St Abbs Head
St Abbs Head lighthouse
photos: ©

East Coast

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Update: 25-03-2024

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Bass Rock
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St Abbs Head
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Lighthouse shield

Under Construction

Place of the lighthouse

The Lighthouse

St Abb's Head is a rocky promontory by the village of St Abbs in Berwickshire, Scotland, and a national nature reserve administered by the National Trust of Scotland.

A signal station was established on the cliffs before 1820 and the facilities were shared by Trinity House and Her Majesty's Coastguard. The Northern Lighthouse Board recommended the building of a lighthouse at St Abb's Head after the sinking of the "Martello" on Carr Rock in 1857. The lighthouse was designed and built by the brothers David Stevenson and Thomas Stevenson and assisted navigation before and after sight of the Bell Rock and Isle of May lights disappeared from view.

The light began service on 24 February 1862 and initially used oil to generate its light, it was converted to incandescent power in 1906 and to electricity in 1966 and finally automated in 1993.

Entrance of the Keepershouse

Before automation the lighthouse was staffed by three full-time keepers whose duties included keeping detailed weather records. The lighthouse has two km of single track tarmaced road leading to it from the main road near St Abbs village, however it is suggested by the National Trust of Scotland that it is only used by disabled visitors and there is limited parking. Visitors can walk to the Head where the lighthouse's buildings, though still in good repair, are not open to the public.

In 1876 St. Abb’s Head lighthouse was chosen to pioneer the first fog signal to be install at a Scottish lighthouse. An engine house was built at the top of the cliff alongside the keeper’s cottages to house the engines used to produce the compressed air need to run the siren. The horn, siren and equipment used to regulate the timing of the signal was place in a second smaller building locate below the lighthouse. The fog signal was originally powered by hot air engine these were replaced by oil driven ones in 1911 and by diesel engines in December 1955. Finally in 1987, due to the cost and fact that most craft were now fitted with radar, the fog signal sounded for the last time.

While everyone is aware that lighthouses flash, this character is not caused by the lamp, which burns continuously, but by the rotation of a set of lenses that surround the lamp. These lenses concentrate the lamp’s light into several narrow and powerful beams. The mechanism to power the rotation of the lenses was originally clockwork, thus every few hours a keeper would have to wind up the mechanism, a job which could take over 30 minutes. Any keeper who forgot to rewind the mechanism could face instant dismissal; for if the lenses stopped turning the lighthouse would display an incorrect pattern of flashes, and become nearly useless as a navigational aid.

St Abb's Head was the communication control station for the Firth of Forth lighthouses and also monitors Fidra.

An experimental Radar Beacon (Radar Beacon) was established in 1961 and finally established on a permanent basis in March 1968. This had now been replaced by a low-power self-operating type.

Banks of batteries, halon fire extinguishers and racks of electrical control and communications equipment were installed in the old engine house. In the lantern room arrays of sensors were fitted around the large electrical light bulb to constantly measure its brightness, so that if or when it blows, a second bulb can swing in immediately to replace it. The status of all this equipment is constantly transmitted the 40 miles to the Head Quarters of the Northern Lighthouse Board in Edinburgh. Behind the Georgian facade of that building in a control room manned 24 hours a day, the status of every lighthouse in Scotland, including St. Abb’s Head is closely monitored.

All the equipment guarantees the constancy of the light. But apart from the occasional visit by a service engineer, to check and maintain the equipment, the lighthouse is now is sadly deserted. The keeper’s cottages have become holiday homes and the weather station was dismantled. We can now only reminisce about the lost lifestyle of the lighthouse keeper.

The 100 meters cliff at St Abb's Head is often obscured by fog and the light is shown at 77 meters from a lantern reached by a flight of steps leading down the cliff from the lightkeepers' house above.

St Abb’s Head Lighthouse was automated in 1993.

It should be noted that at some sites the Northern Lighthouse Board have sold some redundant buildings within the lighthouse complex and are not responsible for the maintenance of these building.

The lighthouse tower is listed as a building of Architectural/Historic interest.

St. Abbs Head


Character: Fl W 10s 68m 18M
(fl. 0.3s - ec. 9.7s)

St Abbs Head lighthouse
Lightcharacter of St Abbs Head (click to enlarge)
Engineers: David Lillie Stevenson (1815-1886)
: Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)

Lat, Lon: 55°54.966' N, 002°08.317' W

Established: February 24, 1862
Character: Flashing White every 10 secs.
Range: 18 NM ~ 33.3 km
Elevation: 68 meters above sealevel
Tower: 9 meters
Init. Costs: £ ?.
Econ. Costs*: £ ?.
*) According to:

Automated: March 31, 1993
Last Keepers: J. Muir - PLK
: J. Crowe - ALK
: ? - ALK
Fog horn: 1876 - 1987, 1 blast every 45s.
: First siren in Scotland
: Discontinued 14/08/1987
RACON: T(--)18M

Status: Operationel
Authority: Northern Lighthouse Board
Remarks: Candle power 200.000 cd
: Cat.B - LB4103 - 09/06/1971

St. Abbs Head lighthouse
St. Abbs Head at sunset

St. Abbs Head lighthouse
St. Abbs Head with foghorn in the front

St. Abbs Head lighthouse
St. Abbs Head with RMS Mauretania (1906)

St Abbs Head - drone flight- Cinematic Wedding