The sea holds something special for me. Growing up a stone’s throw from the River Clyde and holidaying on Highland shores meant that the tide and its creatures were backdrops to my childhood. Since moving to Scotland’s capital Edinburgh in my mid-twenties, the sea — although close — has seemed just out my reach… Until last weekend.
It’s an easy jaunt out to one of Edinburgh’s bustling seaside escapes. North Berwick is but 30 minutes from Waverley on the train, and then you fall into colourful streets, crammed with quaint shops and fish-fuelled restaurants, and the tang of the sea in the air. You can’t help but be lifted by the weekend holiday resort atmosphere; my inner country lass swooned at just being out of the city!
The Scottish Seabird Centre is a short walk from the train station, its unique architecture foregrounding Bass Rock, our day’s destination. After stopping by Bostock Bakery for a compulsory cinnamon bun and coffee, we headed to the harbour. Rigging tinkled and a couple of fishermen dragged crates of crab along the jetty, their claws grasping for sand but finding only air.
It was onto the Seabird Centre’s catamaran and then the fifty of us passengers found ourselves leaving behind the sheltered harbour walls for the rippling seas of the Forth. North Berwick from the water was even more beautiful, the volcanic leftovers of the Law and Bass Rock framing the town.
Just half a mile from the shore, the boat reached Craigleith. It’s a small, rugged yet green island which — like the Bass — is home to several species of seabird. The most famous (and eye-catching!) is the puffin. Our tour guide helpfully pointed out their path for those of us with slow reflexes; the tiny birds sped along with barely a flash of their colourful beaks. Luckily my zoom lens did some of the hard work for me!
We circled and began heading further out to sea, the spray glittering in the air. There’s something so liberating about the horizon stretching out in front of you; perspective and distance incomprehensible. Emptiness, apart from the lump of carboniferous stone that rose like a diamond from the waves.
The Bass Rock is undeniably beautiful, with its imposing stature and classic lighthouse, but its tagline comes from its status as home to the world’s largest northern gannet colony. From afar, only its white tinge could give that way, but as you get closer the sky slowly fills with birds, like droplets in an approaching rain shower. By the time the cliffs towered above the boat, the gannets were swarming. It was fascinating.
Like most animals, their microcosm reflects our human world. Parents jump from the rock to source food, or return to their partners with their next meal. Bald chicks — who look more like greying pensioners in their winter woollens — stare blankly from a rock edge. Wings soar across the sky, twisting in an avian kaleidoscope. Aside from the anxiety of being shat on (which I wasn’t!) I found the erratic rhythm of their flight rather relaxing to watch… Even with the whiff of excrement off the Rock!
Again, the catamaran circled the Bass, pausing at the Stevenson lighthouse standing 20 metres above the stone. I could quite easily have stayed, wondering at the myths of the medieval hermit, Jacobite prisoners and the beat of the sea, for hours. But it was time to return to dry land, appetite duly whetted. A huge thank you to the Scottish Seabird Centre for this fantastic trip, I loved every second.