The Magnificent St Abbs Head Walk: Berwickshire's Coastal Gem

The Magnificent St Abbs Head Walk

7 March 2024

The Magnificent St Abbs Head Walk: Everything You Need To Know

Mar 7, 2024 | Scotland | 2 comments

The Berwickshire coast is one of those under-the-radar regions that visitors to Scotland tend to bypass in favour of the bright lights of Edinburgh, Glasgow or Stirling. And, of course, the glorious Highlands. But the coastline between Cockburnspath and Berwick-upon-Tweed, just across the border in England, is a 29-mile stretch filled with wildlife, dramatic coastal scenery and beautiful hikes. Not to mention lovely places to eat fresh seafood from the North Sea.

Perhaps the jewel in its hiking crown, though, is the St Abbs Head walk, just north of the tiny fishing village of St Abbs. As part of the Berwickshire Coastal Path, it’s a two-hour-or-so ramble along cliff edges overlooking bizarre rock formations, sea stacks and nesting seabirds (including puffins during late spring and summer), before looping back via a small loch.

Suffice to say, we loved it. And you will, too.

So here’s everything you need to know when planning your visit.

A coastal village beside cliffs

St Abbs

Table of Contents

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About St Abbs

St Abbs is a quaint Scottish fishing village, named after the 7th Century saint, Æbbe of Coldingham, who founded a monastery on nearby St Abbs Head.

For generations, its main livelihood has been fishing and (latterly) scuba diving. Something that Nicky is familiar with as she completed her sea dives here when she was 14, as part of her British Sub Aqua Club diving certification. Indeed, the combination of warm and cold currents in the waters surrounding the village makes for particularly good visibility and a unique combination of cold Arctic fish and tropical corals.

Most recently, the village served as the location for the fictional town of New Asgard in the 2019 movie, Avengers: Endgame (clip here). There’s even a road sign declaring that the two are “twinned”.

And it was used as a backdrop for the Harry Styles music video, Adore You.

Stone cottages lead down to a harbour

Fishermen’s cottages overlooking St Abbs Harbour

The village

St Abbs is very much a working fishing village with a lovely old harbour at the centre of daily life. As can be seen by the dozens of crab and lobster pots haphazardly stacked along the quayside, together with a community-funded lifeboat station.

Cottages line the streets to the left and right of the harbour. Although many of these are now holiday lets, which come into their own during the spring and summer season.

To be honest, other than strolling around the harbour, picking up some information from the Visitor Centre or stopping for a crab sandwich at Ebbcarrs Cafe, there’s not much else to see. But that’s not the point. The real treasures are along the coastline and under the waves – either on foot, on a boat or in a dry suit.

However, if you want to experience the aura of an authentic Scottish fishing village, there’s arguably nowhere better in southeast Scotland than St Abbs.

Crab and lobster pots stacked in a harbour

Crab and lobster pots

The St Abbs Head walk

This is a walk that’s worth doing at different times of the year as the landscape and visiting wildlife change dramatically as the seasons progress. That’s because you’ll pass through the St Abbs Head National Nature Reserve, replete with the kaleidoscopic carpeting of wildflowers such as purple milk vetch, rock rose, sea pinks and wild thyme.

Meanwhile, the cliffs and off-shore stacks provide shelter and safety for a variety of nesting birds – including puffins, gannets and guillemots. And there are thousands of them in season (late spring and summer).

There are a few options for completing the loop walk, which begins and ends at the National Trust car park, just outside the village. We chose to head straight out towards the cliffs, which we followed past St Abbs Lighthouse to Pettico Wick Harbour and then looped back via Mire Loch.

As soon as the trail reaches the coastline at Starney Bay, the jagged cliffs and rock formations take centre stage. Especially those at White Heugh where the rock has been sculptured by the weather into what looks like the turrets of a long-abandoned castle.

Nicky stands (looking away) on a footpath beside coastal cliffs

Heading out towards Horncastle Bay

A short spurt inland soon arrives back at the cliffs of Horncastle Bay. It’s worth lingering here to explore the narrow fingers of headland that stretch out into the bay. And offshore, dramatic sandstone stacks, splash-painted with yellow moss, are littered with noisy gannets.

Coastal Cliffs covered in yellow moss

Moss-covered cliffs plunge into the North Sea

Coastal Cliffs with seagulls perched

Sandstone stacks and ridges in the bay

Keeping to the path nearest the cliffs, the route then passes through Kirk Hill – the site of St Æbbe’s former monastery – before arriving at the whitewashed St Abbs Lighthouse, complete with its separate foghorn. The lighthouse was built in the aftermath of the sinking of the Martello steamship at Carr Rock in 1857 (which, incidentally, also contributed to the introduction of the lifeboat service).

Disappointingly for lighthouse fans, you can’t go inside. However, you can still get your fix by staying overnight in one of the Lighthouse Keepers’ Cottages behind it.

A short lighthouse built into the rock face with separate building for its horn

St Abbs Head lighthouse

Beyond, the view suddenly opens up to a fabulous panorama of the coastline heading north, where the Berwickshire Coastal Path hugs 150 metre (500 foot) cliffs while it passes by iron age forts and a medieval castle. It’s a stunner, for sure.

From there, an access road leads downhill to Petticoe Wick Harbour. Instead, we’d recommend continuing along the headland, largely because you might not want to pass up on that view just yet. And there are further coves to explore, too.

Looking over a grassy clifftop into a rocky bay below
A rocky bay surrounded by yellow moss-covered cliffs
View of coastal cliffs stretching away into the distance

A superb view of the coastal cliffs heading north

Best of all, the section ends on a hillside overlooking Petticoe Wick Harbour with, if anything, even better views of the cliffs to the north. And, to the left, a glimpse of Mire Loch signposts your route back to St Abbs. If you’re taking a picnic, this is the spot to have it.

Looking down at the bay, the exposed rock seems twisted, layered and tilted. But we clearly weren’t the first to notice. Back in the 18th century, one James Hutton (aka The Father of Modern Geology) noticed it, too, at nearby Siccar Point. And he used it as conclusive proof of his theory of uniformitarianism – which, among other things, dated the Earth to over 5 billion years ago rather than just a few thousand, as was commonly thought.

Getting down to the harbour from there is via a steep, narrow and rocky path. So if that’s a deal breaker for you then opt for the road down from the lighthouse instead.

The bay itself is gorgeous but has a somewhat murky past as it was a favourite entry point for Scottish smugglers. Although nowadays its main benefactors are scuba divers eager to explore the offshore Marine Reserve and several shipwrecks in the area. Dolphins and porpoises have been known to visit here, too.

The pier, by the way, was once used to deliver supplies to the lighthouse.

A bay with a shingle beach and disused pier

Petticoe Wick Harbour

A disused harbour pier disappears into the sea

A closer look at the pier, Petticoe Wick Harbour

From the bay, the lighthouse access road continues back uphill to the National Trust car park. Instead, cross the road and walk along the footpath towards the reeds at the head of the loch.

The footpath runs the length of the loch, where you then have the option to turn right and meet the access road back to the car park. Or you can do what we did by turning left and meeting back up with the footpath near Horncastle Bay.

A loch stretched away behind the hillside

View of Mire Loch from the hill above Petticoe Wick Harbour

Reeds in the foreground and a rocky hillside in the background

Reeds beside Mire Loch

One of the advantages of taking this route back is that you’ll now have St Abbs in front of you. And what a view it is. Especially when framed behind the jagged turrets of White Heugh.

Indeed, it’s a perfect way to end a hike through some of southeast Scotland’s most glorious coastline.

Rock formations in the foreground and a coastal village in the background

View of St Abbs from the headland

A coastal village seen behind rock formations

A closer view of St Abbs from White Heugh

How to get there

St Abbs is about an hour’s drive from Edinburgh in the north or just twenty minutes from Berwick-upon-Tweed to the south. Parking can be difficult during the peak season as the only available spaces are in the small car park down at the harbour or the National Trust car park at the head of the trail (£3 or free for National Trust members).

The #235 bus service (Borders Buses) from Berwick-upon-Tweed operates several times per day and takes about 40 minutes. If you’re travelling from Edinburgh, Newcastle or Glasgow you’ll need to take the train to Berwick and connect with the bus from there.

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Interested in housesitting while you travel?

We were housesitting in Scotland during our visit to St Abbs. If you’re interested in doing the same, you might want to consider joining Trusted Housesitters – the world’s largest housesitting platform. And you can do so with a special 25% discount off your first year’s subscription through our link below.

When to go

This may well depend on what you want to see.

Weather-wise, it’s a mixed bag. The Scottish winters can be cold, wet, windy and thoroughly miserable. Yet they can also produce crisp, sunny, clear days with fantastic visibility. Hiking the trail at this time of the year would also mean avoiding the peak season crowds. And, if you go during late November and December, you’ll have the chance to see baby seals at Petticoe Wick.

The late spring and summer months bring the best of the wildlife, wildflowers and the warmest temperatures. And, thankfully, this part of the country doesn’t suffer as much from the armies of Scotland’s notorious midges that plague the west coast.

Nicky looks out over a bay with cliffs that stretch into the distance

Final thoughts

The whole trip, to and from the car park, takes two to three hours, depending on how long you want to linger. It never gets too strenuous, although there are a couple of steeper climbs on the way out. And there’s such a variety of things to see, it’s a walk we’d happily do again at different times of the day and at different times of the year. 

Happily, we’ll be back again this autumn so we’ll update this article then.

If you have more time available, the gorgeous coastline to the north and south of St Abbs is also waiting to be explored. Including the deserted beaches, castles, ancient priories and fishing villages of England’s Northumberland coast.

Route Map for the St Abbs Head Walk

St Abbs


What is St Abbs famous for?

St Abbs is famous for its dramatic cliffs and nature reserve, where thousands of seabirds can be seen nesting. It’s also a popular scuba diving site and has a prominent position on the Berwickshire Coastal Path.

Is St Abbs Head parking free?

There are two car parks – one down at the harbour (2024: £1 per hour, or £7 for 6 hours) and one owned by the National Trust just outside the village (2024: £3 for the day, or free with a National Trust membership).

Should I book ahead for St Abbs accommodation

There’s limited accommodation in the village so, yes, especially during the late-spring and summer. For better access to restaurants and other facilities, another option would be to stay in nearby Eyemouth (where you can also enjoy fantastic local seafood).

What did you think? Do you have any thoughts on the St Abbs Head walk? Or perhaps you’re planning to visit soon? Either way, we’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.

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St Abbs is a haven for lovers of diving, fresh crab sandwiches and spectacular clifftop walks. Not to mention puffins on the lovely St Abbs Head walk
St Abbs is a haven for lovers of diving, fresh crab sandwiches and spectacular clifftop walks. Not to mention puffins on the lovely St Abbs Head walk

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Ian and Nicky New Zealand

Hi, we're Ian and Nicky, an English couple on a voyage of discovery around the world, and this blog is designed to reflect what we see, think and do. Actually, we'd like to think it also provides information, entertainment and inspiration for other “mature” travellers, too. So please feel free to pour yourself a glass of something suitably chilled and take a look around.


  1. Charles McCool

    Looks like a gorgeous coastal walk. Beautiful scenes.


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