East Lothian can be easily overlooked by visitors of Scotland but it is in fact a beautiful rural area north of the Scottish Borders with a fantastic and very interesting coastline offering stunning views across the Firth of Forth to Fife. East Lothian’s most westerly village is Musselburgh. To the east, Dunbar is the largest village and to the south East Lothian is bordered by the Lammermuir Hills and the Scottish Borders.
North Berwick Seaside and Beach
Holidaying in East Lothian means you have a large area at your disposal to discover during a day trip by car which basically stretches from Northumberland in England, the Scottish Borders, Edinburgh and Glasgow but most of all the many lovely villages and seaside towns in East Lothian itself. Worth mentioning here are East Linton, a lovely town to visit. Dunbar, which is also known for being the birthplace of John Muir, has a nice harbour that includes remains of Dunbar Castle and since 1780 home to the well known Belhaven Brewery. And if Golf is your thing you might want to read our Guide to the Scottish Golf Coast as East Lothian is a very well known Golf region with sixteen top class links.
A few miles south of North Berwick is East Fortune Airfield. Here you find Scotland’s National Museum of Flight. Each July this hosts the East Fortune Airshow. Close by is Athelstaneford, birthplace of the Saltire, Scotland’s flag, celebrated by the Flag Heritage Centre in the grounds of Athelstaneford Parish Kirk. Other places of interest are Dirleton Castle, Glenkinchie distillery and Newhailes House in Musselburgh, a restored 17th century manor.
The administrative capital of East Lothian is Haddington, the town with the beautiful St. Mary’s Church. Hearing the many beautiful church-bells on Sunday morning is a pleasure for the ear. It’s interesting to note that East Lothian was officially known as Haddingtonshire before 1921. Another interesting fact is that Haddington was at one point the fourth largest city in Scotland. Today however Haddington has a population of less than 9,000. Haddington is a nice town to discover and offers good shopping facilities.
Where Haddington is the administrative hq I think it’s safe to say that North Berwick is the touristic capital of East Lothian, not in the last place due to the presence of the Scottish Seabird Centre which is housed on the site of the large open swimming pool, a well known tourist attraction in earlier days which was closed in 1995. From a historic point of view North Berwick played an important part for many pilgrims on their way to St. Andrews. The first mention of a port in North Berwick was in 1177. During medieval times up to 10,000 pilgrims a year were ferried across the Forth to Earlsferry in fife, en route to St. Andrews. The present harbour is the result of many improvement carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries, often after storm damage. Located in the harbour area are the remains of St. Andrews Old Kirk. Nowadays the porch and some remains of walls are left but the church played an important role for the pilgrims in the earlier days.
North Berwick harbour area, St Andrews Old Kirk and Sea Bird Centre
Every spring over 100,000 gannets return to Bass Rock to nest and it is the largest single island colony in the world. The island has been privately owned by the Hamilton-Dalrymple family for 300 years. Bass Rock is a volcanic island, it stands over 100 m high in the Firth of Forth Islands Special Protection Area which covers some, but not all of the islands in the inner and outer Firth. The Bass Rock is a Site of Special Scientific Interest in its own right, due to its gannet colony.
Scottish Seabird Centre
The Scottish Seabird Centre is a popular award-winning visitor attraction situated in the harbour area at the site of the former open swimming pool. The Centre was opened by HRH The Prince of Wales in 2000 and funded by the Millennium Commission, the showpiece of the centre is the network of cameras which beam back live pictures from the bird colonies on islands such as the Bass Rock and Fidra. The local abundance of gannets, puffins and more has been described by Sir David Attenborough as one of the “Twelve Wildlife Wonders of the World”. The Scottish Seabird Centre is a great day out with something for everyone! In the Discovery Centre – with amazing live cameras, you can zoom in for a nose to beak encounter with seabirds and marine wildlife – and there’s always something new to see – puffins and gannets with chicks in spring and summer and seals with pups in winter. There’s a Wildlife Cinema, Kids’ Zone, Migration Flyway & Environment Zone, Seabird Seafari Boat Trips (March-October) and an exciting programme of events all year round.
Bass Rock in the light with the contours of Tantallon Castle left
A formidable stronghold set atop cliffs on the Firth of Forth, Tantallon Castle was the seat of the Douglas Earls of Angus, one of the most powerful baronial families in Scotland. Tantallon comprises a single wall blocking off the headland, with the other three sides naturally protected by sea cliffs. A visit to this castle is a must, only to witness for yourself the thick and very impressive curtain wall. If you’re visiting Tantallon Castle on a clear day you’re offered one of the best views from the mainland towards Bass Rock.