St Abb's Head
St. Abb's Head is a rocky promontory at the village of St. Abbs, Berwickshire, Scottish Borders, and a National Nature Reserve administered by the National Trust of Scotland. It lies on the eastern coast of Scotland, United Kingdom at Coordinates:
(Note the lack of apostrophe in the name of the village.)
A signal station was established on the cliffs before 1820 and the facilities were shared by Trinity House and Her Majesty's Coastguard. The Northern Lighthouse Board recommended the building of a lighthouse at St. Abbs Head after the sinking of the "Martello" on Carr Rock in 1857. The lighthouse was designed and built by the brothers David Stevenson and Thomas Stevenson and assisted navigation before and after sight of the Bell Rock and Isle of May lights disappeared from view. The light began service on February 24, 1862 and initially used oil to generate its light, it was converted to incandescent power in 1906 and to electricity in 1966 and finally automated in 1993. Before automation the lighthouse was staffed by three full time keepers whose duties included keeping detailed weather records. The lighthouse has two km of single track tarmaced road leading to it from the main road near St. Abbs village, however it is suggested by the National Trust of Scotland that it is only used by disabled visitors and there is limited parking. Visitors can walk to the Head where the lighthouse's buildings, though still in good repair, are not open to the public. A foghorn was established at the Head in 1876, being the first audible fog signal in Scotland. The original foghorn was driven by hot air engines before being replaced by oil driven ones in 1911 and then by diesel engines in December 1955. The fog signal was discontinued in 1987 although the horn is still in place and can be reached at the edge of the cliffs by a railed path from the lighthouse.12
Land around St. Abb's Head is a National Nature Reserve (NNR); this is managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) in co-operation with Scottish Natural Heritage. The first part was purchased in 1980, with the Lumsdaine coastal strip being donated by Pearl Assurance Company Ltd. in 1984. Blackpotts grazings were purchased in 1994. The Head was designated an NNR because of the presence of a 60,000 strong seabird colony which nest on the sheer cliffs, stacks and gullies. Kittiwakes and Guillemots are the most numerous species of the nesting birds followed by Razorbills, Shags, Herring Gulls, Fulmars and Puffins. To preserve the marine habitat, the NTS in conjunction with the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the local fishing community and diving clubs, have set up a Voluntary Marine Reserve which stretches south down the coast to the town of Eyemouth. Although best known for its seabirds, the Reserve also has flower rich grasslands and a freshwater loch.
The grazing on the Head is leased by the Trust to Northfield Farm which stands just to the south of the Head near St. Abbs village. The grassland is surprisingly rich for a coastal situation, in some places it is possible to find over 20 different species of plant in one square metre. There are at least 10 different kinds of butterfly on the Head including the Northern Brown Argus which is a nationally rare butterfly in the UK. The butterflies drink nectar from the flowers of the Wild Thyme and the caterpillars eat the leaves of Rock Rose, the areas in which these two plants grow are protected from sheep grazing by fencing. Just inland from the lighthouse is Mire Loch, a 600 metre long artificially created lake.2
The NTS has an information point for St. Abb's Head located at Northfield Farm NT913674, it has an exhibition with information about the Head, coffee shop, art gallery and textile shop. There are maps describing the walk to the Head and as well as Ranger led guided walks.
March 2011 saw the opening of the latest addition to the many attractions of St Abbs in the form of the new St Abbs Visitor Centre. This beautiful, contemporary facility is located in St Abbs old village hall, perched precariously on a cliff edge. Built as a resource for both visitors and locals, the Centre offers free admission, interactive exhibits, library area, web access, stunning photographs and historical artefacts. It is an ideal starting point to a visit to St Abbs, giving information on the history of the village, the geology and also the local flora and fauna visitors are likely to encounter. The position of the building offers a stunning 180 degree view from St Abbs Head all the way to the harbour and beyond. The St Abbs Visitor Centre is an independent Scottish charity.
The layered sedimentary rocks of greywacke and siltstone which lie to the north and south of the Head were laid down at the bottom of the sea between 460 and 410 million years ago. The Head itself is made from hard volcanic rock which formed as lava flowed from volcanoes around 400 million years ago. The different type of rocks accounts for the contrast in colour between the rocks of the Head and those of mainland cliffs. The softer sedimentary rocks have eroded over time, leaving behind the high headland made from the harder rock. However even this tough volcanic rock has been affected by the actions of the sea, leaving steep gullies and sea stacks which are ideal for nesting sea birds. The harder rocks of the Head are separated from the sedimentary rock to the SW by the NW slanting St. Abbs Head Fault which is marked by a low lying valley which at times of higher sea level would have been flooded, cutting off the headland from the mainland.3
Just 0.5 km to the SE of the lighthouse is Kirk Hill. On the summit of this hill are the remains of the 7th century monastery settlement of Saint Æbbe. About AD 643 Æbbe established the monastery on Kirk Hill within the remains of a 6th century fort known as Urbs Coludi (Colud's Fort). Both Monks and Nuns lived at the monastery in basic beehive huts made from mud and branches. Æbbe remained as abbess until her death around 680, a few years later the monastery was accidentally burned down and was not replaced. The settlement was protected by a massive three metre high turf rampart on the landward side, the remains of this rampart can be seen as a low ridge around the rim of the hill. These are the only remnants of the 7th century monastic settlement of Æbbe. However there are faint outlines of buildings, field boundaries and a rectangular burial site dating from the 12th century. These are the scant traces of a Benedictine chapel established in 1188 and dedicated to Æbbe by monks from Coldingham Priory.
On the north side of the Head is Pettico Wick Bay this provides a natural trap for salmon as they swim down the coast. A fishing station was established here in 1880 and lasted until around 1950. A jetty was also built in the bay so supplies could be landed for the lighthouse.4
The National Trust for Scotland has three further properties in the Scottish Borders:
- Harmony Garden, Melrose
- Priorwood Garden, also in Melrose
- Robert Smail's Printing Works at Innerleithen
- Northern Lighthouse Board. Gives details of Lighthouse.
- National Trust for Scotland Information leaflet on St. Abbs Head, Gives general information on the Head.
- Geological Conservation Review. Gives details of geology.
- Royal Commission Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Gives historical details of Monastery/Nunnery.
- / Aerial photograph of St. Abbs Head.
- National Trust for Scotland website entry on St. Abb's Head National Nature Reserve
- St. Abbs Community Website
- St. Abb's Head panorama
- The St Abbs Visitor Centre