Bass Rock: North Berwick Icon

Bass Rock from West Beach

Think North Berwick: think Bass Rock.

Bass Rock is one of two iconic North Berwick landmarks (the other being North Berwick Law). It is the subject of many a painting, sketch or photograph created by the artists and visitors who are drawn to the area by the light, the coast and the beautiful town.

Bass Rock can be seen from many vantage points in and around North Berwick, and the flat East Lothian countryside means it is visible for miles around. As you travel around the area it often seems to float up unexpectedly into view.

What is Bass Rock?

Bass Rock is an island at the eastern end of the Firth of Forth. It is about 2 km (1 mile) offshore, and 5 km from North Berwick. It has an area of about 3 hectares (7 acres) and is just over 100m high at its highest point.

The Rock is a volcanic plug of igneous rock, dating from the carboniferous era. It is a similar geological formation to the nearby Law, as well as the Edinburgh landmarks of Castle Rock, Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat.

All of these hard volcanic rock formations resisted the grinding and smoothing effects of glaciation in the last ice age, leaving them as prominent features in the otherwise ice-flattened landscapes.

Bass Rock from the grasses behind the East Beach

History of Bass Rock

The earliest known inhabitation of Bass Rock is said to be that of St Baldred, who established a hermitage there.

Later, in the 14th century, the Rock came into the ownership of the Lawedre (Lauder) family, apparently gifted to the family by King Malcom III of Scotland. The island was fortified and subsequently used as a prison, before falling into the hands of Cromwell’s English invaders in 1650.

In 1706, the Rock was acquired by Hew Dalrymple, Lord of North Berwick. It has been held by the Dalrymple family ever since.

The excellent video below features drone footage over the island, showing the fortifications and other signs of human habitation.

The Gannets of Bass Rock

Bass Rock is now a nature reserve and houses what is reported to be the world’s largest colony of northern gannets. In fact the scientific name for these birds, Sula bassana, references their association with the Bass. In the summer months the island shimmers white in the sunlight, as a result of being covered completely by the 150,000 strong colony of gannets (and their droppings).

Traditionally, gannets were a source of food for locals, the chicks were considered a delicacy and the eggs were harvested. Now, the island and its inhabitants are protected. They are watched over by the cameras of the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick Harbour, which enable visitors to see the birds in situ, without disturbing their nesting grounds.

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