North Berwick – A Grand Day Out from Edinburgh

Having spent two days in Edinburgh, we decided to take a trip to the seaside for our last day in Scotland.

North Berwick is about 25 mile east of Edinburgh on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth. It takes about half an hour on the train (£6.10 return) passing through the town of Prestonpans, site of the first Jacobite battle victory in  1745, on the way.

North Berwick’s two beaches ensured that it became a popular seaside resort for the citizens of Edinburgh in the 19th century. One famous holiday maker was Robert Louis Stevenson, who’s father designed the lighthouse on the nearby island of Fidra, said to be the inspiration for Treasure Island. North Berwick was also the site of the infamous witch trials that inspired Robert Burns to write Tam o’ Shanter.

The first thing that strikes you when you leave the rather beautifully kept station is the whale jawbone arch, by the remains of the Napoleonic signal post on the top of the 613 foot high North Berwick Law.

North Berwick Law

This is not what it seems as the original collapsed in 2005 to be replaced by a fibre-glass replica in 2008.

Down on the beach I spied a pair of eider duck out a sea, the water was very choppy so this was about as good a shot as I could get.

Eider duck

From the beach you can see the islands of Bass Rock and Fidra.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock looks as if it should be made of chalk, but that white stuff is 150,000 gannets and their poo. On our previous visit, back in 2010, I took an excursion by RIB boat (£22 from the Scottish Seabird Centre,  tel; 01620 890202) out to Fidra and Bass Rock to see the gannets and other wildlife up close. It was brilliant and I was lucky enough to see seals, eider ducks and puffins at Fidra

Seals and eider duck Fidra

While by Bass Rock we were plunged into a maelstrom of “chumming” gannets diving into the sea at 100kph in search of sand eels, they are big birds with a wingspan of about two metres so it’s quite spectacular. Meanwhile the noise from the nesting birds on the rock was incredible.

Gannets, Bass Rock

We also saw guillemots, razorbills, fulmar and the cormorant’s comically named relative the shag, as well as the remains of the military post, prison and lighthouse.

Guillemots at Bass Rock

The fort on Bass Rock was the last part of the UK to hold out for James II against William III and it was later used as a prison for Jacobite rebels as mentioned in Stevenson’s novel Catriona. The prison later formed the foundation of the Bass Rock Lighthouse that was designed by Stevenson’s cousin David Allan Stevenson.

Before venturing on the beach we had a very good lunch at the Ship Inn (7-9 Quality Street; 08721 077077). Sadly no specials were on Saturday (on our visit last year I had an excellent pan fried pigeon breast on home made rosti). However the home made beefburger and chunky chips were exceptionally good, not to mention filling. According to my companions, the fish cakes, soups and beer battered haddock are also very good. This is a great gastro boozer with a friendly atmosphere, chefs in whites and a wide choice of beers and lagers. March of the Penguins, a deep brown chocolaty ale is my recommendation.

What’s the damage? beer and a burger about £10.

All in, it was a nice relaxing day out.

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