Exploring the Firth of Forth from North Berwick

Samantha Grant | Monday 19th June 2017 10:00am

So far on this blog we’ve focussed on land, but as much of East Lothian skirts the shore of the Firth of Forth we thought it was time to look at some of the wonders which can be found on that steely, grey stretch of water. 

The islands of the Firth of Forth have a long and rich history spanning everything from Viking raids, medieval saints, attacks by marauding English armies and daring tales of Jacobite defiance.  They’ve held imprisoned Covenanters, acted as quarantine centres during times of plague and played a key strategic role during the Napoleonic, First and Second World Wars.  

Today, they’re uninhabited (give or take a handful of people who work on them seasonally), and the only evidence of their history can be seen in the form of the eerie and decaying buildings which still stand.  The absence of humans on the islands has created a remote and safe environment for wildlife to thrive - seabirds have flourished.  It’s these seabirds which draw many visitors to the islands of the Firth of Forth today.


Puffin spotting on the Firth of Forth

The Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick run seasonal boat trips on the Firth of Forth to view the fascinating seabirds at close range.  The undeniable star of the show and crowd-puller is the clown-faced puffin.  Puffins can be found in huge numbers on the Isle of May which is one of Scotland’s National Nature Reserves.  This year there are 40,000 breeding pairs on the island, making the Isle of May the best place to spot puffins on the East Coast of the UK.  Arriving in March, they make their nests in burrows underground, ready for the arrival of their adorable little pufflings. It’s impossible to look at a puffin without smiling.  They’re such comical little birds, yet their cute appearance gives no clue as to how tough they really are.  After being born on land puffins spend the first four years of their lives out at sea.  As adults, they only spend the few short months of the breeding season on land, before heading back to sea. If you’d like to see puffins this year there’s still time, as they’ll be on the Isle of May until late July.  The Scottish Seabird Centre run a high-speed rib service to the island throughout puffin season, where you’re free to explore at your leisure for a couple of hours.  It’s not all about puffins either as the island is teeming with many other fascinating seabirds, including shags, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes. 


Visiting the World's largest Northern gannet colony

Puffins aren’t the only seabird to be found on the Firth of Forth in large numbers.  The Bass Rock is home to a staggering 150,000 gannets, making it the largest Northern gannet colony in the World.  The Scottish Seabird Centre run seasonal boat trips to view the Bass Rock.  Their 1-hour catamaran cruise, which also takes in the small island of Craigleith is a great way to view the seabirds without having to give up a whole day.If you’re keen to spot puffins keep a close eye on Craigleith as you pass as there are lots to be seen there, flying around, sitting on the island and bobbing comically on the sea. The Bass Rock looks impressive from the shore, however up close, it’s a staggering sight to see.  It’s hard to take in the huge number of gannets circling overhead and covering every spare inch of the rock.  A visit should definitely be on your bucket list, if you’re visiting East Lothian this summer.


Seabird spotting on dry land

If the thought of a boat-trip leaves you feeling green around the gills, fear not - you can watch the seabirds from dry land instead, in the comfortable surroundings of the Scottish Seabird Centre.  The Discovery Centre is home to several webcams where you can view the seabirds on the Isle of May, Craigleith, the Bass Rock and Dunbar Harbour.  It’s a great way to enjoy the wildlife and spot puffins without having to feel the spray of salt water on your face.There’s also a Café on-site serving light lunches, teas, coffees and sweet treats, plus a gift shop stocking lots of lovely local products, including adorable puffin prints.  What better way to enjoy a day out and take home a seabird spotting memento?We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief glimpse of the fascinating Firth of Forth, and the wonders that are out there just waiting for you to discover them.