Places to Go: North Berwick
Places to Go is a regular feature from NationalRail.com’s stationmaster, Alex Nelson. His passion for the UK rail network and travelling to new locations around the UK have inspired him to write a regular piece on UK tourism.
North Berwick is a small town in East Lothian, Scotland, not to be confused with Berwick upon Tweed which is in England. The latter is on the East Coast Main Line from London to Edinburgh. North Berwick is on a spur off the main line, and the local trains serve five stations whilst the mainline trains pass through. As a result, to get to North Berwick, passengers from the north-east go fast into Edinburgh and come back out on the same route on the local stopping train. I did this journey on 29th August, staying at the Marine Hotel, and visiting the Sea Bird Centre and Tantallon Castle, but missed out on a visit to the NB Distillery making gin fairly close to the Castle, which I only found out about when I was back at the hotel. Shame!
I arrived by train and walked to the hotel along the road, but came back – minus my luggage, of course – along the edge of the golf course towards the beach. I tried some seafood chowder from a little shack on the harbour which was delicious, and they even took my contactless card which saved me from having to find a bank for some cash. The Sea Bird Centre is in the harbour between the two beaches, and the shop and café were open to all, but admission is charged for an interesting exhibition about the life of the gannets and puffins and other sea birds which inhabit this stretch of coast. There were also boat trips available to go out to the Bass Rock, covered in guano, a polite word for birds**t, and the other islands in the Firth of Forth, and I considered a trip later in the afternoon. But, as the forecast was fine for my trip, I had not brought any wet weather gear. I thought the boat trip was a bit risky and plumped instead for the bus trip three miles along the coast to the mystically named Tantallon Castle.
Tantallon, built in the mid 14th Century is in the care of Historic Scotland, so my English Heritage life membership purchased in 1988 proved its worth again. The bus service 120 to Dunbar operated by a local firm called Eve’s runs every two hours, but the 1 ¼ hours the bus takes to go to Dunbar and back is ideal timing to see the Castle, built by the 1st Earl of Douglas to consolidate his power base in the area. It stood proud and strong until 1651 when an attack by Oliver Cromwell during his invasion of Scotland reduced it to a ruin. It was never repaired or inhabited again. This highly romantic coastal ruin is one where you can climb up two staircases right to the top and walk around, whilst underneath there are proper dungeons too.
Eve’s bus brought me back to town and I found out more about the famous Witch Trials of 1590-2, visited the shops, and noted how the fortunes of the town were revived when the railway arrived in 1850. Since that time there have been many regular commuters going into Edinburgh every day. The journey time now is 33 minutes. Traditionally there has been a ferry north to Anstruther in Fife, and a passenger boat still makes the trip infrequently. But I took myself to the spa in the Marine Hotel. I expected to head into town for dinner with my Tastecard which offers 50% off for single diners but found my hotel offered the best Tastecard deal so headed back there for an excellent meal, and breakfast next morning.
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