The village of St. Bees is on the western coast of Cumbria, at the end of a long valley, four miles south of Whitehaven. It has a long sandy beach, and is a popular holiday resort. Nearby, the rocky promontory of St Bees Head, the westernmost point of Cumbria, is the start of the ‘Coast to Coast walk’.
Cumbria’s most westerly point, it was here that St. Bega, an Irish nun, was shipwrecked in the ninth century. Legend has it that St Bega and other surviving nuns went to Lord Egremont for land to build a priory.
His response was that they could have any land that was covered by snow the next day (it was midsummer at the time). Next day land between the castle and the sea was covered in snow, and so the priory was built.
St Bees Head, a red sandstone bluff, forms one of the most dramatic natural features along the entire coast of North West England. There are four miles of towering precipitous cliffs, of ‘St Bees sandstone’, the red stone used for so many buildings in Cumbria.
A clifftop path going north from St bees takes you to Fleswick Bay, between St Bees and St Bees Head. This is the first part of the Coast to Coast Walk.
An RSPB nature reserve on the headland is home to England’s only colony of Black Guillemots. Puffins, terns and other sea birds can also be studied. There are observation and information points all along the headland.
A millenium project has been to install a new statue of St Bega arriving by boat from Ireland. The names of all villagers have been written on a scroll and this, along with other objects, have been placed in a Time Capsule which was buried under the base of the St Bega statue.
Close by the Church is St Bees School, founded in 1583 by Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of Canterbury under Elizabeth I, and son of a local farmer. The original red sandstone quadrangle bears his coat-of-arms, and the bridge he gave to the village, now a listed structure, is still in use.
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