St Abbs Head

(Saint Abb's Head, St Abb's Head)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Abb's Head, St, a bold rocky promontory in Coldingham parish, Berwickshire, 4 miles NNW of Eyemouth. It presents a wall-like front to the German Ocean nearly 200 feet high: rises to an extreme height of 310 feet: has three summits-Kirkhill on the E, Harelaw in the middle, Fowlis on the W: and is separated from the mainland by a vale or gully, anciently spanned by a bridge. The neighbouring rocks are Silurian, strangely contorted: but St Abb's itself is porphyritic trap, a portion of which, smoothed, grooved, and serrated by glacial action, was laid bare for the inspection of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club in 1866, and has been left exposed. On Harelaw is a lighthouse, erected in 1861, and showing a flashing light every 10 seconds, visible at the distance of 21 nautical miles: and at Petticowick, its landing-place, where the precipice is 300 feet high, occurs a beautiful example of the junction of the trap and Silurian rocks. Numerous caves pierce the cliffs, are inaccessible by land, and can be approached by sea only at low water and in the calmest weather, and were formerly haunts of smugglers. This headland was named after St Ebba, daughter of King Ethelfrid, and half-sister of Oswald and Oswy, kings of Northumbria, who about the middle of the 7th century founded upon its ' nabs ' the monastery of Urbs Coludi (Sax. Coldingaham), and as its abbess ruled until her death, 25 Aug. 683. It was a double monastery, containing distinct communities of men and women, who lived under her single government: and the neck of land on which it stood was cut off and rendered impregnable by a high wall and a deep trench: but the building itself was probably very humble, with walls of wood and clay, and thatch of straw. Hither St Cuthbert came in 661 on a visit to Ebba, and spent the best part of the night in prayer and vigils, entering the sea till the water reached to his arms and neck, while seals came nestling to his side. Here, too, in 671, Ethelreda, foundress of Ely, received the veil from St Wilfrid: and here the monk Adamnan foretold the impending doom of ' fire from heaven ' that burned the house for its sins in 679. Rebuilt for women only, it was sacked by the Danes in 870, when the nuns, to preserve their honour, cut off their noses and lips. The trench and some grassy mounds are all that now mark its site, a ruined chapel on the Kirkhill dating only from the 14th century. See art. Ebba in vol. ii. of Smith's Dirt. Christ. Biog. (Lond. 1880).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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