Bass Rock Visitor Guide

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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, and visitors can take a boat from the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick to see the Bass Rock and its noisy inhabitants close up.

Bass Rock, East Lothian - Photo Slideshow

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About 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.

Bass Rock

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 residents 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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Bass Rock

Visiting 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.

Bass Rock

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.

Bass Rock

The history of 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.

Discover more places to visit in East Lothian with: The Best Places to Visit in East Lothian – Ultimate Visitor Guide.

The highlights

  • 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).

Visiting tips

  • 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.

Directions to the Scottish Seabird Centre

Head to the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick to book boat trips to around the rock.

North Berwick,
EH39 4SS

Google Map of bass rock scotland

Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:

Dunbar & North Berwick – 351 Explorer.

Edinburgh – 66 Landranger.

OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer Maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

Accommodation near the Scottish Seabird Centre

  • Nether Abbey Hotel. 0.8 miles.
  • Marine & Spa North Berwick. 0.8 miles.
  • The Castle Inn. 2.7 miles.
  • Greywalls Hotel. 4.2 miles.
  • The Watchman Hotel. 4.7 miles.

FAQ’s about Bass Rock

How do I get to Bass Rock?

Bass Rock is a volcanic plug situated in the Firth of Forth, just offshore from North Berwick in East Lothian.
Access to Bass Rock is organized by the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick (Address: North Berwick, EH39 4SS).

Directions map: Google Maps

Can you land on Bass Rock?

It is not permitted to land on Bass Rock unless as part of an organized tour from the Scottish Seabird Centre. This is to limit disturbance to the bird colonies on the rock.

Does anyone live on Bass Rock?

The Bass Rock is uninhabited, but historically it was home to a prison, a castle, a chapel, and a small settlement.

What is Bass Rock made of?

Bass Rock is formed of phonolitic trachyte from the Dinantian age, which is the same rock that Berwick Law is made from. The rock covers 7 acres (3 hectares) and has an elevation of 351 feet (107 metres) at its highest point.

More places to visit in The Lothians

  • Swanston & the Pentland Hills Visitor Guide
    The Pentland Hills are located south of Edinburgh where they span Midlothian and West Lothian in a regional park that’s over 38 square miles in size. There are 9 peaks over 1,500 feet in the Pentlands and more than 600,000 people visit them each year. There are a number of entry points to the park but one of the best is at Swanston, which is just a 20-minute drive from Edinburgh city centre.
  • Woodhall Dean Nature Reserve Visitor Guide
    Woodhall Dean Nature Reserve in East Lothian is situated to the north-east of the Lammermuir Hills. The reserve comprises mixed woodland which surrounds a deep gorge that opens up onto rolling fields. In spring, Woodhall Dean is awash with bluebells and primroses, while buzzards, sparrowhawks, and tawny owls can be seen throughout the year.
  • Lammermuir Hills Visitor Guide
    The Lammermuirs are a range of hills in the south of Scotland that border the county of East Lothian and the Scottish Borders. Visitors can explore the ancient hill forts at White Castle and Addinston, go for woodland walks at Pressmennan Wood and Yester Estate, and climb the highest point of the hill range at Meikle Says Law (1,755 feet/535 metres).
  • Seacliff Beach Visitor Guide
    Seacliff Beach is situated 5 miles south of North Berwick in East Lothian. This remote beach is overlooked by the dramatic ruins of Tantallon Castle and is best known for its unusual sandstone harbour which is said to be the smallest in the UK.
Bass Rock

By Craig Neil

Craig Neil is a travel writer and specialist 360° photographer from Edinburgh, Scotland. When he's not zooming around the country with his trusty camera in hand, he can usually be found working on the Out About Scotland website and Vartour virtual tours.