Sandy beaches, unique nature experiences, stylish boutiques and restaurants… this well-heeled Scottish seaside resort has it all. Words and photographs: Gabrielle Jaffe

North Berwick is a town blessed by its geography. It’s close enough to Edinburgh to attract plenty of day-trippers from the city but its unique topography will make you want to stay a while. A dramatic hill, known as the North Berwick Law, rises conspicuously to the south, affording views of the town below. Two great arcing sandy beaches, West Bay and Milsey Bay, beg to be walked on barefoot, and the latter has a shallow tidal pool that’s perfect for paddling children.

Beyond the beaches, the Firth of Forth’s rocky islands dominate the horizon. All house an abundance of bird life, but the towering Bass Rock, home to the world’s largest gannet colony, is a star attraction and has been named one of the ‘wonders of the natural world’ by Sir David Attenborough, no less.  

Once mostly a magnet for the traditional golfing crowd, North Berwick’s appeal has broadened considerably in the last decade. The opening of its state-of-the-art seabird centre has thrilled nature lovers, while the town’s cool cachet has been considerably boosted since it started hosting the coastal cousin of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Fringe by the Sea. The annual festival sees the beaches and harbour host open-air theatre, comedy, music and children’s activities. However, should you miss the festival, the recent blossoming of galleries, boutiques, hip bars and cafés still provide plenty of diversions throughout the year.


It’s a blustery morning, so I begin my day in the shelter of the enormous, two-storey Scottish Seabird Centre. First I swot up on what the birds look like with one of the interactive displays and watch a David Attenborough-narrated documentary on puffins in the centre’s auditorium. Now I’m properly informed, it’s time to play at being Attenborough myself.

What makes this centre unique is the live cameras it has trained on the firth’s craggy outposts. Visitors can control the powerful lenses themselves, with a joystick. I zoom the camera in on Bass Rock – where gannets amass in numbers of up to 150,000. On another screen a peregrine falcon stands watch, while the neighbouring screen is focused on a glossy black cormorant feeding its chicks. One of the centre’s staff ushers me over to watch a puffin on camera – behind it, a giant-looking rabbit proves just how small these birds are. Entrance costs £8.95 (adult), £4.95 (child); boat trips to see the birds up close are also available from the centre (


Next to the Seabird Centre, the halyards of the boats in the tiny harbour tap-tap furiously in the wind. Just as lively is the queue that’s formed outside the Lobster Shack, a pop-up eatery that buys much of its seafood straight from the boats. Wafts of garlic butter build up my anticipation and I’m ravenous by the time I sit down at one of the benches made from recycled lobster pots. The people on the table next to me are drinking Champagne out of plastic glasses and when their Shetland rope-grown mussels arrive, someone shouts, ‘Well, hello there!’ I’ve opted for the grilled half-lobster with chunky chips and let out a sigh of delight as the sweet, fresh flavour dances across my taste-buds. The Lobster Shack is open from 12-6pm daily during summer, depending on the weather, until the end of September (

I decide to spend the afternoon browsing the small high street. In Westgate Galleries, brightly coloured homewares, silk flowers, handbags, paintings and vintage posters all vie for my attention – but it’s the scones in this shop’s Orangery Café that I really can’t keep my eyes off. 

In Time & Tide I peruse the coastal furnishings, which are laid out with an interior designer’s eye; in Rock & Bird I admire hand-drawn cards, pegged on a string like a washing line. Nearby, the curiously named Why Not? is a space filled with craft makers selling their wares – a sort of permanent, indoor market. One of the stalls is stocked with soy-based candles made from natural local ingredients, including kelp and sea buckthorn.

The emphasis is on all things local at Lockett Bros too. This wine and whisky merchant stocks single-cask whiskies named after local icons, such as Bass Rock, and raw chocolate, handcrafted in North Berwick. Westgate Galleries and The Orangery Café, (, Time & Tide (, Rock & Bird (, Why Not? (, Lockett Bros (

Somehow I manage to avoid culinary temptation during the afternoon – I’m saving myself for dinner at Osteria No. 1, a regular winner and nominee in the Scottish Restaurant Awards. The restaurant’s style is fine dining but it doesn’t feel at all stuffy, and the owner, Angelo, welcomes me with typically warm Mediterranean fanfare. His daughter – who trained at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant – is the chef and he’s every inch the proud father as he brings out the crab soufflé. His pride is well placed – it’s as delicate as it is delicious. Please note, reservations are recommended – Osteria No 1 only has 10 tables (


I’ve long dreamt of riding a horse on a deserted beach, and Seacliff Stables – a 10-minute drive from North Berwick – is the perfect place to fulfil this fantasy. Run by the inimitable Carol Boswell, a champion horse carriage driver with a profound love for everything equestrian, this stable caters for riders of all levels. Before heading out, Carol introduces me to my steed Eric, a sweet-natured bay, and talks me through the basics of posture and rein-control. We ride down to the shore along a forested trail, past tall-grass fields, the ruins of an old monastery, and Tantallon Castle. The beach is even more spectacular: it’s just us, the view out to Bass Rock and a long stretch of golden sand to trot along. One-hour rides from £30 (adults),  £20-28 (child); (


After riding past it earlier, I’m keen to see Tantallon Castle up close. Once a formidable, seven-storey stronghold, this medieval castle was besieged by Oliver Cromwell’s army in the 17th-century civil war and has since been left as a lichen-covered ruin, standing watch over a cliff opposite Bass Rock. As I walk across the drawbridge, the scent of the dark pink wildflowers that have overgrown the moat below is carried to me on the breeze. I walk through to what would have been the castle’s inner courtyard. Finding a spot on the grass, I take out the pesto and cream cheese bagel that I bought earlier in the day from Steampunk, a hip little café in the town centre. As I picnic, I look out at Bass Rock where hundreds of gannets swirl in a corkscrew formation. After lunch, I climb up the vertiginous spiral staircases to the castle summit, where a 360˚ panorama of green and yellow rapeseed fields, red cliffs and blue sea surrounds me. Entrance to Tantallon Castle costs £5.50 (adults), £3.30 (child); ( Steampunk (

My weekend in North Berwick concludes with a meal at the town’s hottest new addition: Herringbone, a shabby-chic restaurant and bar that specialises in local spirits and craft beers. I pair sea bream and a green olive salsa with a ‘Sea Dog’ cocktail, made with North Berwick Gin, grapefruit and thyme. When I leave the restaurant, the lowering sun is casting an amber glow over West Bay beach. I linger on my way back to the hotel that evening, savouring my last moments in this beautiful Scottish town (

Find more inspiration for weekends away with our Weekend in Hope Cove, Weekend in Ventnor, and Weekend in Criccieth, or keep an eye on the magazine for our latest travel features.



Situated right next to the beach at Milsey Bay, this three-storey, Victorian guesthouse has impressive views of the golden sands, the sea and Bass Rock. The friendly, helpful owner Lorena Peressini has created a homely atmosphere and decorated the rooms in a coastal style. Minimum booking is two nights, from £170 for two people for two nights bed and breakfast (

Nether Abbey Hotel 
Owned by the same family since 1957, this smart hotel (pictured above) has a Scottish flavour to its décor, with tartan detailing. It’s just a minute’s walk from the beach and some rooms look out over the firth. A generous buffet breakfast includes made-to-order hot dishes, with an emphasis on local produce, such as smoked haddock with poached eggs and the ‘Full Scottish’, with a vegetarian haggis option. Double and twin rooms cost from £100 for two people, including breakfast (

Trains from Edinburgh to North Berwick run hourly and take 30 minutes. By car, North Berwick is reached by the A198, off the A1. For more information, go to and