West Bay from the harbour
|7,840 (mid-2020 est.)
|OS grid reference
|20 mi (32 km)
|332 mi (534 km)
North Berwick (//; Scottish Gaelic: Bearaig a Tuath) 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 20 miles (32 km) east-northeast of Edinburgh. North Berwick became a fashionable holiday resort in the nineteenth century because of its two sandy bays, the East (or Milsey) Bay and the West Bay, and continues to attract holidaymakers. Golf courses at the ends of each bay are open to visitors.
The name Berwick means "barley farmstead" (bere in Old English means "barley" and wic means "farmstead"). Alternatively, like other place names in Scotland ending in 'wick', this word means 'bay' (Old Norse: vík). 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 side of North Berwick Law there is evidence of at least 18 hut circles, rich middens and a field system dating from 2,000 years ago. There have been numerous archaeological excavations in the town that have uncovered evidence of North Berwick's medieval and modern remains. One such excavation found evidence of pre-medieval occupation of the area in the form of several Iron Age Cist burials.
One of the largest excavations occurred when many of the water mains in the town were replaced in the 2000s and archaeologists monitored the work. These excavations found the first evidence of the city walls - all towns of Scotland on the east coast were required by an Act of Parliament (1503) to build walls, but until then there was no evidence that they were ever built. It also found that the High Street was the main street in the medieval burgh, rather than Quality Street that had been hypothesized.
Excavations have shown that from as early as the eighth century, a ferry crossing to Earlsferry, near Elie in Fife was in existence, serving pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Saint Andrew. North Berwick Harbour was built in the twelfth 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 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 thirteenth century built North Berwick Castle 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. Late in the fourteenth century the Lauder family (owners of the Bass Rock castle) erected a stone tower with a barmkin on the site; however they had abandoned it by 1420 in favour of the Bass, possibly as a result of conflict with the owners of nearby Tantallon Castle.
In the fourteenth 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 fifteenth century, the town became a royal burgh in the reign of James I of Scotland.
The "Auld Kirk Green" at the harbour was allegedly 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. During the sixteenth 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 that of Agnes Sampson. She was accused of making a potion to create rough storms in the North Sea as King James VI was sailing home from Denmark with his new wife, Anne of Denmark. The trial took place in 1591, attended by King James. Agnes Sampson was tortured to confess, and then burnt at the stake, like many other innocent people.
Local lore, place names, and the jawbone arch first erected atop the Law in 1709, suggest that the port was involved in the whaling industry, though there is little written evidence to prove it. If so, it would have been a minor participant in the industry, overshadowed by nearby Leith. Certainly, whales have washed ashore at North Berwick over the years, even in recent times.
Despite the railway arriving in 1850, the Industrial Revolution bypassed the town. The late-nineteenth 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 in 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 has grown significantly but not truly "exploded", house prices have rocketed since the 1950s. 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. In 2021, it was voted best place to live in Scotland.
Several of the Islands of the Forth are near the town and visible from it: e.g. Fidra, Lamb, Craigleith, and the Bass Rock; the last-named hosts a thriving colony of seabirds, including puffins and gannets. The Bass Rock appears white due to the white plumage of seabirds, and their white guano, which cover much of its surface. The seabirds can be observed at close range through remote cameras operated from the Scottish Seabird Centre near the harbour.
Kenny MacAskill of the Alba Party has served as the Member of Parliament for East Lothian since 2019. Former East Lothian Council leader Paul McLennan of the Scottish National Party (SNP) has served as the MSP for East Lothian since 2021. There are three councillors for North Berwick Coastal.
There are several churches in the town. These include:
North Berwick is served by Law Primary School, and North Berwick High School for secondary school-age children, which has an excellent reputation, frequently outperforming other East Lothian district schools in annual examination tables.
Films which have shots of North Berwick include:
The town is served by North Berwick railway station. The North Berwick Line has provided a rail link with Edinburgh since 17 June 1850 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 an 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 Airport is the nearest airport, not just to North Berwick but the whole county, and is approximately a 45-minute drive away, or around 1 hour 20 mins by public transport.
East Coast Buses, a subsidiary company run by Lothian Buses, runs a twice-hourly 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.
Since 1999, North Berwick has been twinned with Kerteminde, Denmark.
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