A day in…North Berwick

By | Category: Travel destinations
Ben Sayers acts as a welcomer to the East Course at North Berwick which he designed.

Ben Sayers acts as a welcomer to the East links course (Glen Golf Club) at North Berwick which he designed.

You can tell you are in golfing country when you go into any of the charity shops in North Berwick. Just about all of them have a large variety of golf clubs for sale! From about £3 upwards you can start kitting out yourself with full set and then wander over to one of the links courses and give them a try. Are these the clubs of people who, have got frustrated, threw them away or those who became fanatics and continually change their clubs in the hope of getting that perfect shot?
I’m not sure that I would want to start my golf career on the day I chose to be in North Berwick. There might have been glorious sunshine but the wind was howling around. Any golf ball I might have hit is more likely to have gone backwards rather than towards the hole at which I would have hit it. It reminded me of a time years ago in Bournemouth playing crazy golf when the wind played havoc with my play. Or maybe I shouldn’t admit, in such a golfing town, that I have even played crazy golf.


Forever linked with Ben Sayers, the golfer and course designer who had a manufacturing plant in the town producing golf equipment, there is a statue of him at the beginning of the entrance to the East Course, one of two in the town. Times change and there is no manuafacture anymore. That has moved to China.


the main shopping street in the town

the main shopping street in the town

North Berwick is on the coast of East Lothian and at the end of a railway line just a 35 minute journey from the centre of Edinburgh. That makes it a convenient place to travel to if you have a spare day in an Edinburgh trip, yet the closure of the railway line nearly came about as visitors opted for cars rather than the train. Making the line more attractive by better timetabling and electrification must have helped so that now there is an hourly service outside the rush hour.
Being on the coast obviously made it an important port in times by past but it came into its own again when the Victorian love-affair with sea cures and the seaside took place. The town became a magnet for the gentry rather than the ordinary man and it still feels a little like that today. House prices are high (not by Edinburgh standards but by Scottish ones) and ones near the golf courses or having sea views command even higher prices.
People came for the golf and the beaches, two, wide sandy ones where even on blustery days, there are many walking their dogs. If you walk along the sands you don’t just see the sea as you do at many other beaches. Look west on a clear day and you can see the northern shores of the Firth of Forth. Turn away and start looking more easterly and you will see a few islands, little eruptions from the sea but important because these are the nesting and breeding grounds of seals, gannets and other wildlife.

the Scottish Sealife Centre

the Scottish Seabird Centre

Today the beaches face competition for attracting visitors with the Scottish Seabird Centre which is to be found near the harbour. The centre has done much to protect the wildlife from the effects of the humans and to look after the islands that you will have seen. Although animal and bird numbers fluctuate depending on the severity of the winters and the supply of food, other effects have an impact. An invasive plant that quickly grows up to ten feet high has removed the opportunities for puffins to breed as they nest on the ground. The Centre uses volunteers to remove the plant and puffin numbers are on the increase again.
You can take sea trips out to the islands but it all depends on the weather. You might remember on the BBC series, Coast, a few years ago that they tried to land on one island to look at the birds and they were thwarted by the winds and the waves that were whipped up. If you don’t want to land on the Isle of May or cannot, then boats also sail around the islands of Bass Rock, Craigleith and the Lamb as well as taking you on to see other sites you can gaze at from the sea like nearby Tantallon Castle and Gin Head.
If the seas are too rough or your sea legs aren’t sturdy then you could go the library in the town which houses an exhibition that chronicles the effect of the sea and how coastal communities exist when the weather lays such a role. Called 50 Coastal Communities, if the exhibition isn’t open (it’s staffed by volunteers) pop down stairs to the library and ask. They might have a spare key.


more golf - the views from the Glen Golf Club

more golf – the views from the Glen Golf Club

The library is just off the main thoroughfare of the town, a town that consists of small, local shops rather than the large is size chain shops that you will see elsewhere.  In some ways it has more of a small town feel, a town that only grudgingly knows that it is in the twenty-first century. It’s heart is rooted in golf and as you wander around, buildings have plaques reminding you of golf course designers of the past. But with a golf course next to the beach, it isn’t only sand traps that hinder the visitor.


The beaches and the coastline affect North Berwick in more than one way. Go into the toilets in the library and there are signs over the washbasins reminding people not to wash sand off in the sinks as it sets into a rock-hard substance and causes other problems like blocked drains! Judging by the amount of sand that had blown onto roads lose to the beaches, sand could be as much of a problem as a benefit and an attraction.

The V tree I spotted near the railway station

The V tree I spotted near the railway station

For those with more adrenalin, you could take a walk south of the town and climb up to the top of North Berwick Law, an old vent of an ancient volcano which overlooks the town. It gives a view not only over the town but over the Forth of Firth as well reinforcing ideas you might have about just how wide the Forth is. But wear something warm at the top on anything but a hot day. The wind will remind who is the boss and it certainly isn’t you!
Today, as I suggested, North Berwick attracts the golfers, the beach visitors and those city folk who want a day at the beach without having to travel too far. It has settled down to a quiet life where the noisiest things are the birds and the odd oath from an unhappy golfer. Change is unlikely. Near the station is a strange tree that forks almost as it emerges from the ground. It’s almost as though North Berwick is giving two fingers to anyone who wants to try and change it!

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