North Berwick

For other uses, see North Berwick (disambiguation).
North Berwick
Scottish Gaelic: Bearaig-a-Tuath
Scots: Northbarrick, Northberwyke

West Bay from the harbour
North Berwick
 North Berwick shown within East Lothian
Population 6,605 
OS grid referenceNT553852
Civil parishNorth Berwick
Council areaEast Lothian
Lieutenancy areaEast Lothian
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post town North Berwick
Postcode district EH39
Dialling code 01620 89xxxx
Police Scottish
Fire Scottish
Ambulance Scottish
EU Parliament Scotland
UK ParliamentEast Lothian
Scottish ParliamentEast Lothian
List of places

Coordinates: 56°03′29″N 2°43′01″W / 56.058°N 2.717°W / 56.058; -2.717

North Berwick (/nɔərθ ˈbɛrk/; Scottish Gaelic: Bearaig a Tuath)[1] 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 25 miles (40 km) east north east of Edinburgh. North Berwick became a fashionable holiday resort in the 19th century because of its two sandy bays, the East (or Milsey) Bay and the West Bay, and continues to attract holiday makers to this day. Golf courses at the ends of each bay are open to visitors.


North Berwick East Bay

The name North Berwick means North 'barley farmstead' ('bere' in Old English means 'barley' and 'wic' in Old English is 'farmstead'). 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. On the south of North Berwick Law there is evidence of at least eighteen hut circles, rich middens and a field system dating from 2000 years ago.

A view east towards the town centre
The same view in winter

Excavations have shown that from as early as the 8th century, a ferry crossing to Earlsferry, near Elie in Fife was in existence serving pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint Andrew.[2] North Berwick Harbour was built in the 12th 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[3] 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 13th century built North Berwick Castle[4] 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. In the late 14th century, the Lauder family (owners of the Bass Rock castle) erected a stone tower with a barmkin on the site; however they abandoned it by 1420 in favour of the Bass, possibly as a result of conflict with the then owners of nearby Tantallon castle.

In the 14th century the town became a baronial burgh under William Douglas, 1st Earl of Douglas, who then built nearby Tantallon Castle to consolidate his power.

Later during the 15th century the town became a royal burgh in the reign of James I of Scotland.

The "Auld Kirk Green" at the harbour was 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, although it is more likely that Satan was "played" by Francis Stewart Hepburn, 5th Earl of Bothwell. During the 16th 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 of the woman named Agnes Sampson. She was accused of making a potion to make the storms rough as King James VI of Scotland was sailing home from Denmark with his new wife, Anne of Denmark. The trial took place in 1591 and King James was there himself. Sampson was tortured to confess and then burned at the stake, like many other innocent people.

Harbour at low tide

Whaling in the 18th century. Local lore, place names, and the jawbone arch atop the Law erected in 1709,[5] suggest that the port was involved in the whaling industry though there is little written evidence left to prove it. In any event it would have been overshadowed by nearby Leith.[6] Certainly whales have been known to have washed ashore here; regularly over the years, even in recent times.[7]

Despite the railway arriving in 1850, the Industrial revolution bypassed the town. The late 19th 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 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 might not have truly "exploded", house prices have. 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.[8][9]


Harbour and Craigleith

Several of the Islands of the Forth are near the town and visible from it: e.g. Fidra, The Lamb, Craigleith, and Bass Rock; the latter hosts a thriving colony of birds, including puffins, gannets, and other seabirds. The Bass Rock appears white, but this is due largely to the gannets and their guano that cover much of its surface. The seabirds themselves can be observed at close range through remote cameras operated from the recently developed Scottish Seabird Centre near the harbour.


A "spring" tide, West Bay
West Bay front North Berwick


The town is served by North Berwick railway station. The North Berwick Line has provided a rail link with Edinburgh since the 19th century 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 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 is the nearest airport, approximately a 45-minute drive or around 80 minutes by public transport.

East Coast Buses, a subsidiary company run by Lothian Buses run 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.

Literary links

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894), spent many holidays in the town as a child and young man. His father, Thomas Stevenson the famous 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

Twin town

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

See also


External links

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