If you want a dramatic coastline, the St Abb’s Head reserve in the Scottish Borders is a great location, as Jon Gibbs explains.
St Abb’s Head is a rocky promontory in the Scottish Borders. It is a national nature reserve that is managed by the National Trust for Scotland. With its stunning cliff-top vistas, impressive geological features and beautiful bays, populated with sea stacks sitting in an azure-toned sea, it is sheer heaven for the coastal photographer and you will be spoilt for choice. If your interests also include wildlife, the reserve will not disappoint. Seabirds are in abundance, with huge colonies of kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills.
St Abb’s is easy to get to, with a turning off the A1 approximately ten miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Just before you get to the village of St Abb’s there is an area where you can park your car, although this will involve a long walk to the reserve – so be warned! Alternatively, take the small private road to the reserve itself, which is fine to use, and park at the top of the cliffs.
On the way to the cliff car park you pass Pettico Wick, a small bay that is well worth stopping off to photograph. It has an old pier and sea stack with stunning views along the cliffs of the coast, just north of the reserve.
If you park at the top of the cliffs you’re then spoilt for choice. Walk either way over the undulating, but not too steep terrain, and you will find many possibilities and viewpoints. Be extra careful on the cliff edges, though, and only shoot from a safe and secure vantage point, of which there are plenty.
Time to visit
I would suggest that St Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve is an all-year-round destination for photographers. I find that the dramatic winter weather suits the location perfectly, but there are also many possibilities for more subtle work, such as studies of the geology or long-exposures. Early summer brings thrift to the cliff edges, so combine their pink hues with the beautiful colour of the sea for stunning vistas.
I think the best shooting location is Horsecastle Bay, which is an array of wonderfully jagged cliffs and sea stacks located about a 20-minute walk from the car park heading in the direction of St Abb’s village. The real beauty of this nature reserve is its wealth of possibilities,
Any time of day would be fine to shoot, as you have so many different viewpoints in all directions, so it’s perfect from dawn to sunset, but check the position of the sun first.
I find an all-purpose wideangle zoom more than suitable for most of the images, although it would also be worth taking a 70-200mm to shoot along the cliffs and compress all their wonderful shapes.
Food and lodging
There are a couple of cafés in St Abb’s village itself, but there are more facilities and a couple of pubs if you fancy a meal in nearby Coldingham, which is a short drive (or walk along the coast, if you’re feeling energetic). Lodging in Coldingham ranges from B&Bs to small hotels, but for a wider choice you might well consider basing yourself in Berwick-upon-Tweed, which also has a handy Travelodge located just off the A1.
Torch or head torch
Lee Filters Big or Little Stopper
These filters are great to use in images where there are cliffs and sea stacks. The softness of smoothed-out water is a great contrast to the jagged rock in your composition.
Try to hang something from the tripod centre column on a bungee cord to reduce the possibility of camera shake as the cliffs can be very windy. It may be worth considering tripod spikes for extra stability.