On the shoreline of ancient North Berwick, the Scottish Seabird Centre offers unrivalled views out to the Firth of Forth and North Sea. The vista is dominated by the Bass Rock – a steep-sided extinct volcanic plug, one mile out to sea, and home (at peak times) to over 150,000 gannets.
The bright and airy visitor centre commands centre stage on the end of the town’s old harbour wall. The ground floor houses a gift shop and café, but downstairs is where the treasure lies: simultaneously fun and educational, the Discovery Centre allows visitors to get to know the local seabirds and marine wildlife. There are numerous video cameras that are easy to operate, even for children and visitors with all but the most limited hand function. In the summer, close-ups of Bass Rock Gannetry are stunning, and in autumn and winter there is the chance to witness seal mothers suckling their pups on the shore. The Migration Flyway simulator lets you experience the feeling of bird take-off and migration, using sound effects and strong fans to imitate the buffeting of the wind. However, the incline, which helps to give the impression of lift, may be too steep for some wheelchair users. And while thrilling for kids it may be underwhelming for many adults. The small theatre shows a loop of several short wildlife films. In addition to the visual, tactile and audio experience, you can also smell the seabirds’ food, their feathers and even the contents of their nests!
This is an excellent, and fully accessible place to visit. Indeed, its very popularity can create the only barriers to a visit: North Berwick and the centre are popular with visitors and can get crowded. At peak times, the five Blue Badge parking bays at the front of the entrance get snapped up quickly. If you call ahead, the helpful centre staff can advise on the timing of your visit. The visitor centre has a push-button automatic door and in the Discovery Centre displays are low-set to suit small people and wheelchair users alike. “Seafari” boat trips are run from the centre, but small boats, a very old harbour and saddle-style seating make these inaccessible to wheelchair users and many mobility impaired visitors. There is an induction loop in the theatre, shop and café. A volunteer BSL interpreter can be arranged, but call in advance to check availability.
Food & drink: The glass-fronted café serves unpretentious fare like fish and chips, pasta and baked spuds at reasonable prices. The children’s menu features all the usual suspects – nuggets, sausages, chips, etc. Be sure to check the specials board as well – if you’re lucky you might find freshly caught (and reasonably priced) lobster for sale.