume that said custodian is briefed to catch any boat that looks likely to land on our heads. There will be someone who can take us tomorrow. In theory we are not available tomorrow as we have to be off site and heading south in the morning. We decide however that, by dint of arriving as the museum opens, we can just fit in a quick trip to the ostrich sheds before we leave.

Our boatless excursion leaves us with an afternoon free, so we cast about for something to do in Eyemouth, ideally something indoors, so not the thrilling trip in a speed boat that is on offer. There is a large yellow flag saying ‘house open’ and signs to Gunsgreen House, so we give that a try. Although this is not a venue that we can enter free of charge on the strength of our memberships, it has the advantage of being only hundreds of yards from World of Boats. The name Gunsgreen probably dates from the time when soldiers from nearby forts practiced in this area. The house, designed by John Adam, was built for John Nisbet in 1753. Nisbet was a local merchant who was also involved in organised smuggling on a very large scale. This was not usual on the east coast, especially after the Union of the Crowns, in 1707, imposed the crippling English taxes on Scotland. The nearest customs house was a three hour ride away at Dunbar, so Eyemouth was an ideal spot. An interesting aside: Dunbar Kirk Sessions reveal that, in the 1730s, Nisbet had been in trouble for an association with servant girls.

429 View from Berwick site 30 May 2016The main product that was smuggled was tea, which in Nisbet’s time attracted 119% tax. The house includes a hidden chute where large quantities of tea could be stored, a hidey hole under the floorboards, capable of concealing three men and warren like cellars, where our tour began. The top floors were not finished for twenty years, by which time a tenant, John Stewart, was in residence. The house was sold to rival merchant and smuggler, Alexander Robertson, to pay debts and then passed to the Home family. From 1906-1965 the house was run as a guest house by the Dougals. It then did time as a clubhouse for golfers and was finally acquired for restoration by the trust in 1998. In fact very little had been altered by the succession of owners. Pleased with our choice of ‘bonus’ visit, we return to Berwick Seaview site, which is by then living up to its name.

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