Saturday, 3 May 2014

Geology, Ornithology and the ghost of a Doxology
..............................................May 2nd
Today's outing is to St. Abb's Head, north of the border in the soon to be independent Scotland, possibly, if Alex Salmond has his way. St. Abbs is a volcanic headland, laid on sedimentary  greywacke  and siltstone, with a volcanic intrusion only 400 million years ago,  he said, wearing the leather patched sports jacket. (Of course I looked it up although I once went to a series of geology lectures with my dad and I have read Teach yourself Geology).
It is named for St. Abba who was the daughter of and sister of a family of Saxon kings in the seventh century. They kept losing the throne, getting it back, so she was exiled, returned, exiled, returned, no wonder she became a nun. Like many another early female saints she joined the church to keep away from suitors. In her case she first founded a monastery at Ebchester (see To the Boathouse by North Carolina Foxx 16/11/2012)  in County Durham before moving up to St. Abbs in 643 AD and forming a mixed monastery on Kirk Hill. Later it was absorbed into Coldingham Priory nearby. Her name should be written with a conjoined ae  which is an Old English letter called an ash  but I don't know  where to find one on the computer.
St. Abb's is also known for seabirds and seals so the bird watchers among us are having another twitchers trip, should be good for photographs too.
To get there take the A1 north, cross the border beyond Berwick and watch out for signposts on the right, take the A1107 for Eyemouth, drive to Coldingham and look for signs pointing to Coldingham Bay and YHA.  There is a car park near the sea, opposite the St. Vega hotel and surfers bar, and it's free! The walk is covered by OS Landranger 67, Duns, Dunbar and Eyemouth.
There are five out today, Ben, Dave, John, Harry and me, the weatherman says fine but cold, right so far, blue skies, blue seas. The car park is at NT915685.

                                     The car park photo is becoming a sort of comfort blanket.
The walk:
   On the seaward side of the St. Vega Hotel a footpath took us on low cliffs above Collingham Bay, past some rather fine houses to the fishing village of St.Abbs.  The harbour is fairly massive and complex for such a small village. The quaysides were lined with lobster pots and, as the tide,  was out several boats lay stranded on the mud.
A film crew were talking to several policemen; it turned out they were preparing a piece for local TV news advising people not to Drink and Dive. St. Abbs is a popular site for divers, and drinkers, although we couldn't spot a pub near the harbour. No fatalities yet but several near misses apparently.
The inner harbour at St. Abbs, and a leg.

Launching the inshore lifeboat, for the benefit of the film crew who are just out of picture on the right.

                                                   Returning to base after practice. Looked fun.
Strangely the TV people did not seem at all interested in five gadgies so we climbed the wooden steps at the end of the harbour and came out near the Information Centre where a very helpful lady told us what birds we could expect to see on our walk and showed us a board displaying the variety that had already been reported that day.
Walking past the School Cafe and the gates of a large house, Northfield House. On the gates it has a carving of St. Abbe herself. The house was built by the Laird of Northfield who also had the original name of the village, Collingham Shore, changed to St. Abbs at the back end of the 19th century. Lairds had power then. I could not find what the house is used for now.
Just beyond the house the footpath on the right runs alongside a high stone wall towards St. Abbs Head itself. An information board bid us welcome.
                               Welcome to St. Abbs, but take care.
  The path is easy to follow but is on the edge of some high and steep cliffs, not suitable for free range small children, or dogs. It wanders round Starney Bay, Wuddy Rocks and dips down to Horsecastle Rocks before reaching a gate at the foot of the head.
                                                Just one of many rocky bits of St. Abbs.
              Once through the gate we headed straight up the steep side of the head  emerging near Kirk Hill, the site of St. Abbe's monastery/nunnery. Nothing remains but the outlines of church and a few buildings... We continued in the warm sunlight to the lighthouse where we called a Herbie Spot.

      The light and the foghorn.  The light is still used but automated now. The foghorn was originally operated by a "hot air engine". Distinct from internal combustion or steam engines the hot air relies on the expansion and contraction of air under temperature change converting thermal energy to mechanical energy, just as you thought.
        No longer manned, the keepers' house is now privately owned. To the left, but out of sight is a massive walled garden for the men to grow their own.
   Like five little Jack Horners we sat in a corner out of the breeze but in the sun and ate our usual high calorie lunch of sandwiches, Ben's ginger biscuits, Hobnobs, Bakewell slices and Bramley Apple and Blackcurrant pies. We watched groups of gannets quartering the sea, looking unsuccessfully for shoals of herring, or any other fish.  On a series of ledges in the cliffs below were thousands of guillemots and kittiwakes. A bird of prey flashed by, we thought it was a Merlin, nobody got a good view, but the lady in the  Information Centre told us when we called in again later, that it was probably a peregrine.
  Lunch over we wandered the edges of the head past Nunnery Point, Hopes Heugh and Skelly Hole before descending to Pettico Wick, a small inlet with an old landing stage and a Geology lesson.
                                                      Volcanic at Pettico Wick

                                 Sedimentary layers at Pettico Wick.
 From the inlet we made our way along the east side of Mire Loch. At one end a pair of swans had a nest and as one did the incubating bit the other patrolled the water. Eider Ducks, coots and moorhens were also on the lake and tufted ducks. The side of the head was covered in bright gorse.

                                                      Mire Loch
                                                      Gorse lined slope
                                                           and Celandines too.
At the end of the loch we rejoined the footpath at the foot of the head and returned to St. Abbs.
On the way home we stopped at The Ridley Arms, Stannington, very busy but with several beers. I was driver today and not interested.
The walk was much shorter than our usual excursion but everyone enjoyed it. It had all the ingredients of a good gadgie day out; good company, blue skies, sunshine but not too hot and lots to see. I recommend St. Abbs and its Nationa Nature Reserve.

The Matrix MMXIVP
                                                                       steps                                miles
Dave's 3D                                                   10963                                    5.2
USB                                                            14029                                    7.3
My 3D                                                         16992                                    7.9
ASDA MINI                                                 25673                                   12.06 (forgot to reset from
                                                                                                                                            last week)
Garmin                                                                                                      5.99
Ben;s Bragomete                                                                                        5.8
187 gadgie miles
A  list of birds spotted:
 Fulmars, Gannets, Guillemots, Peregrine(?) Rock Pippets, LinnetsWheatear, Swans, Coots, Moorhens Kittiwakesw, Herring Gulls, Swallows, Martins.
But for the way they combed the water I award the bird of the blog to:
                                                               the gannet.
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