Growing up with a mother who always had binoculars and an ornithology book in the glove compartment, I’ve been lucky enough to spot lots of Scottish birdlife on one adventure or another. I remember shouting ‘buzzard!’ like other kids would scream ‘yellow car!” and hit whoever was unlucky enough to be sitting next to them. There was one bird I had never been able to find growing up though, and it was the cutest little ‘clown of the sea’: the puffin.
Had I only known how easy it would be to see not one puffin, but dozens of puffins, I’d never have waited so long. It happened on a sunny day at the start of August, and I wasn’t the only person who witnessed their first puffin that day. Josh was there, obviously, because why else would I be on a random boat in the Firth of Forth when I was supposed to be doing absolutely nothing in Arbroath?
Even though we saw lots of puffins, I don’t want anybody reading this to underestimate how endangered puffins are in the UK. Scientifically speaking, puffins are called Fratercula artica and are part of the Auks family; but it’s estimated that puffin numbers globally could drop by 8 million in the next 50 years. We’re not really cool with that. Here’s how you can help.
I was a little bit furious at the train station after discovering the price of a (delayed) train ticket from Edinburgh to Arbroath. Why we wanted to go to Arbroath, I’m not really sure, but the plan was doomed from the very beginning so we chose a random destination on the departure board to visit instead. We felt pretty good eating pastries on the cheap train to North Berwick.
Josh and I both love being by the coast, and North Berwick has all the best beach charms, including the Fringe by the Sea Festival (which was mildly funny as we were trying to escape the Fringe in Edinburgh at the time) and endless houses each called ‘Beach House’. At some point during our walk into town, we decided it would be a good idea to go on a boat. We always have good ideas.
But not straight away; we booked our trip for the late afternoon to give us time to eat, drink and check out the shows at the Fringe by the Sea. Shows quickly ruled out (we didn’t want to watch Finding Nemo and the comedian had already started), we went to the Ship Inn for a burger in the beer garden and got chatting to some locals. The burgers were immense, but we still left room for Alandas ice-cream (as everybody should).
When it was time for our catamaran cruise, we were a little tipsy and super nostalgic for our marine field trips during our university days, so we battled the tourists for a seat at the edge of the boat for unparalleled puffin viewing. Our cruise, I have to say, exceeded any and all expectations we had for the hour’s journey around Craigleith Island and Bass Rock. It was amazing.
The boat trip cost us £22 each, or you could pay £28 for additional entry to the Discovery Centre. We sat at the right-hand side of the catamaran, and while I’m not certain every trip is the same, I recommend choosing this side for the best views of Bass Rock. At first we were devastated with our choice of seat as we circled Craigleith Island – we were at the wrong side of the boat to see the wildlife! But, on approaching the spectacle that is Bass Rock, we steered clockwise around the island putting us in the best position possible. Right-hand side, don’t forget.
The thing that stunned me the most was the explanation for the rock’s white colour. It’s the birds – the gannet colony is so dense that the Bass Rock looks white from North Berwick!
There’s a big cave into the rock which makes it even more magical.
I had a little Hermione Granger moment on the boat when we were asked what was unusual about the lighthouse’s paint…by an entire coincidence, it’s the same colour as the gannets that live there! The white, dusty yellow and black is their signature look. We also learned that this was once ‘Scotland’s Alcatraz’ and you can still see the ruined walls of the isolated prison that once stood there.
Back to puffins, remember when I said we were on the wrong side of the boat for Craigleith Island? Well that might as well be called Puffin Rock because naturally, that’s where they all partied. That being said, we never saw any puffins on the actual rock (mainly because we couldn’t), but looking out to the water, there were dozens skimming the waves and swimming in search of fish! They are undeniably cute, but much smaller than either of us imagined them to be. I’d go see them again tomorrow if I could.
So, there you have it, a short boat ride from North Berwick in the summer takes you to puffin paradise. Enjoy!