A Walk to St Abbs
Scotland’s East coast to the south of Edinburgh is often overlooked by tourists, preferring instead to head off into the highlands. This weekend we discovered a fascinating part of Scotland that hides a tragic story:
First of all we drove down to Coldingham Sands, A fantastic secluded beach north of the village of Coldingham. This small bay is popular with surfers and the shoreline is peppered with a haphazard collection of beach huts. When we arrived three surfers were trying bravely to make the best of pretty modest waves and the freezing North Sea. After taking in the spectacle for a few minutes we headed north on the shoreline path toward’s St Abbs.
The walkway here forms part of the magnificent Berwickshire Coastal Path, a route that runs for 30 miles from Cockburnspath to the Border town of Berwick, from Coldingham Sands the path takes a set of steep steps up to a cliff top vantage point and within a mile of so the small village of St Abbs comes into view. The village was originally called Coldingham Shore but the name was changed to St Abbs in the 1890s, it is close to St Abbs Head, a rocky headland just to the north. The Name St Abbs comes from Saint Aebbe who lived in the 600s. She was a princess and daughter of a Northumbrian king. Like many who followed the monastic life at this time she was part abbess and part politician. Her royal connections worked well and she was able to establish a priory at nearby St Abbs head which lasted until just after her death.
St Abbs is a picture postcard coastal town; a tiny harbour which is looked after by a village trust and quaint rows of cottages with envious views and a scattering of cafes and of course the ubiquitous visitor centre. The centre is free and worth a look round. Much is made of the wildlife in the area, in particular sea birds and a handily placed telescope at the centre allows you to spy on the gulls and guillemots nesting on the perilous cliff edges of the headland.
Outside the centre stands a small monument to one of the biggest tragedies that ever befell the east of Scotland. On the 14th October 1881 a terrible storm hit the area, causing considerable damage inland but more unfortunately catching a large fleet of fishing vessels who had sailed out from ports along this part of the coastline. 19 vessels were lost and 189 fishermen drowned at sea, 129 from the nearby town of Eyemouth alone. Many lives were lost almost within reach of their rescuers who were helpless in the terrible conditions. The locals refer to this disaster as ‘Black Friday’
Its hard to imagine what it must have been like for the families of those wretched souls but this touching memorial captures the anguish of those left waiting on the shoreline. Watching the skill of the captain’s of small vessels squeezing through the narrow gap between the rocks to enter the harbour at St Abbs you understand what a precarious existence living from the sea can be.
All too soon though it was time to return, with promises made to revisit this area and perhaps take on that 30 mile walk! stay tuned…