Birds & bass rock

North Berwick

So thanks to Stuart and family for inviting me over for a weekend in beautiful North Berwick. The highlight for sure was a fast Rib ride around Craigleith, Bass Rock and under the cliffs at Tantallon Castle. I say that was the highlight, but Stu also does a mean BBQ!

We were booked on a boat ride from North Berwick harbour on the East coast of Scotland. The weather was beautiful, sunny blue skies with the hint of a breeze. There were waves but nothing too extreme. At least we hoped that would be the case further out to sea. 

surfing puffins
Surfin’ puffins – Two little clowns of the sea about to take off

The Lamb & Craigleith

So once we were all fitted with waterproofs and life jackets, we were loaded on to the 12 seat rigid inflatable boat (Rib). On leaving the walls of the harbour the boat accelerated to wards our first destination, Craigleith. It’s a low-lying small island and according to the Scottish Seabird Centre was once one of the largest puffin colonies in Britain. Breeding numbers crashed in later years with the arrival of the invasive tree mallow. This is plant that blocks the puffin burrows and prevents them digging new ones due to the dense network of roots. Work is underway to rid the island of this plant and as a result, breeding numbers of puffins are on the rise.

Our boat stopped short of the island as we spotted some of the residents bobbing in the water. A pair of tiny puffins sat paddling, you could see their bright orange feet working away in the clear water. As we drew closer, they beat their tiny wings, running as they went and took off ahead of the boat.

The Lamb

We worked our way around the island, watching the other residents, mostly guillemots, perched atop guano covered rocks. A lone harbour seal was basking on the islands Western side, waiting for the tide to return with dinner.

Our informative guide filled us in on the history and background behind the islands of the Forth. Including the strange story of The Lamb, an Island purchased by Uri Gellar due to its tenuous connections with the great pyramids of Giza!

We were warned to hold on to cameras and anything loose before the skipper opened up the throttle to cross the open water toward our next destination.

Harbour Seal hauled up
Northern Gannet

Bass Rock

The puffins and guillemots were left behind as we moved into the territory of the gannet. We stopped short of the Bass Rock, which is much smaller than I thought. This lack of bulk was more than made up for by the sheer volume of life it accommodated. The sky was filled with birds, northern gannets, their down filling the few empty spaces of blue sky between them.

Guided tour
Expert advice on the Bass Rock

Nesting from the waterline to the very peak of the rock, gannets dominate, and for one the largest seabird colonies in the world, the smell wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be either.

nesting gannets
Nesting gannets

I really hadn’t expected to be as awestruck as I was, but the level of activity within this bustling community was what left the biggest impression on me. Social structures, behaviours, sounds and performances were all being played out on the rock and in the air above. Like confetti floating over a large iced cake.

The shore side of the rock is also host to the lighthouse seen in any postcard, but the structure that impressed me most was the old castle wall. It almost blended into the rock itself, its castellations signifying that this indeed is a man-made structure. What must it have been like to build stonework like this in the 16th or 17th century?

gannets in flight
The colony takes flight
The Bass Rock
A confetti cloud of gannets above

Tantallon Castle & the coast

The boat turned away from the Bass Rock and took us closer inshore under the shadow of the cliffs and Tantallon castle. Regaled with bloody history from the time before Oliver Cromwell to the second world war, the buildings that perch atop these cliffs have seen plenty of action over the year. 

Tantallon Castle
Tantallon Castle on the mainland cliff top

The rib skipped its way back across the tops of the waves. The journey was way more comfortable than I had expected, with only minor salt water sprays hitting me and occasionally my camera.

The journey was just over an hour and definitely worth doing. Our trip was run by Seafari Advertures (Forth) based at the harbour in North Berwick. You must give it a go.


Other than the odd piece of fishing net being integrated into nests, I was lucky not to witness any issues with plastic waste. However it was poignant that the following day (Sunday 1st July 2018), I would be starting my #GoPlasticFree month for the Marine Conservation Society. Challenging myself along with other members of Roam Responsibly to make do without single use plastics for a month. Here are some tips on how to live a plastic free life . 

Bass Rock Clifs
Giant cliffs of the Bass Rock