Gavin Havery and family enjoy a flying visit to North Berwick, where seabirds and an iconic winged machine await

FROM the sandy shores of south-east Scotland, the Bass Rock, an extinct volcano island dating back some 350 million years, is impressive. At more than 100 metres high, it lies just over a mile into the Firth of Forth, near North Berwick, and is also home to the largest colony of gannets in the world.

Up close, from the side of our catamaran, the sight of tens of thousands of these stunning seabirds swooping around the rock is nothing short of spectacular. That said, staring up, open-mouthed in wonder is ill-advised.

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Experts estimate there are over 150,000 gannets living on the rock, which has also been home to a castle and a prison over the centuries. It is thought the area has around 500,000 seabirds including puffins, kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills, fulmars, shags and terns.

Our boat trip from the Scottish Seabird Centre also allowed us to see the puffins on Craigleith, another island in the firth, a short ride away. The centre itself is a magnificent interactive wildlife museum, next to the harbour, where you can learn all about the marine life of the area and even control cameras on the rocks to watch the gannets in their natural habitat.

North Berwick has been a fashionable seaside town since Victorian times and is a former royal burgh, with two sandy bays. A popular golfing destination, I have been told it is the most expensive place in Scotland to buy a house, and it is easy to see why.

A rail track and good roads connect the town to Edinburgh 25 miles away and the town centre is full of small independent shops and cafes. We bought sweets from a traditional sweet shop, delicious gelato from an Italian ice cream parlour, plus the essentials we needed for our trip. The Why Not? café on High Street offers great cake and coffee, boasts the best fresh fish in Scotland and has a delightful independent delicatessen, where we bought treats such as cheeses and pate. It is a former supermarket and businessman Adam Elder has attracted a range of different businesses to take up space inside, offering hand-made jewellery and artworks alongside a range of useful services and high-end foods you won't find at the out-of-town Tesco or Aldi.

East Sands beach, near the harbour and the seabird centre, is a great playground for children and has glorious soft sand and a dinghy pond, which was built as a swimming pool in the early 20th century and converted in 2000.

We stayed in our tourer at Yellowcraig Caravan Club site, a short drive along the coast. Although there is plenty of space at the site, it feels very intimate as it is divided into smaller sections. Our pitch was in a little grassed area with no more than ten other campers. Around the corner was a spotless toilet block with hot powerful showers, a laundry and washing-up area. The site, which has a small shop a reception, is immaculate and run by a friendly team of staff who cannot do enough to help.

It is a ten minute walk, though a truly lovely woodland with an impressive adventure play park, to Yellowcraig beach, which offers an amazing view of Fidra Island, said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The caravan site is also near Dirleton Castle, a former medieval fortress, which was badly damaged during Cromwell’s siege of 1650. It was revived in the 1660s when the Nisbet family built a new mansion close to the picturesque ruins and resuscitated the gardens, which now include the world’s longest herbaceous border.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune Airfield. This was a great day out, no more than 20 minutes from our campsite to the former air base to learn about the history of aviation from the First World War to the present day. Buildings and hangars have been converted to house interactive exhibitions and an impressive array of military and civilian aircraft.

You can go on board and look inside passenger planes, get up close and personal with an Avro Vulcan but, the jewel in the crown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is Concorde. Lovingly protected in its own hangar, with videos, displays and pictures, stands the supersonic master of skies. Now it has been retired from commercial flight, I never dreamed I would see a Concorde, let alone go on board, feel the leather seats, see the bafflingly complicated control panel and look down the wings and nose from the door.

On our last day, we climbed North Berwick Law, another former volcano, which stands 187 above sea level and offers amazing panoramic views.

We were lucky with the weather over the half term break and while East Lothian might not be first place you think of for sun, sea and sand that is what we enjoyed.

To get to North Berwick, it took three hours up the A1 from our home in Gateshead, and some sections of the road have stunning views over the sea. So if you like the Northumberland coast, but fancy somewhere a little different, it is well worth pushing on a bit further North.

TRAVEL FACTS

Yellowcraig Caravan Club Site, North Berwick EH39 5DS. T: 01620-850-217.

Member price for standard touring pitches for two adults from £20.30. Non-members also welcome.

Scottish Seabird Centre, The Harbour, North Berwick EH39 4SS

Adults £8.95, children £4.95, family of two adults and two children £25.

Bass Rock Catamaran Cruise

Adult £20, child £10, under 3s go free, but must booked on. Family £51.

National Museum of Flight, East Fortune Airfield, East Lothian, EH39 5LF

Adult £10, child £5, under 5s free, family £31.

Dirleton Castle and Garden, Dirleton, North Berwick, EH39 5ER

Adult £6, child £3.60.

Tantallon Castle, North Berwick, East Lothian, EH39 5PN

Adult £6, child £3.60.