The Bass Rock is an island in the outer part of the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland. The volcanic rock is home to one of the world’s largest colonies of gannets.
Review of the Bass Rock
Just over a mile off the shore of North Berwick lies one of the most impressive islands in the Forth Estuary – the mighty Bass Rock.
This rock outcrop is home to the largest northern gannet colony in the world and bird watchers from across the planet come here to take boat trips around the island to watch thousands of swarming birds nest and hunt for food.
The Bass Rock is absolutely enormous and reaches 107 metres above sea level at its highest point, with most of the sides of this 320 million-year-old volcanic plug standing almost vertical above the pounding waves of the Firth of Forth.
Swirling above it are countless birds engaged in an endless display of aerial acrobatics, while seals and dolphins are occasionally glimpsed below. Perhaps that’s why Sir David Attenborough described the Bass Rock as one of the twelve wildlife wonders of the world (or was it Chris Packham?).
The gannets put on a fantastic show for visitors and it’s quite a spectacle to see them filling the sky overhead. With the Bass Rock as a background it has to be one of the best photo opportunities in Scotland, but you can’t exactly put your shoes on and take a walk out there so you’ve got two options to see the rock and its noisy inhabitants up close.
First off you can head to The Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick to view the wildlife through the powerful telescopes in the centre and the remote-controlled cameras installed on the rock.
Second, (and my recommended option) is to book a trip on one of the boats that sail out from the Scottish Seabird Centre each day to see the Bass Rock up close. It’s an exciting cruise and one that’ll keep both wildlife enthusiasts and keen photographers very happy during the sail.
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Things to do at the Bass Rock
More than 150,000 gannets nest on the Bass Rock at the peak of the season but these numbers gradually reduce towards the end of October when they set off on their long journey south, with many travelling as far as the west coast of Africa.
When you first catch sight of the enormous monolith glinting polar-white in the middle of the Firth of Forth you could easily be forgiven for thinking it’s either covered in snow or the rock has been painted white, but in fact, what’s actually causing the colour are countless bird poops plastered across its surface!
I’ve yet to make the journey onto the rock but I can only imagine what the smell is like…
Nature-lovers have plenty to look at without the gannet’s presence though as the rock is also home to shags, guillemots, razorbills and puffins, and seals can be seen hauling themselves onto the rocks below.
Visitors who want to see the Bass Rock up close can book a tour on one of the boats operated by the Scottish Seabird Centre on either a 12-seat RIB or a 55-seat catamaran, with the catamaran taking you around three outcrops in this part of the Firth of Forth – the Lamb, Craigleith, and of course, the Bass Rock itself.
While looking through the binoculars in the seabird centre is interesting enough, taking a boat trip is the only way to fully appreciate the size of Bass Rock and the number of birds that live there.
Departing from the Scottish Seabird Centre, the tour boat sails out into the Firth of Forth for a return trip that takes around two hours which is fantastic fun when the sea is calm but not so much when the weather closes in and the waves get a bit choppy.
The inflatable RIB is definitely more exciting as it’s much faster but then it’s also less relaxing (and much wetter) and possibly not so good for photographers. But whichever option you choose I guarantee you’ll enjoy the experience.
The Seabird Centre also offers private boat tours and charters and I have it on good authority that taking the tour that lands on the rock is an incredible experience (they have exclusive landing rights), although very expensive, so maybe it’s something that should be saved for an extra-special occasion.
Find more attractions in the area with my Guide to the Best Places to Visit in East Lothian.
The history of the Bass Rock
The rock is uninhabited today but in the past it was settled by Saint Baldred (an early Christian hermit) in 600AD, and was also the site of a castle that was used as a prison in the 17th-century.
These days it’s left alone for nature to make use of thanks to its current owner Sir Hew Hamilton-Dalrymple whose family acquired it in 1706 from the Lauder family who had owned it for the previous six centuries.
Although the Bass Rock is now free from human meddling there are a couple of man-made structures on it – namely the lighthouse that was built in 1902 and the remains of Saint Baldred’s chapel.
There are also a few cameras that have been installed to keep watch on the birds but other than that the rock has been given back to nature, which is exactly how it should be.
- This natural wonder is seriously impressive thanks to the amount of bird-life swooping over it. A boat trip to the rock has to be at the top of every bird-lovers ‘must-do’ list.
- The catamaran boat trip is really enjoyable but if you want a bit of adrenaline try the RIB. To be honest I’d give it a miss if the Firth of Forth is a bit choppy – unless you want to get soaked.
- A visit to the Bass Rock is enjoyable for all ages. Kids will love it (especially if you take the RIB).
- Wear a waterproof jacket for the boat trip. The wind whips up the sea no matter the time of year and a decent jacket will stop you getting cold and wet (you’ll mostly have to sit outside).
- Take a camera with a zoom lens. A camera phone will really struggle to get a decent zoomed-in picture of the birds as the top of the rock is surprisingly high. You’ll only appreciate that fact once you get out there.
- You can get a great land-based view of the Bass Rock from Berwick Law but if you want a close-up view check out the Scottish Seabird Centre which has live-action camera feeds from the rock.
Address and map
Head to the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick to book boat trips to around the rock.
Scottish Seabird Centre,
Tickets and opening times
Phone the Scottish Seabird Centre for the latest prices and boat departure times or go to their website which details the tours they have available.
As an example (in 2019) the Catamaran Cruise costs adults £24 and children £9, while the three island RIB tour costs adults £30 and children £20.
- Telephone: 01620 890202
- email: Scottish Seabird Centre (Scottish Seabird Centre)
- Website: North Berwick
Photos and video
More places to visit in The Lothians
- Prestongrange Museum – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuidePrestongrange in the coastal village of Prestonpans is a free-to-visit outdoor museum that showcases East Lothian’s rich industrial heritage. The museum aims to educate visitors about the 800-years of industrial activity that left its mark on the area, from the almost-vanished harbour to the long-abandoned colliery.
- Dalkeith Country Park – Midlothian: Complete Visitor GuideThe historic county of Midlothian seems to be permanently out of favour with visiting tourists – mainly due to the fact that it borders Edinburgh and most sightseers have already got their hands full trying to fit in as many city attractions as possible before hopping on the coach to their next destination.
- Jupiter Artland – Edinburgh: Complete Visitor GuideIt was with great pleasure that I happened to stumble upon Jupiter Artland recently, a contemporary sculpture park near Edinburgh that gave me one of the biggest surprises I’ve had in a long time.
- Dunbar Harbour – East Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideThe quaint coastal town of Dunbar is located just 30 miles east of Edinburgh on a stretch of coastline that’s famed for being one of the most scenic in Scotland.
- Linlithgow Palace – West Lothian: Complete Visitor GuideLinlithgow Palace is located in the quaint West Lothian market town of Linlithgow, more-or-less halfway between the cities of Stirling and Edinburgh.