The Bass Rock is one of several volcanic remnants locally. It sits in the Firth of Forth near North Berwick and is just over 106 metres high. It is visible from the East Beach in Milsey Bay
the West Strand
from Drift Café above Canty Bay
and from Seacliff Beach.
The Bass has the remains of St Baldred’s ancient chapel on it. He used it as a retreat until he died in 606AD. The chapel was consecrated in his honour in 1542 and used as an occasional place of worship until the Reformation. From the 15th to the 18th century, it was used as a prison; not for ordinary prisoners but those held for religious or political reasons. The Scottish kings used it. In 1406 Robert III put his son, the future King James for safekeeping from his enemies. James later imprisoned one of his enemies, Walter Stewart Earl of Atholl for treason before his execution in 1424. In 1428 14 year old Neil Bhass Mackay was held there as a hostage before he escaped in 1437 and became Mackay clan chief.
The Stuart Monarchy Restoration in 1660 was more popular in Scotland than the reign of Cromwell. However, when the Act of Supremacy had been passed which made the King supreme judge in all manners civil and ecclesiastical, installing bishops and another act annulled the laws in favour of the Presbyterians, things changed. Nonconformist held what were called conventicles: meetings in private houses, churches or fields, sometimes at night. In 1670 an act was passed prohibiting house conventicles and making it a capital crime to preach at field canticles. It was thought that the Bass Rock would be an ideal place for the confinement of nonconformists so in 1671 the Crown bought the Rock and refortified it to be used as a prison. Between 1672 and 1688 several Presbyterian Covenanters were imprisoned there and from 1688 to 1692 supporters of the deposed Jacobite Kings James II and VII.
The government abandoned the Rock in 1701 and Sir Hew Dalrymple bought it in 1707. His descendants still own it. The lighthouse was constructed in 1902 on the site of the castle keep by David Stevenson who demolished some of the older buildings. It was automated in 1988. In normal times 30-40,000 pairs of gannets nest there in summer making it the largest northern gannet colony. There are also razorbills, puffins, guillemots, cormorants, eider ducks and other gulls. Appropriately the Latin name of the gannet is Sula bassanis.
We moved to North Berwick in late 2020 in the midst of the pandemic. No boat trips out to the Bass Rock were running. When they commenced in 2021, they were all booked up. This year, most were cancelled due to avian flu which has had a major impact on the gannet population.