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UK - Scotland: Edinburgh, North Berwick
North Berwick, Scotland: Seaside charm
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Only 30 minutes from Edinburgh, North Berwick is a small seaside town that’s a nice weekend destination to locals and a must do trip for tourists. Visitors include hundreds of thousands of birds.
I was in Edinburgh for a weekend. After having walked for miles and miles the evening before, I was looking forward to a little trip to rejuvenate me. It was a Sunday morning, but the sun was nowhere to be seen. In fact, it wasn’t raining and that in itself was a bonus to tourists. In that part of the world, sunshine is rare. And when the sun does come out, it’s festive time. Locals leave their jobs on hand or bring them along to bask in the sun.
I had plans to walk some unseen parts of Edinburgh later in the day. That gave me the morning to explore North Berwick (pronounced Berik). Trains depart every hour from Edinburgh’s Waverley station. The first one scheduled to leave at 10:34AM. And in 30 minutes drops you at the North Berwick station. Since it was a weekend, the return journey cost me only GBP 6.10.
My return journey was scheduled at 13:24PM. That gave me two and a half hours to explore the small town. North Berwick has a population of only 8000. Half of them commute to work in Edinburgh and the other half work locally managing the shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and other things tourists.
My walk began by exploring the golf course located right on the shores. A shot in the wrong direction and the golfer would need a diving suit to manage the par. I crossed the golf course through a little pathway to reach the beach. It was quiet with few people walking their dogs and a few families enjoying their stroll. After walking for a few hundred meters, I came out on the Church Street.
The Sunday mass was just over. As was the local tradition, the visitors to the church were enjoying the after-service coffee and biscuits. Intrigued by the church’s stain glass work, I walked in. To my surprise, I was welcomed by one Mr John Guy who was kind enough to show me around. He then introduced me to the Minister Rev. David Graham who was kind enough to invite me to join the tea-party. Whilst enjoying my cuppa I got to know more about the church, its activities as also about the small town.
I walked the length of High Street window shopping. Small stores, painted in pastel colours were very welcome indeed. Slowly, I reached the other end of the town that had the harbour, St Andrew’s Old Kirk and the Scottish Seabird Centre. A boardwalk allows visitors to go all the way, over the rocky edge. The location offers excellent view of the sea, the town, the beach and the famous Bass Rock.
Jet boats can be hired to visit the Bass Rock, which I am told is the home for many seabirds. It’s a bird watchers delight. And sure enough. I could see boatloads of photographers with long lenses alighting from their boats with broad smiles on their faces.
While walking along the path from the East Bay to the Scottish Seabird Centre I came across a small white-hurled stone building which stands just inland from the path. I was actually walking across the middle of a church whose entire east end was swept into the sea in a storm in 1656. This was St Andrew’s Old Kirk. By the time nearly half of St Andrew's Old Kirk was claimed by the sea, there had been a church on this spot for around 1000 years. The first church was probably made of wood and was probably constructed by monks sometime in the 600s.
This later building began with a simple rectangular stone church comprising a nave and a chancel sometime in the mid 1100s. The church would have served the local community, and the steady stream of pilgrims passing through North Berwick to catch a ferry to Earlsferry in Fife en route to St Andrews. These pilgrims were to remain an important feature of the local economy until the Reformation in 1560 and the income they provided paid for a series of extensions to St Andrew's Old Kirk.
The first addition was a chapel on the north side of the church in the late 1200s. A tower followed in the early 1400s, and aisles either side of the nave in the late 1400s. The final addition, made after the Reformation, was a small porch projecting south from the end of the south aisle. It is ironic that this porch is the only part of the church to survive today. The 1656 a storm caused the complete collapse of nearly half of the church, with much of it simply disappearing in the sea.
Inside the porch today is a display of some of the items unearthed during excavations in the 1950s and in 2000. These include part of a table gravestone, and part of a grave slab probably marking a knight's burial in the 1200s. These are the only grave markers that remain. The old Kirk yard, later known as Anchor Green, is otherwise empty: with one exception. This is the fine Celtic cross that stands a little to the south of the porch. This was erected in memory of Catherine Watson who, on 27 July 1889 at the age of 19, saved a drowning boy in North Berwick's East Bay, but was herself drowned while doing so.
The Scottish Seabird Centre is an award-winning wildlife attraction having discovery centre, boat trips, gift shop and café overlooking the sea and North Berwick beaches. It is a popular destination for wildlife enthusiast. Since time was limited on hand, I just walked around the centre.
The Bass Rock is situated in the Firth of Forth, two miles east of North Berwick and one mile off the mainland. A huge plug rising 313 feet, with three sides of sheer cliff, and a tunnel piercing the rock to a depth of 105 metres. The gentler slope to the south forms a lower promontory where the ruins of a castle stand dating back to at least 1405. The largest number of visitors to North Berwick fly in every year to set up home on the four offshore islands of Bass Rock, Craigleith, Lamb and Fidra. Around 100,000 sea birds nest on these islands with the largest colony on the Bass Rock, which has 80,000 occupied nest sites. The Bass Rock is the closest sea bird sanctuary to the mainland and was the first to be studied by ornithologists during the 19th century, when they gave the Gannet the scientific name Sula Bassana, incorporating the name of this rocky stack. This colony is the largest on the east coast of Britain and holds approximately 10% of the world population of North Atlantic Gannets.
By the time I finished exploring the harbor, it was 12:45. Time to commence my walk back to the station. A little nap on the train will prepare me for the evening walk around Edinburgh.
North Berwick Image Gallery Photo viewer
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