For years, I have seen pictures of Bass Rock on those ‘top must-visit places in Scotland’ lists, you know the ones, yet nothing could have prepared me for the surprise I got when I finally experienced it in person.
I was awestruck. It is so much closer to land than I had expected, and yes, I knew that it was close to land but still, it was much closer than expected. I saw it in all of its glory long before we reached the shore of North Berwick, a sight that I had not anticipated so early on and it was wonderful.
Safe to say, we struck lucky by visiting East Lothian on the hottest days of the year so far and with that, I was really thankful for my planning on this occasion, as we had pre-booked one of the visit Bass Rock sightseeing tours with Sula Boat Trips where the cool breeze and sea spray were very much welcomed!
But I’ll be honest, I had a lot of anxiety ahead of this boat trip as I recently injured my foot and was afraid that any (small as they may be) jumps could damage it further. However, there was no need to worry as there was a small gangway with barriers on either side that made access very easy and comfortable.
Hopping on our Sula Boat Trip
We booked the first sailing of the day, 10 am, for our Bass Rock trip. You do have to arrive at North Berwick harbour around 20 minutes before departure but it was nice to be up and see the town a little earlier in the day as it was much quieter. We also had the chance to admire the gorgeous houses and views before our trip.
Once aboard, we took our seats overlooking the water and settled in. I know that many of us tend to scramble for the best seats and the best views when on these trips, especially if you enjoy photography and want those dramatic shots with no obstruction, but the boat does turn and stop frequently to allow everyone that opportunity, so do not worry about your seating!
The tour is 1.5 hours long, leaving you with plenty of time to explore North Berwick afterwards if you are on a brief visit as we were, and I think the trip was a great length for the younger children on board while still feeling that you had enough time to experience and enjoy Bass Rock.
As we had gorgeous weather, we passed lots of families and children enjoying the sun while we made our way out of the harbour, watching as they took part in activities like sailing, canoeing and jumping into the water.
We enjoyed a lovely, smooth journey towards Craigleith Island and once we arrived, we had the pleasure of seeing puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes among many other birds, I’m sure.
Our guide for the trip, Caroline, was fantastic. She was engaging, personable, enthusiastic, and extremely knowledgeable. I feel that we learnt so much about the birds along with the history of Bass Rock and the surrounding area thanks to her passion, which was only clear to see.
Once we learnt a little about the birds on Craigleith, we made our way to the main event, Bass Rock.
Standing at approximately 350 feet at its highest point, Bass Rock is an imposing volcanic plug that is now home to the world’s largest colony of Northern gannets.
The island is so imposing and incredible to see close up, and it only gets more impressive as you make your way around. Now obviously, the Bass Rock gannets are the main attraction. Around 150,000 gannets are nesting on the island, we even had the opportunity to see some guga (gannet chicks) and despite the scores of birds flying above your head, it’s a very serene experience.
And yes, it comes with its faults, I did get pooped on… twice
But it’s a small price to pay and without going into too much detail, it’s easily cleaned and doesn’t stain. Although, you might want to consider taking a hat if you can.
For reasons unknown, it didn’t cross my mind beforehand but thankfully, I had some tissues in my bag.
Making your way around the island and navigating your eyes through the mass of Scottish seabirds, we ventured closer to the rocks and towards the sea caves. The smell was, pungent. Manageable, no retching, but as you can imagine with so many birds, it’s not entirely pleasant.
Now, you don’t go into any of the sea caves but it does allow a clearer view of the birds nesting, the fluffy baby guga and the opportunity to see some of the rituals and behaviours of the birds, which were really interesting. Many traits are just like us in a lot of ways.
As you continue around the island, you will spot the now out of use foghorn. It is visible on one of the highest points of Bass Rock, and though there’s not a huge amount to see, we were told a couple of facts about its time in use.
Shortly thereafter, as you make your way to the other side of the island, you can see Bass Rock Lighthouse. I’m not sure if this is a personal thing, or if we all have an appreciation for lighthouses, but I love to see unique ones, especially when they have a story.
The Bass Rock Lighthouse is no longer operated by a keeper on site, I believe it is all operated by technology now.
And in terms of history, we learnt that Robert Louis Stevenson’s cousin built the lighthouse but another fact that really shocked me is that Bass Rock was considered the Scottish Alcatraz. I’m not implying anything as recently as Alcatraz, but many centuries ago, people were banished to the rock.
We were told a really interesting story about some prisoners that had been on the island, yet escaped the guards. Of course, I won’t spoil that for you in case you choose to go on the trip, but I’m definitely going to be reading more about that now that I’m home!
All while you are listening to the history of the island and trying to take in the surroundings, the experience of seeing the sheer number of gannets flying above your head and diving by the water is incredible, despite the mess. They are beautiful birds and it’s not until you are close that you can really appreciate how big they are. They have a wingspan of around 6ft! Yet, they are so uninterested in the boat and the people that it does have tranquil elements. You are very much in their world.
All in all, I would consider this to be an all-around age and family-friendly trip. We even had a dog on our boat so do not consider that completely off-limits!
As we made our way back to the harbour, we passed the ruins of Tantallon Castle in the distance along with a section of the John Muir Way, which is a coast to coast walking and cycling route.
These were two things that I was quite excited to see as I will be returning to North Berwick shortly to hopefully see the castle a little closer, experience more of the town and attempt a portion of the John Muir Way by bike.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit with Sula Boat Trips and I would highly recommend it but there are many other tour options to choose from such as the Scottish Seabird Centre, both of these options are priced around £26 per adult and £10 for children (although prices can differ). Alternatively, you can book BlueWild for exclusive boat hire.