Last updated on May 13th, 2023.
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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.
1: This natural wonder is seriously impressive thanks to the number of birds swooping over it. A boat trip to the rock has to be at the top of every bird lover’s ‘must-do’ list.
2: The catamaran boat trip from the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick is good fun, but if you want a bit of adrenaline try the RIB. I’d give it a miss if the Firth of Forth is a bit choppy, though – unless you want to get soaked.
3: A trip to the Bass Rock is enjoyable for all ages. Kids will love it (especially if you take them on the RIB).
1: 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 from getting cold and wet as you’ll mostly have to sit outside.
2: To really appreciate the Bass Rock and its wildlife, I highly recommend taking a pair of binoculars. If you don’t have a pair yet, this article has a selection of recommended budget options from Amazon.
3: You can get a great land-based view of the Bass Rock from Berwick Law, but if you want a close-up view visit the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick which has live-action camera feeds streamed directly from the 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 make nests 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 vertically 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.
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.
Discover the best attractions in Scotland with my Scottish Tourist Attractions Map.
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.
These boats are 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 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 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.
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.
Frequently asked questions
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.