The story of St Abbs is closely tied to that of its inland neighbour, Coldingham. The village of St Abbs itself only developed from 1833 after the Edinburgh brewing company Ushers invested in a fishing station here. The harbour was built a mile south of St Abbs Head in a rocky bay previously known as Coldingham Shore.
The name of St Abbs is much older then the village that bears it. In 635 a Northumbrian Princess called Aebbe founded a monastery close to St Abbs Head. She later became a Saint, St Aebbe. St Abbs is simply the name by which St Aebbe is remembered.
One story suggests that the nuns used to bathe in the sea in the bay now occupied by St Abbs harbour, their modesty protected by a wheeled device that allowed them to enter and leave the sea unobserved. Or perhaps not: there were reports of disorderly behavior amongst the nuns and monks at the monastery leading, many felt at the time, to the fire which burned it down in 683.
By the mid 1800s St Abbs had become a busy fishing harbour. It must have taken great imagination and faith to build a harbour here at all, for it is built between sharp black rocks and projects beyond them to provide a secure entrance to its haven. The main building in the harbour itself is the lifeboat station, which was first established here in 1911.
Though small, there are two distinct parts to the village of St Abbs which grew up around the harbour. The harbour itself and the lower part of the village forms one. Here you can wander the quays and watch the boats, the divers (humans and birds) who frequent the harbour, or simply the sea and the surrounding rocks. Indeed, visit St Abbs on a summer weekend and you find a real playground for those intent on enjoying the sea.
The harbour is home to many dive boats catering for the scuba divers who flock here: and those not diving from boats do so from the rocks outside the harbour itself. But not everyone is dressed in rubber. St Abbs harbour is also very popular with yachtspeople and fishermen, again both in boats and on the many rocks in the area.
The lower village is overlooked from the cliffs by lines of what were originally fishermen's cottages running parallel to the cliff edge, rounded off to the south by the attractive white-harled Castle Rock Guest House. The other end of the upper part of the village concludes with the church and a large stone mansion enjoying superb clifftop views.
St Abbs Head is the point at which a coastline which has headed generally northwards from The Wash turns to head west into the Firth of Forth. In 1862 it acquired a lighthouse built by David & Thomas Stevenson. This was built, unusually, below the highest part of the headland.
Three miles west of St Abbs Head itself is Fast Castle. All that remains today are the ruins of a castle built in the 1500s, on the site of one that dated back to the 1300s. It stands on a headland of rocks surrounded on all sides by cliffs. It was once accessed only via a drawbridge over a 6m wide chasm dropping directly to the rocks below.