Seacliff Beach in East Lothian is situated 5 miles south of the coastal town of North Berwick. 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. Discover this gem of a beach in this complete guide, which features an overview and handy visiting tips.
|Paid on-site car park.
£3 all-day parking.
The coastline of East Lothian is one of Scotland’s genuine hidden gems. While most tourists head to nearby Edinburgh, those in the know steer away from the heaving crowds of the capital to enjoy the stunning scenery of this southeastern corner of the country. There are over 40 miles (64.37 km) of coastline in East Lothian, and while a good percentage of it comprises shingle beaches and sheer cliffs, the majority is golden sand.
Everyone will, of course, have their favourite beaches, whether it’s the wide, sweeping expanse of Gullane or the gorgeous Yellowcraig, but my personal recommendation is Seacliff, which is located 4 miles (6.44 km) south of North Berwick.
How to Get To Seacliff Beach
Seacliff Beach is tricky to find if you’ve never visited before because signs are few and far between and access is via a private road which is easy to miss. To find it, join the A198 from North Berwick and head south till you reach the hamlet of Auldhame. When you see a farm on a tight bend, keep your eyes open for a narrow road next to a copse of trees as this is the main access point to the beach.
There’s a paid barrier at the end (£3 for all-day parking as of 2021) which leads to a winding track that leads down an incline to a grass area where you can park your car. The beach lies just a hundred feet from the car park but there’s a steep set of steps to get to it so anyone with mobility issues will struggle to get down there.
If you’re in that situation I recommend heading back onto the A198 and driving south a couple of miles to Belhaven Beach which has level paths and a decked walkway leading onto the sand.
Before unpacking your beach gear from the boot take a look at the remains of Auldhame Castle which can be found near the entrance to the Seacliff Beach car park. It’s almost completely hidden in the midst of the trees but it’s an interesting ruin to explore considering at one point it was the focal point of Auldhame village.
Another ruin close to the beach is Seacliff House, which was built in 1750 but was abandoned in the early 1900s after it was almost completely destroyed by fire. You’ll see the remains of the house on the beach, but it isn’t possible to explore it as it’s closed to the public (sadly).
Once on Seacliff Beach, you’ll immediately notice how attractive the views are, with the mighty Bass Rock situated a mile offshore and the dramatic ruins of Tantallon Castle looming over the cliffs around the next bay to the north.
It’s certainly not the largest beach in East Lothian (the next two beaches south – Tyninghame and Dunbar – are 3-4 times longer) but it’s definitely the most scenic and its location means it’s easy to combine with a visit to North Berwick and the many attractions surrounding it.
One of the best features of Seacliff Beach is that thanks to the steep banks behind and the curves of the bay that wrap around to the north and south, it’s possible to escape the strong winds brought in from the North Sea – no mean feat for this part of Scotland.
It’s also a wide beach when the tide’s out, so children and dogs will have lots of space to run around, and there’s the bonus that both ends are peppered with rock pools, which are a haven for fish and crabs left behind by the retreating sea.
1: This is a real gem of a beach. Its location means it doesn’t get too busy even in summer, yet it’s not difficult to get to and the A1 allows access in just 40 minutes from Edinburgh.
2: Seacliff Beach is perfect for a family afternoon out. The bay is wide and shallow so it’s safe to swim (weather permitting) and there are so many rock pools that kids will be kept busy all day. And if the weather closes in, Tantallon Castle is just a few minutes’ drive away.
3: Next to the view from the walls of Tantallon Castle, Seacliff Beach offers the best viewpoint for Bass Rock. If you’re interested in watching the dizzying number of birds that live on the rock I suggest taking a good pair of binoculars with you (link to binocular reviews).
1: As nice as lounging around on a beach is, the best feature of Seacliff is the gorgeous coastal walk to the south. The trail to the end of Tyninghame beach is a great way to blow away the cobwebs and there are paths along the clifftops if the high tide has closed off the shoreline (Click here for Seacliff Beach tide times). Alternative access is from Tyninghame Beach, which has a large car park on Limetree Walk, which is accessed from the A198 heading towards the A1.
2: Seacliff Beach car park is privately owned, so the barrier prices can change without notice. As of 2023, it’s £3, but you might consider taking an assortment of coins in case it changes. Note that while you could park on the roadside before the barrier, there are signs asking that you don’t, as the single-track road is used by large farm vehicles.
3: There are no facilities on Seacliff beach for a couple of miles in either direction so your best bet is to head into North Berwick for food and drink. That being said, there’s a very good cliff-top café (Drift) around a mile north of Tantallon Castle which overlooks Canty Bay.
As far as beaches go, Seacliff has a number of attractions to keep all ages busy in addition to relaxing on the golden sand. If you enjoy seaside walks, you’re in for a treat, as it’s possible to follow the coastline for a bracing walk to Tyninghame Beach, which lies 2 miles (3.22 km) to the south. Much of the route comprises loose rocks, so it’s a wee bit of a scramble in places, but if you have children with you, they’ll love it, especially if the tide’s out and the hundreds of rockpools make their daily appearance.
As already mentioned, Tyninghame is 3-4 times larger than Seacliff but I recommend walking its entire length as there’s a promontory at the far end – St. Baldreds Cradle – which is a nature reserve with unparalleled views of the coastline.
To the south of this point lies the expanse of Belhaven Bay, which is cut off from St. Baldred’s Cradle by the River Tyne, where it joins the sea. As inviting as Belhaven Bay is, it’s impossible to go any further thanks to the river, so if you find yourself itching to explore more of the area, your best option is to visit it from John Muir Country Park instead.
The north end of Seacliff Beach leads along a rocky shoreline that’s impassable when the tide is in, but if it’s out you’ll be able to walk a mile north to the foot of Tantallon Castle which is one of the largest and oldest curtain wall castles in Scotland. It isn’t possible to enter the castle from the beach as the cliffs are too steep to climb, but nevertheless, it’s worth taking a short walk to see this impressive fortress from sea level.
Returning to Seacliff beach you’ll no doubt notice a raised outcrop at the north end (known locally as ‘the Gegan’) which has a short climb with panoramic views from the top. After soaking up the view a surprise awaits when you head back down as there’s a partially concealed harbour hidden inside the red sandstone.
The harbour was constructed in the 1890s using a steam engine and compressed air to bore a hole in the rocks using a process that was cutting-edge (no pun intended…) at the time. The harbour is tiny and barely has enough space for 3 boats, and in fact, it’s believed to be the smallest harbour in Scotland.
If you take a look, be aware the sides of the harbour are sheer with a drop of around ten feet and no barrier, so you might consider keeping a close eye on excitable children and dogs while you’re there.
The last feature of Seacliff Beach that’s worth mentioning is the low-lying rock on the southern end that sits just under sea level at high tide. This rock is known as St. Baldred’s Boat and at one time it was a favourite place for shipwreckers to lure unwary vessels onto the rocks using lights that were supposed to mark the coastline.
Currently, there is a sizable stone beacon with a cross mounted on it that is visible from the beach but is challenging to access on foot unless the tides are low at Seacliff Beach. However, if you do manage to make it out there you’ll have uninterrupted views of Bass Rock as well as a unique angle on the coastline from the headland of Tantallon Castle all the way down to Dunbar.
Things to Do
Explore Tantallon Castle: Just a short walk from Seacliff Beach you’ll find the ruins of Tantallon Castle which dates back to the 14th century. The dramatic clifftop location offers breathtaking views of the Bass Rock which can be clearly seen from the battlements.
Surfing: Seacliff Beach is a hidden gem for surfers, offering clean waves suitable for all skill levels. If surfing doesn’t interest you then you might enjoy swimming, kayaking, or paddle boarding around the bay.
Bird Watching: Bass Rock, visible from the beach, is home to the world’s largest colony of Northern Gannets. Bring your binoculars (link to binocular reviews) and enjoy the spectacular sight of these birds, especially during the breeding season when the rock turns white with birds.
Picnicking: Seacliff Beach is a perfect spot for a picnic with its stunning views and peaceful atmosphere. Pack a lunch and a blanket and enjoy your lunch while watching the waves crash onto the shore.
Walking: There are a number of paths that run along the clifftop in both directions from Seacliff Beach. Head north and walk to Tantallon Castle or head south and walk to Tyninghame Beach (one of East Lothian’s longest beaches).
Things to Do Nearby
North Berwick Law. North Berwick, EH39 5NX, is a 12-minute drive.
A large volcanic plug that rises 187 metres above the coastal town of North Berwick. Berwick Law has well-trodden paths that allow relatively easy access to the whalebone sculpture at the top. The summit is famed for its stunning views across East Lothian and the Firth of Forth.
East Links Family Park. East Links Family Park, Dunbar, EH42 1XF. 17-minute drive. A family-friendly visitor attraction that is aimed at children has a collection of animal enclosures, a petting zoo, go-karts, bouncy castles and trampolines, a large multi-activity fort, and much more. There is a café and a gift shop on site.
North Berwick. East Rd., North Berwick, EH39 4LG. 14-minute drive.
A very popular historic former fishing village that is now a tourist destination thanks to its golden beaches and proximity to the Scottish Seabird Centre and Bass Rock. The village high street includes a collection of gift shops, restaurants, and cafés.
Tyninghame Beach. 15-minute drive.
A very clean sand beach that is separated from Seacliff by a lengthy section of shingle. There is a rough path that follows the coast south past Whitberry Point and St. Baldred’s Cradle local nature reserve. Tyninghame beach has a paid parking area.
The Scottish Seabird Centre. The Harbour, North Berwick EH39 4SS. 12-minute drive.
An environmental visitor centre that aims to educate and entertain visitors with displays and exhibitions about Scotland’s coastal marine wildlife. The centre features a viewing platform that overlooks Bass Rock and it is the departure point for pleasure cruises around the rock.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Seacliff Beach private?
Seacliff Beach is private, but access is possible by paying a small car parking fee. The barrier to the car park is coin-operated. The car park address is: North Berwick EH39 5PP.
How much does it cost to visit Seacliff Beach?
Seacliff Beach is privately owned and there is a barrier that gives access on payment (around £3 for all-day parking).
Is there a toilet at Seacliff Beach?
There are currently (2023) no Seacliff Beach toilets.
Likewise, there are no toilets at neighbouring Tyninghame Beach or Canty Beach.
The nearest public toilets are in North Berwick (4 miles. Address: 5B Quality St, North Berwick, EH39 4HJ).
Who owns Seacliff Beach?
Since 1919, the Dale family has owned Seacliff Beach privately as a part of the Seacliff Estate.
Can you swim at Seacliff Beach?
Yes, it is permitted to swim at Seacliff Beach.
Are there any restrictions at Seacliff Beach?
1: Camping – be aware that as the land is private you cannot pitch a tent without first getting permission from the landowners.
2: Dogs – you are allowed to take your canine companion onto the beach but you must clear up any mess they make.
3: Parking – parking is paid only and vehicles must not extend their stay beyond the time allocated on entry.