Location: North Berwick Law, East Lothian

Grade: Easy hill walk, eroded path in places

Distance: 2 miles/3km

Time: 1-1.5 hours

Memories of Muir

IT’S only 187m/416 feet in height but it totally dominates the East Lothian town of North Berwick. North Berwick Law, often referred to as just Berwick Law and known locally simply as The Law, is an ancient volcanic plug, like Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Traprain Law, a few miles to the south, the Bass Rock or the Lomond Hills of Fife.

Millions of years ago this plug was deeply embedded within the volcano but weathering and erosion over time exposed the hardened lava. If this is all that’s left you can only begin to imagine just how huge the original volcano must have been.

The Law is recognisable from much of East Lothian, dominating not only North Berwick but the surrounding flat, prairie-like farmlands. It must have been a welcome sight to sailors returning to Leith or armies heading to nearby Tantallon Castle.

We were staying in our campervan which we had parked at the Tantallon campsite east of North Berwick so our ascent of the Law necessitated a walk-in of a good 2km to the car park that is conveniently situated at the foot of the hill’s western slopes, giving a walk that is less steep than from any other direction.

From the car park you immediately join the John Muir Way, which runs from Dunbar, Muir’s birth place, across the waist of Scotland to Helensburgh on the Clyde estuary. On this walk, you’ll only tread the JMW for a couple of hundred metres. An obvious path runs off to the left and immediately begins to climb.

Before long you’ll arrive at a seat. It may be welcome if you’re not too fit so make the most of it. Ahead a rough track climbs the hill directly but ignore it. It is very eroded and steep. Instead take the path to the right and follow it as it rises more gently. It soon switchbacks to the left and continues to rise steadily to another seat with fine views out across North Berwick to Fidra island.

A grassy track now climbs to the right of the seat and makes it way up steeper, rockier slopes where there is considerable erosion. Best advice is to continue upwards by the easiest route. Soon the massive whale’s jawbone arch that decorates the summit comes into sight and you pass an old gable wall and a less old concrete World War Two lookout shelter. Beyond this is the summit complete with trig pillar and direction indicator.

The whale’s jaw bone is actually made from fibreglass; the original was removed a number of years ago when it fell into a dangerous condition. It celebrates North Berwick’s seafaring history. The old gable was once part of a look-out shelter that was used during the Napoleonic Wars.

Despite a distinct chill in the air we sat by the summit cairn and enjoyed the views, particularly those out to sea, past the dominating presence of the Bass Rock and across the Firth of Forth towards Fife. The views in the other direction are less spectacular. Flat prairie-like farm fields run off into the distance, the products of intensive farming with no field hedges for wildlife. It looks almost industrial in its scale.

As you sit here recalling all those, from the very earliest times, who have climbed the Law before you, consider this. One of those visitors was the young John Muir, who often climbed up here during his childhood in nearby Dunbar. A nice thought to keep you company as you descend the steep slopes back to North Berwick.

Cameron McNeish


Map: OS 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 67 (Duns, Dunbar & Eyemouth) or 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 351 (Dunbar & North Berwick).

Distance: 2 miles/3km.

Time: 1-1.5 hours.

Start/Finish: The Law Car Park on B1347 south of North Berwick (GR: NT552844).

Public transport: Regular buses and trains to North Berwick from Edinburgh. Details from www.travelinescotland.com

Information: North Berwick TIC, 01620 892197.

Route: Leave the car park by the obvious gate and follow the John Muir Way to the R. After a short distance leave the JMT by a path on the L and climb broken ground to a seat. Take the grassy track to the R of the seat, still climbing gently, and turn L as the path begins to zig-zag. Climb to another seat and take the grass path to the R. This leads to broken ground but a route can easily be followed up some of the less eroded sections. Pass an old gable wall and a Second World War lookout post and in a few strides you’ll be at the summit. Return the same way.