North Berwick

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North Berwick
North Berwick West Bay.JPG
West Bay from the harbour
East Lothian UK location map.svg
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North Berwick
Scotland location map.svg
Red pog.svg
North Berwick
Location within Scotland
Population7,840 (mid-2020 est.) [1]
OS grid reference NT553852
  Edinburgh 20 mi (32 km)
  London 332 mi (534 km)
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town North Berwick
Postcode district EH39
Dialling code 01620
Police Scotland
Fire Scottish
Ambulance Scottish
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°03′29″N2°43′01″W / 56.058°N 2.717°W / 56.058; -2.717 Coordinates: 56°03′29″N2°43′01″W / 56.058°N 2.717°W / 56.058; -2.717

North Berwick ( /ˈbɛrɪk/ ; Scottish Gaelic : Bearaig a Tuath) [2] is a seaside town and former royal burgh in East Lothian, Scotland. It is situated on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, approximately 20 miles (32 km) east-northeast of Edinburgh. North Berwick became a fashionable holiday resort in the nineteenth century because of its two sandy bays, the East (or Milsey) Bay and the West Bay, and continues to attract holidaymakers. Golf courses at the ends of each bay are open to visitors.



The name Berwick means "barley farmstead" (bere in Old English means "barley" and wic means "farmstead"). Alternatively, like other place names in Scotland ending in 'wick', this word means 'bay' (Old Norse: vík). The word North was applied to distinguish this Berwick from Berwick-upon-Tweed, which throughout the Middle Ages the Scots called South Berwick. It was recorded as Northberwyk in 1250. [ citation needed ]

Prehistory and Archaeology

On the south side of North Berwick Law there is evidence of at least 18 hut circles, rich middens and a field system dating from 2,000 years ago. [ citation needed ] There have been numerous archaeological excavations in the town that have uncovered evidence of North Berwick's medieval and modern remains. One such excavation found evidence of pre-medieval occupation of the area in the form of several Iron Age Cist burials. [3] [4]

One of the largest excavations occurred when many of the water mains in the town were replaced in the 2000s and archaeologists monitored the work. These excavations found the first evidence of the city walls - all towns of Scotland on the east coast were required by an Act of Parliament (1503) to build walls, but until then there was no evidence that they were ever built. It also found that the High Street was the main street in the medieval burgh, rather than Quality Street that had been hypothesized. [5]


North Berwick East Bay North Berwick East Bay.JPG
North Berwick East Bay


A view east towards the town centre Nbtowncenter.jpg
A view east towards the town centre
The same view in winter NorthBerwickCentreSnow.jpg
The same view in winter

Excavations have shown that from as early as the eighth century, a ferry crossing to Earlsferry, near Elie in Fife was in existence, serving pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint Andrew. [6] North Berwick Harbour was built in the twelfth century to meet the demands made of the existing ferry trade. This ferry was recently reinstated; during the summer, a boat travels between North Berwick and Anstruther in Fife, in homage to the original ferry.

Around 1150, Duncan, Earl of Fife of the Clan MacDuff [7] founded an influential Cistercian nunnery (whose power continued until the Scottish Reformation, and its dissolution in 1588). Duncan's family shortly afterwards, at the start of the thirteenth century built North Berwick Castle [8] erecting a wooden motte and bailey on the site of what is now Castle Hill in the east end of the town, at the start of Tantallon Terrace. This castle was attacked and held by the Earl of Pembroke around 1306; the English abandoned it by 1314, during the aftermath of the Battle of Bannockburn. Late in the fourteenth century the Lauder family (owners of the Bass Rock castle) erected a stone tower with a barmkin on the site; however they had abandoned it by 1420 in favour of the Bass, possibly as a result of conflict with the owners of nearby Tantallon Castle.

In the fourteenth century the town became a baronial burgh under William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas, who then built nearby Tantallon Castle to consolidate his power.

Post Medieval

Later, during the fifteenth century, the town became a royal burgh in the reign of James I of Scotland.

The "Auld Kirk Green" at the harbour was allegedly used for gatherings by the accused in the North Berwick Witch Trials (1590–92). Legend has it that Satan himself attended a ritual there in 1590. During the sixteenth century at least 70 people were implicated in the Witch Trials, and the events inspired works such as Burns' "Tam o' Shanter" and "The Thirteenth Member" by Mollie Hunter. One of the most famous witch trials at North Berwick was that of Agnes Sampson. She was accused of making a potion to create rough storms in the North Sea as King James VI was sailing home from Denmark with his new wife, Anne of Denmark. The trial took place in 1591, attended by King James. Agnes Sampson was tortured to confess, and then burnt at the stake, like many other innocent people.

Harbour at low tide N BerwickHarbour.JPG
Harbour at low tide

Whaling in the eighteenth century

Local lore, place names, and the jawbone arch first erected atop the Law in 1709, [9] suggest that the port was involved in the whaling industry, though there is little written evidence to prove it. If so, it would have been a minor participant in the industry, overshadowed by nearby Leith. [10] Certainly, whales have washed ashore at North Berwick over the years, even in recent times. [11]

Industrial and Modern

Despite the railway arriving in 1850, the Industrial Revolution bypassed the town. The late-nineteenth century saw North Berwick develop golfing and holiday facilities. The town soon became popular as a home for Edinburgh commuters and retirees.

The size and population of the town remained fairly steady until the 1970s, at which point housebuilding began in earnest around the periphery of the town, first to the south (1950s–70s), then in a series of major expansions to the west (1980s-present) along the line of the railway. There is talk of further developments focussing on "affordable housing", on the south side of the town. While the population has grown significantly but not truly "exploded", house prices have rocketed since the 1950s. North Berwick consistently appears at the top of national house price surveys, and like-for-like prices are comparable to Edinburgh. North Berwick was listed as the most expensive seaside town in Scotland in 2006, and was second to St. Andrews in 2009. [12] [13] In 2021, it was voted best place to live in Scotland. [14]


Harbour and Craigleith NBharbour.JPG
Harbour and Craigleith

Several of the Islands of the Forth are near the town and visible from it: e.g. Fidra, Lamb, Craigleith, and the Bass Rock; the last-named hosts a thriving colony of seabirds, including puffins and gannets. The Bass Rock appears white due to the white plumage of seabirds, and their white guano, which cover much of its surface. The seabirds can be observed at close range through remote cameras operated from the Scottish Seabird Centre near the harbour.


A "spring" tide, West Bay NBHighTide.JPG
A "spring" tide, West Bay
West Bay front North Berwick North berwick shoreline.jpg
West Bay front North Berwick


Kenny MacAskill of the Alba Party has served as the Member of Parliament for East Lothian since 2019. Former East Lothian Council leader Paul McLennan of the Scottish National Party (SNP) has served as the MSP for East Lothian since 2021. There are three councillors for North Berwick Coastal. [15]


The original Blackadder church building. It was at first a Free Church, then a United Free Church, then a Church of Scotland, and is now used by an independent Baptist church. North Berwick Baptist Church - - 957515.jpg
The original Blackadder church building. It was at first a Free Church, then a United Free Church, then a Church of Scotland, and is now used by an independent Baptist church.

There are several churches in the town. These include:

Church of Scotland

Roman Catholic

Other churches


North Berwick Law seen from the seafront of North Berwick North berwick law.jpg
North Berwick Law seen from the seafront of North Berwick

North Berwick is served by Law Primary School, and North Berwick High School for secondary school-age children, which has an excellent reputation, frequently outperforming other East Lothian district schools in annual examination tables.

On film

North Berwick and the Bass Rock North Berwick es a Bass Rock - panoramio.jpg
North Berwick and the Bass Rock

Films which have shots of North Berwick include:


The town is served by North Berwick railway station. The North Berwick Line has provided a rail link with Edinburgh since 17 June 1850 and the line, now operated by ScotRail, is still the principal transit link between the town and the capital. The service takes 33 minutes and runs hourly with extra trains during peak commuting periods and on Saturdays. Combination rail-and-entry tickets for the Scottish Seabird Centre are available. There is an occasional service through to Glasgow Central station on weekdays, although anyone heading for central Glasgow is advised to switch to the Edinburgh – Glasgow Queen St. service. There is a regular bus service (nos 124 and X24) between the town and Edinburgh city centre. Edinburgh Airport is the nearest airport, not just to North Berwick but the whole county, and is approximately a 45-minute drive away, or around 1 hour 20 mins by public transport.

East Coast Buses, a subsidiary company run by Lothian Buses, runs a 30-minute service between Edinburgh (Semple Street) to North Berwick Tesco via Portobello, Musselburgh, Prestonpans, Longniddry, Aberlady, Gullane and Dirleton. The bus in North Berwick runs on a loop from the High Street (Church Street bus stop) to the Tesco Terminus and back, then returns to Edinburgh. There are also local services to Haddington, Dunbar and attractions such as the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894) spent many holidays in the town during his childhood and as a young man. His father, Thomas Stevenson the engineer and lighthouse builder, took his family to stay in various locations in the town. The island of Fidra is said to be the original inspiration for Treasure Island , and much of his novel Catriona (the sequel to Kidnapped ) is set locally.

The Scottish author William Dalrymple (born 1965), whose work primarily focuses on British India, has roots in the town, with his family having once owned much of the area. William's father Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple is the current and 10th Baronet of North Berwick. William is the youngest of four brothers.

Notable people

Parish Kirk, North Berwick. John Blackadder died on the Bass Rock and is buried here. Ancient Church, North Berwick, East Lothian. - - 660749.jpg
Parish Kirk, North Berwick. John Blackadder died on the Bass Rock and is buried here.

Twin town

Seal of North Berwick NB seal.png
Seal of North Berwick

Since 1999, North Berwick has been twinned with Kerteminde, Denmark.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">East Lothian</span> Council area of Scotland

East Lothian is one of the 32 council areas of Scotland, as well as a historic county, registration county and lieutenancy area. The county was called Haddingtonshire until 1921.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Firth of Forth</span> Estuary of Scotlands River Forth

The Firth of Forth is the estuary, or firth, of several Scottish rivers including the River Forth. It meets the North Sea with Fife on the north coast and Lothian on the south.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bass Rock</span> Island in the outer part of the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland

The Bass Rock, or simply the Bass, is an island in the outer part of the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. Approximately 2 km (1 mi) offshore, and 5 km (3 mi) north-east of North Berwick, it is a steep-sided volcanic plug, 107 m (351 ft) at its highest point, and is home to a large colony of gannets. The rock is uninhabited, but historically has been settled by an early Christian hermit, and later was the site of an important castle, which after the Commonwealth period was used as a prison. The island belongs to Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple, whose family acquired it in 1706, and before to the Lauder family for almost six centuries. The Bass Rock Lighthouse was constructed on the rock in 1902, and the remains of an ancient chapel survive.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dunbar</span> Town in East Lothian, Scotland

Dunbar is a town on the North Sea coast in East Lothian in the south-east of Scotland, approximately 30 miles east of Edinburgh and 30 mi (50 km) from the English border north of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Berwickshire</span> Historic county in Scotland

Berwickshire is a historic county, registration county and lieutenancy area in south-eastern Scotland, on the English border. The county takes its name from Berwick-upon-Tweed, its original county town, which was part of Scotland at the time of the county's formation in the twelfth century, but became part of England in 1482 after several centuries of swapping back and forth between the two kingdoms. After the loss of Berwick, Duns and Greenlaw both served as county town at different periods.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Musselburgh</span> Town in East Lothian, Scotland

Musselburgh is the largest settlement in East Lothian, Scotland, on the coast of the Firth of Forth, 5 miles (8 km) east of Edinburgh city centre. It has a population of 21,100.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Haddington, East Lothian</span> Town in East Lothian, Scotland

The Royal Burgh of Haddington is a town in East Lothian, Scotland. It is the main administrative, cultural and geographical centre for East Lothian. It lies about 17 miles east of Edinburgh. The name Haddington is Anglo-Saxon, dating from the sixth or seventh century AD when the area was incorporated into the kingdom of Bernicia. The town, like the rest of the Lothian region, was ceded by King Edgar of England and became part of Scotland in the tenth century. Haddington received Burgh status, one of the earliest to do so, during the reign of David I (1124–1153), giving it trading rights which encouraged its growth into a market town.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Craigleith</span>

Craigleith is a small island in the Firth of Forth off North Berwick in East Lothian, Scotland. Its name comes from the Scottish Gaelic Creag Lìte meaning "rock of Leith". It is 45 metres at its highest point.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fidra</span> Lighthouse

Fidra is a currently uninhabited island in the Firth of Forth, 4 kilometres northwest of North Berwick, on the east coast of Scotland. The island is an RSPB Scotland nature reserve.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Prestonpans</span> Human settlement in Scotland

Prestonpans is a small mining town, situated approximately eight miles east of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the council area of East Lothian. The population as of 2020 is 10,460. It is near the site of the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans. Prestonpans is "Scotland's Mural Town", with many murals depicting local history.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tantallon Castle</span> Castle in Scotland

Tantallon Castle is a ruined mid-14th-century fortress, located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) east of North Berwick, in East Lothian, Scotland. It sits atop a promontory opposite the Bass Rock, looking out onto the Firth of Forth. The last medieval curtain wall castle to be constructed in Scotland, Tantallon comprises a single wall blocking off the headland, with the other three sides naturally protected by sea cliffs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kingston, East Lothian</span> Human settlement in Scotland

Kingston is a small hamlet near North Berwick in East Lothian, Scotland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Auldhame & Scoughall</span> Human settlement in Scotland

Auldhame and Scoughall are hamlets in East Lothian, Scotland. They are close to the town of North Berwick and the village of Whitekirk, and are approximately 25 miles (40 km) east of Edinburgh.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scottish Seabird Centre</span> Building in North Berwick , Scotland

The Scottish Seabird Centre is a marine conservation and education charity, that is supported by a 5 star visitor attraction in North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland. Opened by HRH Duke of Rothesay in 2000 and funded by the Millennium Commission. The showpiece of the centre is the interactive live cameras out to the wildlife on the Firth of Forth islands, including Bass Rock, Isle of May, Fidra and Craigleith. The Bass Rock is the world's largest colony of Northern gannets with an estimated 150,000 birds present.

The Harbour at North Berwick in East Lothian, Scotland, was originally a ferry port for pilgrims travelling to St Andrews in Fife. Today the water is home to leisure craft, a famous tourist launch and the remains of the fishing fleet that once dominated the area, while on dry land the Scottish Seabird Centre, East Lothian Yacht Club and Auld Kirk Green are the main attractions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yellowcraig</span>

Yellowcraig, also known as Broad Sands Beach, is a coastal area of forest, beach and grassland in East Lothian, south-east Scotland. Yellowcraig is partly within the Firth of Forth Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is bordered to the north by the Firth of Forth, to the south by the village of Dirleton and Dirleton Castle, to the east by the North Berwick West Links golf course, and to the west by the Archerfield Estate and Links golf courses.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Islands of the Forth</span> Group of islands in the Firth of Forth, Scotland

The Islands of the Forth are a group of small islands located in the Firth of Forth and in the estuary of the River Forth on the east coast of Scotland. Most of the group lie in the open waters of the firth, between the Lothians and Fife, with the majority to the east of the city of Edinburgh. Two islands lie further west in the river estuary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canty Bay</span> Human settlement in Scotland

Canty Bay is a small inlet and coastal hamlet on the northern coast of East Lothian, Scotland. It is 2 miles (3.2 km) east of North Berwick and is opposite the Bass Rock and Tantallon Castle. Other settlements nearby include Auldhame, Scoughall, Seacliff, and the Peffer Sands. Canty Bay means "bay of the little head" from the Gaelic ceanntan, diminutive of ceann.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">James Smith Richardson</span> Scottish architect, antiquarian and archaeologist

James Smith Richardson (1883–1970) was a Scottish architect, antiquarian and archaeologist. He was the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Scotland, and was responsible for a series of popular guidebooks to monuments in public care.


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