The village of St Bees is on the western coast of Cumbria, at the end of a long valley, four miles south of Whitehaven. The name is of Irish-Norse Viking origin dating back to the 10th century when a small convent was established near the headland. It has been suggested that the final outpost of the Roman defences, stretching along Hadrian's Wall and modern West Cumbria, may have ended at St Bees Head as this is where the coastline changes direction and faces modern Ireland rather than Scotland, but no evidence has been found. This may indicate that any Roman site here has vanished into the sea.
The rocky promontory of St Bees Head, the westernmost point of Cumbria, is the only area of significant cliffs between Wales and Scotland. This 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. After the arrival of the Furness Railway in 1845, this red sandstone could be exported across Cumbria.
Some old railway architecture can still be seen here including the old station building and signal box guarding the level crossing. There is a car park at the station.
There is much to be seen in this village and the surrounding area. Although somewhat off the beaten track, this has meant that St Bees enjoys the benefits of the Lake District without the crowds associated with some of the more popular areas. It has a long sandy beach and is a popular holiday resort. The village only has a population of about 1,700 but has some fine houses built by businessmen who travelled by train to Whitehaven and to the industries of West Cumbria.
St Bees Priory Church is famed for its beautiful Norman architecture but it is builton a site dating back to 650 AD. This original benedictine nunnery was destroyed by Danish Vikings in the late 9th century when they settled in this area. They gave it the name of Kirkeby Beghoc, meaning " village by the church of St Bega". One fragment of this era can be found in the south isle of the priory and that is part of an ornate cross shaft carved out of white granite.
The line passes the impressive red sandstone buildings of St. Bees School. The school dates back to Elizabethan times. The line does not follow the coast north of St Bees but takes the more direct route inland and is again only single track from St Bees to Whitehaven.
The beach is about 10-15 minutes walk from the railway station and once there, visitors can enjoy the Seacote Hotel and the Beach Tearooms and a fine childrens play area.
A cliff top path going north from St Bees takes you to Fleswick Bay, between St Bees and St Bees Head. This is the start, or end point, for Wainwright's famous Coast to Coast Walk, Click here.
South of St Bees, the coast faces the Isle of Man and Ireland, but north of the headland, the coast begings to face Scotland and the Solway Firth.
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 seen. There are observation and information points all along the headland. Click here for more.
St Bees Head and the beach at low tide. (Visit Cumbria)