St Abbs: a few hours in Scotland

If you’re visiting Northumberland, it’s an easy trip north into Scotland to chalk another country off. Historically, English lovers eloped to Gretna Green in West Scotland, just over the border, to get around marriage laws. Read all about how Kat and I ran away to the fishing village of St Abbs just over the border on Scotland’s east coast.

It’s a nice twenty mile drive up the almost deserted A1 from our base in beautiful Bamburgh to Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town now in England but which has historically shuffled between the two countries.

Shortly after leaving Berwick behind, if you continue on the A1 in the direction of Edinburgh you will pass the border point. There’s no customs or passport control here (yet) – just the chance to stop at a lay-by and have your photo taken next to the Welcome to Scotland sign. There is a stone wall starting from the border point and crossing farmer’s fields, but alas this was not Hadrian’s Wall.

Climbing back in the car, we carried on up the A1 for a few more miles as it ran parallel with the East Coast Mainline train tracks. In no time at all, we came to a right turn for the fishing village of St Abbs, and headed in the direction of the North Sea.

Once in the village, before descending the wooden steps to sea-level, we took in breathtaking views of the cliffs and the craggy St Abbs Head, which was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions. It was a chilly day, and the fresh sea air was invigorating.

There is a nature reserve by the headland famous for its birdlife, and the whole coastline in this part of Berwickshire, with its crystal clear waters and excellent diving conditions, has been designated a Voluntary Marine Reserve.

On 14th October 1881, a day known in these parts as Black Friday, tragedy struck the east coast of Scotland’s fishing industry, when a great storm killed 189 fishermen out at sea. The sculpture below depicts the children and widows of the St Abbs fishermen who didn’t come home – there are similar memorials in other villages along the east coast.

We soon noticed there was absolutely nobody around – we quite literally had the place to ourselves. Well, that’s what we thought until we popped in to the only café in the village, Ebbcarrs Café, which was where everyone was hiding. With no pub in the village, this is also the place to come for a beer. If only there was some kind of wedding venue, St Abbs could steal a lot of Gretna Green’s thunder.

We warmed ourselves up with a pot of tea, and slice of cake each, instantly regretting not ordering bowls of cullen skink, which looked and smelled amazing. You know you’re north of the border when you see this on a menu – twenty miles south, it would have been called seafood chowder.

St Abbs is still a working fishing port, and as we walked-off our cake along the thick harbour walls, stacked with lobster and crab pots, fishermen were returning with the catch of the day, and obese seagulls were pecking at the smelly leftovers of fish and crab left behind.

I’ve been to my fair share of fishing villages, and this one wouldn’t look out of place in Cornwall. But as you leave St Abbs on the twisty little road back to the A1, you’re reminded that you have actually been in Scotland. A big sign proclaims “Haste Ye Back” – you can almost imagine Billy Connolly saying it in his finest Glaswegian brogue.

I’ll be back, Billy, nae bother.

Categories: UK and IrelandTags: , , ,


  1. I love Scotland. I haven’t been down that way, but that could be a village anywhere along the coast. “Obese seagulls” made me laugh.

  2. Looks lovely. Your right, a wedding venue there would prove very popular!

  3. Nice pictures Richard. I play golf each year in nearby Eyemouth – also worth a visit!

  4. I love Scotland, too! And I really liked that lobster pot photo.

  5. Another favourite place! The walk out to the Head is lovely if you gave more time. Sadly, the last time we were there an air-sea rescue was going on for a missing diver.

  6. Never been there, but looks really nice. Cullen skink is amazing, especially on a cold day. Next time you should go to the town of Cullen, the home of Cullen skink. That cafe you went to looks brilliant. I was checking it out on Tripadvisor, looks like my kind of place.

  7. how cool! I didn’t know there’s actually a sign stating the border:) who knows, maybe there’ll be a passport control one day..

  8. It’s funny but I’ve never been, Richard. I know very little of east coast Scotland, though I have promised myself a visit one of these days. 🙂

  9. st abbs is such a gorgeous place! we had a blast when visiting last spring!

  10. Such a gorgeous little harbour town but such a sad history. I think cullen skink sounds so much more filling!

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