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The 'wedding cake' in the sea

Updated on February 9, 2017

The Bass Rock

The Bass Rock lies just over a mile offshore and three miles to the north east of North Berwick. It glistens in the sunshine like a giant icing covered wedding cake sitting in the waters of the Firth of Forth.

Famed for its lighthouse it was once an island retreat for early Christian hermits and with the remains of a castle dating back to the middle ages, it was also used as a convenient prison for the internment of political prisoners or 'Covenanters' in the late 17th century.

Now the island is home to seabirds, 150,000 gannets and the largest single rock gannetry in the world. From April until the end of September, weather conditions permitting, boat trips from North Berwick harbour make the short trip to view the seabird and seal colonies. A nice excursion and well worth making, the trips aboard the Sula II are particularly good and informative. Expect prices in the region of £14 for adults with concessions for children and family groups.

North Berwick and the Bass Rock

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Bass Rock, United Kingdom
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North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

North Berwick, not to be confused with the border town of Berwick upon Tweed some 40 miles away, lies on the southeast coast of Scotland where the Firth of Forth meets the North Sea. It is just over 25 miles south of Edinburgh and stands on a beautiful stretch of coastline often ignored by visitors and tourists to Scotland as they rush further northwards.

North Berwick is a popular and picturesque seaside resort and makes a perfect base for exploring and enjoying all the area has to offer. Two sandy bays stretch away from a central rocky promontory which protects the town's old stone harbour and for visitors and holiday makers of all ages there is something to please.

The town

A brief history

There is evidence of early settlements in the area dating back 2000 years ago and the documented history of this Royal Burgh can be traced back to the middle ages. From the 12th century the harbour served as a crossing point to ferry pilgrims across the Forth to Fife on their pigrimage north to the town of St Andrews. Standing on the promontory and behind the harbour are the ruins of North Berwick's oldest building and probably all that is left of this religious link to the past, the remains of St Andrew's Old Kirk, most of which was swept away by a storm in 1656.

With the ruined castles of Tantallon and Dirleton a few miles along the coast, the infamous North Berwick Witch Trials of the 16th century and the nearby Bass Rock used to imprison religious and political prisoners the history of the area is rich and at times bloody.

In the latter half of the 19th century North Berwick grew as a fashionable Victorian resort and many grand imposing Victorian houses were built around the two bays and harbour.

Today the town's main streets and High Street are lined with a good selection of interesting shops and galleries, cafes and restaurants, and buildings both old and new. Accommodation to suit all tastes and pockets is readily available from first class hotels and guest houses to bed and breakfast establishments, self catering and camping and caravan sites.

The Scottish Seabird Centre

Gannets, gulls and puffins

Behind and above the old harbour and near to the old kirk stands North Berwick's newest attraction, the Scottish Seabird Centre. Housed in a modern purpose built building with a gift shop and restaurant, this award winning wildlife attraction offers something for everyone. There are cameras showing live pictures from bird colonies on the nearby Bass Rock and Fidra. The area is famed for the abundance of seabirds, in particular puffins and gannets, which the naturalist Sir David Attenborough describes as one of the "Twelve wildlife wonders of the world".

The Seabird Centre is open every day from 10am until 6pm April to September, closing earlier during the winter months. Admission prices (including a voluntary donation) are around £10.00 for adults with concessions for children, family groups etc.

See link below for more information.

North Berwick Law

A well known landmark a mile to the south of the town is North Berwick Law. This steep hill or more accurately volcanic plug of rock rises to a height of 613 feet and makes an ideal spot from which to view the town and surrounding area. On the summit are the ruins of a watch tower used as a lookout during the Napoleonic wars. An archway made from a whale's jawbone has stood at the summit since the early 1700s (though it was recently replaced by a fibreglass one)

North Berwick, East Lothian

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The Bass RockSeabirdsThe Bass Rock and lighthouseSunrise over the Bass RockSeabirds
The Bass Rock
The Bass Rock
The Bass Rock and lighthouse
The Bass Rock and lighthouse
Sunrise over the Bass Rock
Sunrise over the Bass Rock

Activities in North Berwick and further afield

The golf enthusiast is well catered for and there are a number of nearby courses both in and around North Berwick, including the famous Muirfield a few miles along the coast at Gullane. For those who like walking there are many pleasant walks in the nearby countryside or along the areas sandy bays and rocky coastline.

Venture a little further afield and you can visit the ruins of Tantallon Castle, the Museum of Flight at East Fortune and a large display of aircraft, or meander through the delightful coastal villages of Dirleton, Gullane and Aberlady.

About the author

Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.

Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.

His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket.

What's your North Berwick experience?

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      What an awe inspiring place. Beautiful.