North Berwick – on the beach…


Yesterday we took advantage of the sunshine – even though there was no thaw in sight – and travelled north for just under an hour to North Berwick in East Lothian.  No snow here but it was freezing cold…..bracing is the word!

Sometimes we catch the bus from North Berwick to Aberlady, a beautiful village on the Firth of Forth with excellent bird watching.  Then we walk back across golf courses and through woodland until we reach the coast path back to North Berwick which is a fair old distance!  Or we might get off the bus at Dirleton, a hamlet a little way inland and about 5 miles out of North Berwick.  There are lovely castle gardens and a tea room to take advantage of before making our way back along the beach.  

This time though, having fortified ourselves against the cold with hot drinks and cake in the Scottish Seabird Centre, we just set off along the beach, and when we felt like it (well, when it was too cold to keep going any longer), we turned around and came back again.  We did a bit of beachcombing along the way and walked over 5 miles.


RR x

P.S. Much of the info about Bass Rock and North Berwick here comes from Landscape Magazine (March/April edition) – well worth a read.

North Berwick beach walk towards Yellowcraig Sands (5.8 miles)

No matter where you are in North Berwick, strolling along the beach or the promenade, rambling across the cliff tops or huddled over a hot drink in the cafe, the constant presence of Bass Rock looming out of the sea at the entrance to the Firth of Forth is not to be ignored.

Bass Rock – a 340 million year old volcanic island, 120 metres high and home to a vast colony of gannets. Bass Rock is the largest single island colony in the world for these birds.

The rock has an interesting and varied history, having been the refuge of St Baldred, a hermit in the 8th century, home to a garrison of soldiers in the 16th century and a prison to opponents of Charles II.  The lighthouse, just visible in the picture above, came into use in 1902 and had a lighthouse keeper in residence until it was automated in 1988.  Now it is uninhabited except by birds, mostly those gannets.  At times you can see thousands of them as they circle the island hunting for fish – when they spot lunch they plunge into the water at speeds of more than 50 mph.  Fortunately their skulls are designed to survive the impact and ‘air-bags’ around their chests and faces absorb the blow.

We don’t see many gannets today (Mr RR forgot the binoculars….!!), but the oyster catchers are out in force, foraging along the shore line amid the rocks and seaweed and shrieking their call in to the wind. They like molluscs particularly, hammering them with their long bills to open the shells.

Oyster catchers
Look at the long bill, digging for food.
Oyster Catcher ruffled by the wind – isn’t he just delightful?

We also see a heron standing patiently on the rocks waiting for me to get the camera organised…..and then he takes to the air just as I was ready!  And pied wagtails, never still, also reluctant to have their picture taken!

Pied Wagtail just caught on camera.

While Mr RR is beachcombing I have a chance to take in the views:

View from the beach – the island in the distance is Craigleith.  Rabbits used to be bred here – used for food – until they were wiped out by myxamotosis in the 1950s.  Now there are attempts to re-establish an Atlantic Puffin colony which was wiped out in the 1990’s by the invasion of the tree mallow which chokes the puffin’s burrows and prevents them from rearing their pufflings (that’s actually the word for little puffins – sweet eh?)

Looking back towards the town, the harbour which dates back to the 12th century, looks calm and quiet now.  During the middle ages around 10,000 pilgrims were ferried across the Firth of Forth from here – on their way to St Andrew’s.  It must have looked much different then.  Some sea fishing still goes on from here, but most of the boats are leisure craft or provide tourist trips to the islands to see the birds and seals.

North Berwick harbour – see Bass Rock looming in the background? 


Whilst in the opposite direction I can see right the way across to the snow covered hills of Fife:



The Firth of Forth has many islands – all volcanic – this one is Fidra – R.L. Stevenson is said to have based Treasure Island here. 

It’s half-term and the few people that are about are either dog walkers or families with children fishing in the many rock pools along the way.  There’s one horse rider though enjoying a canter along the water’s edge:


Not a lot of plant life to see either today, apart from seaweed, but we did spot these yellow berries:

Sea buckthorn – growing along the cliff edge.  This plant stabilises the ground binding the soil with its roots and forming thickets.  Only grows naturally by the sea in Britain.  It’s generic name ‘Hippophae’ is derived from Greek and means ‘to brighten the horse’ – it may have been used in the past to give horse’s coats a healthy shine. The orange berries stay on the tree all winer – but can be picked and made into a cordial (I know this because I was given some for my last birthday – full of Vitamin C apparently)

Talking of seaweed, I’ve just found a book on my shelf (strange things have been turning up all over the place since we moved!) called Seashores of Britain and Northern Europe which has pictures and info about all the types of seaweed, lichen and shells on our beaches.  I shall have to look more closely next time we’re out!

Anyway – enough is enough – I’m feeling cold and in need of lunch!  So we head back to the town for a lovely hot dish of Leek and Potato Soup in The Den – scrumptious!

Trawling – Pen and Ink

Artwork for Ricketyrambler by Andrew Major


2 thoughts on “North Berwick – on the beach…

  1. esdale77 March 3, 2016 / 11:12 pm

    lovely photographs!


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