St Abb’s Head


Countryfile Magazine - - Great Days Out -

Rau­cous colonies, se­abird an­cient grass­land rich in rare plants and but­ter­flies, a shel­tered fresh­wa­ter lake with wild­fowl and drag­on­flies – there’s so much to dis­cover at St Abb’s Head.

Win­ter light can be great for pho­tog­ra­phy, high­light­ing the con­trast be­tween the penin­sula’s red rock and the stormy North Sea, yet it feels eerily empty with­out the seabirds. By early sum­mer, how­ever, they are back in force and the head­land is throb­bing with life. May is an ideal time for pho­tograph­ing the spec­tac­u­lar vis­tas and del­i­cate de­tails.


Start and fin­ish at the Na­tional Trust for Scot­land vis­i­tor cen­tre just west of the fish­ing vil­lage of St Abbs. Walk down the road, turn left and fol­low the path through de­cid­u­ous wood­land up to a viewpoint.


Here you will gain your first sight of the se­abird city. Pause to take in the head­land cov­ered with kit­ti­wakes, ful­mars and guille­mots. Then take the path head­ing north, climb­ing grad­u­ally up­hill to­wards the light­house and foghorn of St Abb’s Head.


It’s hard to take your eyes off the seascape to the right, but the grass­land at your feet is an­cient, unim­proved and ex­cep­tion­ally rich in plant and in­sect life. Look out for the nest-mounds of yel­low meadow ants, flowers of pur­ple milk vetch and, by late May, the lit­tle white stars of sea sand­wort. The pink splashes of thrift are very pho­to­genic against a back­drop of blue sea.


Be­yond the light­house, the cliffs form an am­phithe­atre and the noise of thou­sands of screech­ing seabirds hits you like a phys­i­cal force. The kit­ti­wakes are par­tic­u­larly loud. The re­mains of vol­canic erup­tions form enor­mous offshore rock stacks, their tops packed tight with guille­mots. Look closely and you’ll see ra­zor­bills among them. On windy days, ful­mars hang in the air like kestrels. This is the place to pho­to­graph seabirds. They aren’t as ac­ces­si­ble as on the Farne Islands, but the grandeur of the set­ting shows the birds in con­text. Stay as long as you need to catch ev­ery avail­able light.


Head down­hill to the old jetty at the shore­line. At low tide, vast kelp beds are re­vealed, their fronds the per­fect har­bour for marine an­i­mals. The cliffs stretch on and on, full of wild prom­ise that in­spires ex­plo­ration. But for now, head south to Mire Loch, stop­ping to smell the wild thyme and wood sage, and keep­ing an eye out for signs of ot­ters and bad­gers.


Fol­low the path along the eastern side of the loch. There’s a sense of tran­quil­lity here, en­hanced by the songs of war­blers and the scent of gorse. A world away from the noisy clifftops, it’s a place for close-ups: cowslips, early pur­ple orchids, maybe a stonechat or green-veined white but­ter­fly rest­ing on a cuckoo flower. Later in the sum­mer, the rare northern brown ar­gus but­ter­fly feeds on abun­dant rock rose. It’s one of the many rea­sons to re­turn, as you fol­low the path up­hill, then back along the road to the vis­i­tor cen­tre and tea room.

“This pic­ture was taken in May, early in the breed­ing sea­son. After a pe­riod of court­ing, the pair of ful­mars set­tled on a shel­tered ledge on the sea cliff”

Lau­rie Camp­bell has ded­i­cated over 35 years to pho­tograph­ing the Scot­tish landscape.

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