Marine North Berwick review: Scotland’s magical bird isles

Matthew Partridge combines a stay at Marine North Berwick with a visit to see the puffins

high exterior shot of Marine North Berwick and golf course
(Image credit: Marine North Berwick)

To a Londoner like myself there is something surreal about the small coastal town of North Berwick. Less than a 30-minute train ride from the centre of Edinburgh, it seems a world away from the bustle of Scotland’s capital. It has retained its own distinctive character instead of being swallowed up by its larger neighbour or turned into a tourist trap. 

Having arrived just after the longest day last month, I was able to take an after-dinner walk along the beach and enjoy the sight of people playing midnight golf. The town is also home to the National Museum of Flight, which houses the only retired Concorde in Scotland.

An unmissable isle

As well as the beauty of the town itself, North Berwick is a gateway to the islands that can be seen from the town. The Scottish Seabird Centre, located in the harbour, runs regular daily boat trips, weather permitting. 

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These range from an hour-long cruise to a trip ashore on Bass Rock, the site of the world’s largest colony of northern gannets, and described by no less than David Attenborough as “one of the wildlife wonders of the world”.

The four-hour trip to the Isle of May is an unmissable experience. When I last visited the island two years ago, I made the schoolboy error of waiting until mid-August, and while it was still charming enough, with cliffs and a 200-year-old lighthouse, the puffins and most of the other seabirds had departed at the end of the previous month. So, even though I was arriving much earlier this time, I was still worried about whether I would be able to spot one of Britain’s most celebrated birds.

Suffice to say, my fears proved to be groundless. Although required to keep to the paths to avoid disturbing the breeding puffins, I ended up spoiled for choice when it came to close-up views of these birds, many with mouthfuls of fish for their young dangling from their beaks. 

As well as puffins, gulls, kittiwakes, razorbills and more, I spotted seals lounging on the rocks. It was not surprising that the other visitors and I, along with our guides, Amy and Stewart, left with smiles on our faces.

Puffin with fish in its mouth

(Image credit: Future)

A beautiful boutique stay

Berwick’s proximity to Edinburgh means that it is possible to include it as part of a day’s outing. However, connoisseurs of boutique hotels will want to take the opportunity to enjoy the five-star Marine North Berwick, part of the Marine & Lawn hotel group. 

Located only a ten-minute walk from the train station, its proximity to the beach means that guests can wake up to sweeping views of the local golf courses, as well as of the Firth of Forth. The location is reflected in the design of the luxurious rooms, which mix tartan sheet covers and dark floral wallpaper, with even the bedside tables painted to evoke the fairway.

Marine North Berwick provides plenty of things to do, especially for avid golfers, with staff happy to arrange tee times for guests at a range of courses. This includes those of the North Berwick Golf Club, whose clubhouse is across the road. 

Not only is it the 13th oldest golf club in the world, but it is second only to St Andrews in terms of length of continuous operation. It has hosted the final qualifying for The Open several times. Guests whose golf is a little rusty, or a little less advanced (like yours truly) can also take advantage of the putting green on the hotel lawn.

Marine North Berwick also has an excellent spa. This combines a well-stocked gym, a swimming pool and a steam room. However, the undisputed highlight is the hot tub, which is cleverly designed so that half of it is in the open air. Indeed, there is nothing more relaxing than wallowing in the soothing heat of the bubbling water while feeling the sea breeze on your face.

As well as excellent accommodation, the hotel provides delicious food. While you can order snacks and favourites from the Bass Rock bar and eat them in the garden, the Lawn, the main restaurant, is worth visiting for dinner. 

It offers a range of top-quality cooking, with a special emphasis on food that comes from north of the border. For starters, I selected the delicious Loch Etive trout and crab fish cake, with bisque and fennel, while for my main course I enjoyed the dry aged sirloin from the Tweed Valley.

Matthew received a complimentary stay at Marine North Berwick. From £189 a night, including breakfast,

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri