Covid-19 hit us in 2020, and here we are a year or so later still dealing with it. But to survive, we need to adapt, to adjust, to thrive. So, it’s time to get off the couch and start the cogs of the mind jogging over again; the break, such as it was, is over. It’s time to get back to work….
My first blog in 2021 is about one of my favourite places in Scotland, a small town roughly about 25 miles east of Edinburgh on the coast where the Firth of Forth greets the North Sea. North Berwick is a picturesque village, popular with golfers and sightseers and a place I’ve been fortunate to visit quite a few times. It’s easy to get there for a day trip – either by car or you can take the train from Edinburgh.
It is known as a centre of excellence for bird watching. At the Seabird Centre, you can view the inhabitants of a huge gannetry on the volcanic plug, Bass Rock. Behind the North Berwick community sits another impressive volcanic plug, a conical hill called North Berwick Law. A rich midden was found in the vicinity so I imagine the early hunter gathers who lived here harvested the resources of land and sea many thousands of years ago.
Fast forward to medieval times, and it is here that you find some of the Scottish nobility – families like the MacDuffs, the Lauders and the Stewarts held sway here at the early motte and bailey, and later castle, strategically built overlooking the sea. The village was well known for its ferry which served the many pilgrims enroute from the abbeys of Lindisfarne in Northumbria to St Andrews in Fife, site of the great cathedral and Scotttish ecclesiastical centre. The harbour was key to this movement. Now it is happily filled with pleasure craft.
My goodness it’s a pretty town and well worth visiting with its cafes and galleries and coastal walks. I love the history though for its links with Robert The Bruce and the lead up to the Battle of Bannockburn. Prior to this the castle was in the hands of the English – the earl of Pembroke and his army. But when Edward 11 escaped after the rout of his forces he rode post haste to Dunbar – the next harbour on, where he could be rescued by boat and transported to South Berwick, now known as Berwick upon Tweed. Hot on his heels rode Sir James Douglas. Somehow, Edward was able to escape. Pembroke and his forces departed North Berwick and rode to Dunbar in support.
Over the next few hundred years the castle changed ownership a number of times until it either fell into disuse or was slighted. The Lauder family moved its power to Bass Rock when a castle was built there. Later, this was used as a prison for political prisoners, and then a quarry. Now it is the site of lighthouse. Visitors can take a boat trip over there to see it up close,
Another hugely interesting aspect of North Berwick’s history relates to the famous Witches’ Trials. During the reign of King James VI (son of Mary Queen of Scots), the king travelled to Denmark in 1589 by ship to collect his bride, Anne of Denmark. A severe storm caused him to turn back. With such an inbuilt hatred and obsession with witches, he blamed them for the storm. Prior to this he had written a book, exploring areas of witchcraft and demonic magic. Hundreds of people, mainly women were convicted and tortured to extract confessions; some were merely guilty of possessing red hair, birthmarks or even for being left handed; many of whom were subsequently executed by strangulation and being burnt at the stake. These executions often took place near the site of the medieval St Andrews Old Kirk.
But for the sightseer, its not all doom and gloom. There are lots of areas to explore with the ancient streetscapes and lovely old buildings. Families can have a relaxed, happy time entertaining their children and pets on the sandy beaches where dog walkers are welcomed, or learning something new about the local birdlife at the Seabird Centre. Festivals also take place here, often linked to broader Scottish festivals, allowing a rich cultural life for locals and visitors alike.
North Berwick is known for having a climate with more sun and less rain than the rest of Scotland, so you should certainly be able to enjoy a lovely day out in the summer, capped off by a glass of wine and a delicious fish supper in one of the atmospheric cafes.
I look forward to Covid travel restrictions being lessened, particularly here in Australia, enough at least to allow international travel; as well, with the hope offered by the vaccinations… then maybe – just maybe – we might be able to revisit our favourite places in beautiful Scotland. Perhaps I’ll see you there!