At the farthest away corner of East Lothian where the lands starts its southward turn, is a perfect cone-shaped little hill called North Berwick Law. It's a familiar point of reference in my local landscape here around Portobello and yet somehow, I'd missed climbing it over the years. Luckily the festive holidays freed up a bit of time as the Law makes a great little walk with a selection of landscape delights crammed into one miniature package.
North Berwick Law is a plug of ancient volcanic rock exposed by glaciers grinding away the surrounding softer layers. The word "law" is an old Scots word meaning "hill", usually applied to conical shaped hills. North Berwick Law like many other pointed little hills was once used as a beacon hill to send messages across the land by lighting fires on top. But it's human history stretches back farther than that with evidence of settlements around the base of the hill dating as far back as 2000 years ago.
It was a beautiful winter's morning as I set out up the steep climb, with the sun barely dragging itself above the Lammermuir Hills to the south. Behind me there was laid out a patchwork of fields of golden stubble, fresh green grass and rich, dark ploughed earth. To the west and hazy in the low sun were the Pentland Hills and Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh's own ancient volcano. After a zig-zagging grassy path and then a short scramble over rocks, I was on the wind-blasted summit. To the north the clustered houses of the town filled the space between the foot of the Law and the old harbour. To the east, the Bass Rock sat offshore, solid and solitary.
Probably the most famous feature of North Berwick Law is its whalebone arch. The arch currently in position is thankfully made of fibreglass. But until 2005 there had been a real whalebone arch here since 1709. It was said that it formed a landmark to guide sailors home. The top of the hill is also cluttered with an old lookout station dating from the Napoleonic wars and an observation post used during the two world wars.
I dropped down off the east side of the hill and followed a path through sparse trees and across green fields before crossing the town and popping out on the beach. Waves washed the golden sands and crashing, white surf blasted the offshore rocks. People surfed, ate picnics and played ball games as if it was a summer's day. But it was mid winter and as I looked back, the sun only just cleared the pointed top of the Law. It cast across the town a long, Law-shaped shadow.
Start/finish: North Berwick Railway Station
Transport: Regular trains from Edinburgh Waverley. You can also take the X24 or 124 Lothian buses from Edinburgh city centre.
Map: OS Landranger 66
Route: On exiting the train station turn right up Station Road which becomes Marmion Road and at a sharp bend, hang right. Take Law Road to the right at the next junction. Once you are passing the school you can pick up a footpath on the left side of the road signed for the John Muir Way. Follow the footpath to a small car park and go through the gate at the far side. The route to the top of the Law is signed. For the return I took a path to the left where the main path does a sharp dog leg. Follow it east until it joins a track along a field margin then a road through some cottages. There is a dovecot in the field here on your right. It then joins the B road that becomes Heugh Brae which I followed into town. I went straight on at a small roundabout then crossed a park with tennis courts on the right exiting onto Marine Parade from where you can get onto the beach. Walking west along the beach takes you to the old harbour and the popular Seabird Centre.