Travel review: North Berwick

Tantallon Castle. Photo: Crown Copyright Historic Scotland
Tantallon Castle. Photo: Crown Copyright Historic Scotland

There is nothing better in the morning than to draw back the curtains and gaze out onto the water as you contemplate life for a little while.

The Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa in North Berwick, Scotland, affords such luxury and as well as the views over the Firth of Forth, there is the stunning Glen Golf Course nearby which itself looks over the world famous Bass Rock, home to 35,000 gannets and is described by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the wildlife wonders of the world.’’

With so much do in this beautiful coastal East Lothian town, dubbed the “Biarritz of the North’’, you need a good base and the Marine is such a place. After a £13m refurbishment, the hotel boasts 83 bedrooms all classically furnished and having Victorian features such as high ceilings and large windows, which mean the rooms are airy, spacious and very comfortable and with all the mod cons of flat screen televisions and Wifi thrown in too.

The hotel has a two rosette starred restaurant, which is elegant to dine in and serves up such sumptuous dishes as cured venison to start with, classic steaks and top fish dishes as main courses, followed by delicious desserts from warm treacle tart and clotted cream to a selection of farmhouse cheeses and chutneys, all washed down with fine wines. The breakfasts are good too, all individually cooked to keep them fresh. The porridge served with honey, fruit and nuts was top notch!

With so much food around, it is a good job the hotel has an impressive spa and fitness facility, with a big swimming pool and hot and dry spa, which also includes a nice steam bath which takes you outside and allows you to enjoy those wonderful sea views.

North Berwick is known for the Scottish Seabird Centre, where you can watch the inhabitants of Bass Rock via webcam, tour the impressive seabird gallery and book boat trips which take around the rock.

But there is so much more to this area. For history buffs, just down the road is the lovely village of Direlton, home to a 13th century castle, which has been owned by three noble families, the Vauxes, Haliburtons and Ruthvens, with the last family’s downfall leading to the castle being abandonded as a residence.

In 1650 a siege by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers led to the castle being partly destroyed and it was bought in 1660 by a family called Nisbet who also built a new mansion house called Archerfield nearby. But the castle wasn’t forgotten as they created a wonderful garden which you can stroll round today.

My two companions Ruaridh (6) and Flora (4) love castles, as they give them a chance to use their imagination. They were particularly impressed with our second castle, Tantallon, which was the last truly great castle built in Scotland.

Its perched right on the water’s edge and was built by the Earl of Douglas in the 1350s and was also subjected to sieges from Cromwell’s army, the last of which in 1651 destroyed it so much that it was abandoned to the birds.

Historic Scotland is currently spending a lot of money restoring this magnificient castle and my husband Kenny and I enjoyed an hour or so on a cold day being bossed about by King Ruaridh and Princess Flora, even being sent to the prison for a spell!

We only had a two day break in North Berwick, but managed to also squeeze in a visit to the quirky Myreton Motor Museum in Aberlady. This museum is really one man’s dream of collecting interesting vehicles.

Packed inside three big garages are cars, cycles and motorbikes which date from 1899 to 1970’s, many of which have been sent on loan by their owners. Ruaridh’s and my favourite was “Wee Blackie’’, a stunning Morris Minor saloon, while Kenny and Flora plumped for the strange shaped Bubble car.

The museum also has lots of advertising posters, enamel signs, pedal cars and petrol pumps and badges, guaranteeing a trip down memory lane.

With so much to do and surrounded by spectacular scenery, North Berwick and infact the whole of East Lothian has become a firm favourite with the Hay family and if you visit soon, you’ll find out why!

Factfile: The Macdonald Marine Hotel and Spa in North Berwick is one of the group’s signature hotels and is steeped in luxury! Check out www.macdonaldhotels.co.uk for more information and offers.

East Lothian has a wealth of history and two of the best places to visit are Dirleton and Tantallon Castles, cared for by Historic Scotland, www.historic-scotland.gov.uk

Children and adults alike will love the Myreton Motor Museum in Aberlady, see www.myretonmotormuseum.co.uk for more details.

Tourist information is available via www.visitscotland.com