Located a few miles north-west of the fishing town of Eyemouth, the picturesque Berwickshire village of St Abbs is named for Æbbe, daughter of Æthelfrith, ruler in the late 6th century of what was then the Ango-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia.

Her brother, Oswald, would later unite Bernicia and Deira into the kingdom of Northumbria and like him Æbbe was a devout Christian. She founded a monastery at Kirk Hill, just to the north of St Abbs on the promontory now known as St Abbs Head. That monastery later moved two miles inland to become Coldingham Priory in the 11th century and is still in use as a church, though the oldest surviving parts date from the 13th century.

Æbbe was later made a saint, with a feast day of August 25. Curiously, however, what we call St Abbs today was known as Coldingham Shore until the late 19th century when the village came into the ownership of North British Distillery co-founder Andrew Usher, and the bulk of the houses circled around the harbour were only built in the 18th century. Usher funded the building of a church, a new school and a village hall (now occupied by the St Abbs Visitor Centre) and extended the outer harbour wall.

St Abbs Head is where the renowned St Abbs Lighthouse now sits. It was designed by the Stevenson brothers David and Thomas, went into service in 1862 and was commissioned by the Northern Lighthouse Board in the aftermath of the sinking of the paddle steamer Martello in November 1857 in the Outer Forth Estuary. In 1876 a siren fog signal was added, the first audible foghorn in Scotland. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1993 and is still in service, flashing white every 10 seconds to a range of 18 nautical miles.

Ships still pass heading north and south but St Abbs is also a big draw for scuba divers thanks to the preternaturally clear waters – nearby Coldingham beach is a popular attraction for the same reason – and on August 18, 1984 it became the UK’s first Voluntary Marine Reserve in a ceremony which involved the naturalist David Bellamy jumping into the sea from the harbour wall.

What to read ...

The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst tells the story of the lighthouses built by the Stevenson family, among them St Abbs Lighthouse. However you may also want to settle down in front of Avengers: Endgame, the 2019 Marvel superhero film in which St Abbs doubled for New Asgard, the home village of Thor. There’s now a tourist-friendly sign in the village declaring that St Abbs is ‘Twinned with New Asgard’. You don't need us to tell you it's perfect for selfies.