WITH its two lovely bays, pretty harbour, charming streets and great views across the Forth, North Berwick has long been one of the east coast’s favourite destinations.
Over the centuries pilgrims, witchfinders and whalers have all been drawn to the East Lothian town, their stories becoming part of the rich folklore of the place.
History is still a draw, of course, but these days it’s the beaches and birdlife that brings in the visitors, not to mention the great cafes, restaurants and family-friendly attractions.
Golfers, meanwhile, come from all over the world to play the courses on Lothian’s spectacular coastline.
The town takes its name from North “barley farmstead”, the “North” being applied to distinguish it from Berwick-upon-Tweed, which was known to Scots as South Berwick for centuries.
The 1590 witch trials in the town, which implicated 70 people and were attended by King James I, inspired Robert Burns’s poem Tam O’ Shanter and scenes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Many of the accused, who were said to have gathered in covens at the Auld Kirk, were tortured and burned at the stake. By the mid-nineteenth century North Berwick had become a popular holiday destination for people from Edinburgh and beyond. It is now a hugely desirable commuter town.
What to do
Start your trip with a walk around the harbour, which dates back to the 12th century. The wonderful Scottish Seabird Centre (seabird.org) is based here and offers a host of child-friendly activities, exhibits and live cameras, as well as a great café and shop.
In spring and summer the centre runs regular boat trips to the islands of the Forth, including the Bass Rock and the Isle of May where — depending on the season — you will see the puffins, gannets and guillemots you’ve just learned about, as well as the huge colony of grey seals that live on Craigleith.
If all that birdwatching makes you peckish, grab yourself a box of crab claws or salt and pepper squid from the nearby Lobster Shack and take a dander round the West Bay. The views across to Fife on a clear day are simply spectacular.
“The walks in either direction are pretty stunning,” adds Vicky Allan. “Go west to Yellowcraigs beach, or east along to the little deserted coves and beaches just below the golf course. North Berwick is also fantastic for rock-pooling, and just along the coast there’s an idyllic private beach at Seacliff.”
If you prefer a bit of an incline with your walk, take a hike up the conical North Berwick Law, which rises to 187m in the otherwise flat landscape. Once at the summit, stand beneath the replica whalebone arch and do some island spotting.
Back in town, the Coastal Communities Museum, open April to November, provides a fun and fascinating exploration of Scots coastal culture spanning thousands of years. As well as exhibits on geology and industry, the museum, which is run by volunteers and free to enter, has an excellent display on Robert Louis Stevenson, whose cousin David built the lighthouse on the Bass Rock.
North Berwick’s best-known museum, however, is surely one of the great Scottish family days out: the National Museum of Flight (nms.ac.uk). Situated on an airfield on the outskirts of town, it allows you to get up close and personal with planes including Concorde and a Red Arrows Hawk jet, while exploring the remarkable history of military and commercial flight.
For something ancient, Dirleton Castle and Gardens (historicenvironment.scot) just outside the town possesses some of the oldest surviving castle architecture in Scotland, as well as the longest herbaceous border in the world.
Golf fans, meanwhile, are in seventh heaven round these parts. As well as three courses in North Berwick itself, world-renowned Muirfield, Archerfield and Gullane are all within spitting distance.
Where to eat
If it’s quality Scottish ingredients and a pint of craft beer, served in a buzzy atmosphere you’re after, try The Herringbone (theherringbone.co.uk) in Westgate. The pan-seared hake with salsa verde and curly kale is delicious — and great value at £12.95.
Smart Osteria (osteria-no1.co.uk) on the High Street, has won a legion of fans with its wonderful Italian cookery based on recipes passed down to head chef Daniela de Marco by her grandmother. It’s no wonder the place was recently named Scotland’s best Italian Restaurant.
For a traditional fish supper, North Berwick Fry on Quality Street is hard to beat, though this place is so good you may find yourself fighting off the seagulls. As well as the crispy fish batter and fluffy chips, aficionados also praise the battered haggis.
Coffee connoisseurs will love Steampunk Coffee Roasters (steampunkcoffee.co.uk) in Kirk Ports. According to Vicky: “It’s got the full steampunk interior, with strange taps and mechanical contraptions, excellent coffee, delicious savoury muffins, grilled cheese sandwiches and outdoor tables. It feels like a hipster invasion in quaint little North Berwick.” It also runs an array of events and masterclasses.
She also recommends Alanda’s Gelateria (alandas.co.uk) as “the kind of ice cream shop that makes you want to have a gelato even in the depths of winter; in the summer there are queues round the block for their indulgent cones.”
Cake, a café on the High Street, is a favourite with families. We can highly recommend the lentil soup and a scone after a bracing winter beach walk.
Where to shop
For original, colourful and offbeat home, kitchen and giftware, don’t miss Etc, also on the High St.
Nearby Anderson’s Butchers is a family affair – don’t leave without a mince round. Just along the street is JP’s Deli (jpsdeli.co.uk), which has a wonderful array of freshly made sandwiches, salads and quiches, as well as a fine cheeseboard and shelves full of cooks’ ingredients.
Green and Blues gallery (greensandblues.co.uk), meanwhile, has a lovely selection of original landscape, seascape and figurative paintings, mostly by Scottish artists. The winter exhibition is now open.
Where to stay
Luxury: The Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa (macdonaldhotels.co.uk) was built to host wealthy Victorians and is still a sophisticated, indulgent, yet affordable treat. Rooms from £116 a night.
Comfortable: The Golf Lodge Bed and Breakfast (northberwickgolflodgebb.co.uk) is just a short walk from the beach and town centre. Elegant rooms and a delicious breakfast. From £90 a night.
On the beach: Sea Frontage Apartment sits right on the west bay and offers cosy accommodation for four. From £97 a night through Airbnb.co.uk
Not surprisingly, many professional golfers grew up in and around North Berwick – Sondheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew is one of them.
What to do nearby
Just 10 minutes’ drive east of North Berwick, overlooking the Bass Rock, sits 14th century Tantallon Castle, home to the ancient Red Douglas Dynasty. The Castle was recently used in the critically acclaimed film Under The Skin, which starred Scarlett Johansson.
Ten minutes’ drive west, meanwhile, is the pretty town of Gullane, with its beautiful beach and excellent restaurants. It’s a stunning walk along the shore from North Berwick if you have a couple of hours to spare, and you get the bus
Source : HeraldScotland