266. Joppa to North Berwick

March 2015

Today I’m starting my walk from a small suburb of Edinburgh called Joppa which is a bit west of Musselburgh and east of Portobello which is where I had finished the previous days walk (but the next walk I’ll be writing up). This surprises me in many ways because this is only my 6th walk in Scotland (and one of those started over the border in England, at Berwick-upon-Tweed) and yet already I am well into the “Central Belt” area. This is the part of Scotland where most of the people live, taking in the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and many of the towns between and close by.

Of course I’m not really half way up the coast on the eastern side of Scotland. The reason is that the border between England and Scotland is not a straight horizontal line. On the west coast the border between Scotland and England is a little north of Carlisle, which if you draw a horizontal line to the east coast brings you to around Newcastle – well south from the Scottish border on the east coast. The border is almost diagonal and so on the east coast the “central belt” is a lot nearer the English border than on the west coast.

This walk also marks another milestone in that I will have also completed walking the coast of East Lothian, making it the second “Council Area” and former county I will have walked through in Scotland (the first being Scottish Borders or Berwickshire as it used to be).

For this walk I was staying at the Premier Inn in South Queensferry. My day did not get off to the best of starts. It was Sunday and I had checked the bus timetable online and thought the buses were every 30 minutes on Sunday from the stop by the hotel. However this turned out to be wrong and in fact they were every hour – and I had around 40 minutes until the next one. I therefore decided to walk to Dalmeny station and take the train instead. I made a train with just a few seconds to spare and luckily the ticket office was closed on Sundays and the ticket machine was out of service, so I could buy my ticket on the train instead, without risking a penalty fare as I would not have made the train if I’d had to stop and buy a ticket.

The next challenge was to locate the bus stop for the bus on to Joppa, where I had ended yesterday. Unfortunately the “city” buses in Edinburgh seem to depart from stops dotted all over the streets rather than the bus station, so I didn’t really know exactly what stop the bus went from.

I tried the stops in Princess Street and as I was doing that I saw the right bus go past, but unfortunately I was not near a stop so couldn’t stop it. Following it instead, I at least managed to locate the correct stop to wait for the next bus. This was due in 20 minutes and turned up on time.

I’ll nominate the bus company, Lothian Buses, that seem to run the majority of buses around Edinburgh as the least friendly bus company I’ve used so far on my coast walk. They only accept cash payment on the bus, they don’t accept notes (only coins) and they don’t give change, so you have to have the exact fare (or overpay). Nor do the bus stops show the correct fare, either so I couldn’t even get the correct fare ready. Thankfully I had the right combination of coins needed for the journey.

It was a fairly slow and tedious journey, as the bus rarely went more than about 100 metres between stops, either for bus stops or traffic lights and it reminded me of why I hate taking buses in cities, as they are so slow (in hindsight I probably should have taken the train to Brunstane station and walked from there). As the bus ran a bit back from the coast after a while I worried I was that I may have passed the stop so I decided to get off and follow the road, only to find I had got off about 10 minute’s walk from where I finished yesterday and was in Portobello rather than Joppa, so had to repeat some of the previous days walk first!

After the urban end to yesterdays walk I was looking forward to leaving Edinburgh and the nearby towns behind and returning to a more rural coast. Portobello is the beach part of Edinburgh and has all the sort of things you’d expect at a beach, namely a sandy beach, shops, fish and chips, ice cream and arcades. I followed the promenade once more to the sort of bandstand structure I came to yesterday.

The coast at Joppa

The beach largely became rocky now, so I had to head up onto the road although there was grass verges on the left of the road, which makes it more pleasant. Soon though there are houses on the left as well, so I lose the views of the sea. Just after passing a warehouse building on the left I leave the city of Edinburgh and enter East Lothian, a county whose coastline I will complete by the end of this walk.

Entering East Lothian

Soon the houses on the left end and I have views of the sea again. I’m now in Musselburgh which boasts a nice sandy beach. Soon there was a promenade along the back of the beach too, which I followed.


Ahead there is a small harbour which I have to go around and then return to the beach. The town largely ends to my right, the houses replaced with grass. The view back is quite spectacular with the hill of Arthur’s Seat dominating the view of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh from Musselburgh



Soon I reach the mouth of the river Esk, another name of river I’ve come across before (in Whitby).

The River Esk, Musselburgh

To cross this I have to head around ¼ of a mile inland to the lowest bridge. Oddly there are two bridges next to each other including a dedicated foot and cycle bridge.

The River Esk, Musselburgh

The River Esk, Musselburgh

The path initially runs beside the river with houses to the right, but then becomes a wide rough track, that feels slightly industrial.

A new cycle path has been built parallel and just to the right of this in places, so I mix between walking on the low track (a road, really) and the slightly raised cycle path. There is a rather tatty concrete sea wall on the left. The John Muir Way which I was mostly following (as it sticks to the coast here) heads inland around a lake marked on the map, but really an “Ash Disposal Area”. At the time I didn’t really know what I was walking past, but there was an old mine wheel to the right so I suspect coal mines.



What it actually is reclaimed land, formed from the ash of the nearby coal-fired power station (now shut down). There are now attempts to make it a nature reserve.

At the end of this industrial area I’m approaching Prestonpans.


The weather forecast today had been for heavy rain showers, perhaps prolonged. So it was no surprise that as I approached the rain started. At Prestonpans there was a sort of lower promenade, below much of the town which seemed to offer a more coastal route than the John Muir Way, which stuck to the main B-road through the town. This lower route was also sheltered from the wind, making the rain less unpleasant. I suspected I was walking on an old railway line although I don’t know for sure.

To the right on the walls behind which were the houses of the town, were murals painted on the walls, which brightens things up.


I got the impression it was quite a nice town, but didn’t really see much of it from this lower path. The only thing was that I had to be careful not to slip, as much of it was covered with a layer of sea weed. Soon the town ended, as did the lower path and I returned to the grass heading to the huge power station at Cockenzie.

The coast near Cockenzie

As I got nearer I could see the front was opened and realised it was decommissioned and in the process of being demolished. Whilst far from pretty I found it quite interesting to look at the inner workings of the power station, after all it is not something we normally get to see.

Cockenzie Power Station

(I was battling the rain here too, hence the blurred photos).

It was a mixture of coal-blackened walls and gleaming metal, and odd contrast. The path ran on a tarmac path in places with tall wire fences between the path and power station and felt very unwelcoming, but it was the official path. Rounding the corner immediately past the power station I came to Cockenzie harbour, a small little harbour.

The harbour at Cockenzie and Port Seton

It was not the prettiest harbour I’ve ever seen and there were few boats in it. I took a path around it and then the road the other side. There were some quite nice looking houses here, as I moved from Cockenzie to Port Seton.

Cockenzie and Port Seton

The rain was still coming down, but lighter now. I’m not sure if it was the official path or not, but there was a lower level path around the base of the cliffs which I followed to the second harbour.

The harbour at Cockenzie and Port Seton

This had a few more colourful boats in it but still I suspect a tiny fraction of what it once housed. Around the harbour I came to the long beach at Seton Sands. I followed the promenade for a while which was pleasant and easy going. It didn’t last long though and when it ended, I dropped down onto the beach, as the official route of the official coast path here (The John Muir Way) ran alongside the B1348 for much of the route (or it did at the time, I think there is a more pleasant route now).

Seton Sands, Longniddry

It was a large sandy and rocky beach and by now the rain was easing. The beach was backed by a caravan park for much of it’s length. The caravan park soon gave way to the inevitable golf course although this was largely hidden from me, as there were now trees and bushes behind the beach. I found the log of a tree to sit on and have lunch, it being quite sheltered from the wind at beach level and the rain having stopped. This was a nice stretch of the walk as I could follow the sands for almost 2 miles.

Seton Sands, Longniddry

At Ferny Ness there were some rocks making progress along the beach difficult, so I headed up onto the paths and tracks around a car park and back along the coast, passing a line of tank traps.

The beach at Gosford

The beach at Gosford

It was possible to walk right by the shore here and this path soon returned me to the road. I stuck with the official route here as it was easy and right by the coast, albeit right by the road too, now the busy A198. Soon I passed the very grand entrance driveway to Gosford House on the right.

Gosford House

This is used as an events venue primarily now, but the house does open to the public for tours too. Soon after this the road turned to the right and the John Muir Way took a rather unappealing route alongside the A-road, missing out part of the coast.

I followed this for a brief while which was between a wall (with the road beyond) and the line of tank traps.

Path of sorts near Gosford

Soon though I veered off to the left on a driveway through the woodland.

Woodland at Gosfortd

This headed through woodland to the houses at Green Craig. Here there was a golf course, so I could leave the private drive as I approached the houses, go through the white gate onto the golf course and turn left to reach the sea once more. This took me to the lovely sandy beach at Green Craig.

The coast at Aberlday

Quite why the John Muir Way leaves the coast here I’m not clear, as this route proved easy to follow (perhaps because the golfers don’t like people walking here, even though it’s permitted under the Scottish right to roam).

There was a path of sorts around the edge of the golf course, but as I often find in Scotland the course was quite busy and it was not always easy for me to see where golfers were aiming and if I was likely to be in the line of fire. I therefore gave up with the path and dropped down onto the beach, which was a mixture of sand, shingle and rocks, but there was a fairly easy route for most of the way.

The coast at Aberlday

Rounding Aberlady Point I headed back onto the road leading from the golf course and club house. This was an easy route and gave me find views over Aberlady Bay to the left and Gullane Sands beyond.

The coast at Aberlday

I kept to the track until it turned a little to the right to head to the main road through Aberlady. There was a few seats here and I stopped on one to check the map and for a quick rest. Ahead now were salt marsh and mud.

The coast at Aberlday

The coast path headed along the A-road away from this and from the map I could see  I had to follow a path inland to where there was a footbridge marked that I hoped I would be able to cross. Or would I?

As I got up I looked over the bay and could see what looked like stepping stones heading over to the river which flows out into the bay. I took a few tentative steps and found that whilst there was mud around the stepping stones, it was fairly firm. Would I be able to make it over the bay this way instead? I decided to give it a go.

Peffer Burn near Aberlady

I made it across the stream (Peffer Burn) with only a slightly damp foot, but there was a secondary channel just ahead.

Peffer Burn near Aberlady

The ground here was a mixture of sand and very soft mud. I kept sinking into the mud and started to conclude this really wasn’t a good idea. However to go back I’d have to cross the river again, so I managed to find a way over the secondary stream without sinking into the mud.

Peffer Burn near Aberlady

I wondered if I would be able to get over and if it was safe, but soon the mud gave way to slightly firmer sand, mixed with pools of water. I was reminded of Morecambe Bay and hoped there would be no sinking sands, but the salt marsh on the other side of the bay was getting closer.

As I made my way over the sands I spotted some deer running over the bay around 50 metres to my left. A wonderful sight. I decided if they could make it over, so could I! (I didn’t have time to switch to my zoom lens as they were running fast, so this is the best photo I could get).

Deer on the marshes in Aberlady Bay

On nearing the other side the mud and sand gave way to more salt marsh, intermixed with streams and boggy areas. I made my way over this slowly and carefully buoyed by the fact I could see people on a path just beyond this, if only I could get to it. Crossing the salt marsh I reached the edge of Marl Loch. I had a brief panic here before I checked the map, thinking I had come to another river with no way across, but soon realised it was a lake (or loch), and a small one at that. Heading around it I could soon pick up the track and was back on a proper path.

This followed the shore around to Gullane Point and looked to be a far more pleasant route than the A198, which is the route of the John Muir Way.

I’m always relived in Scotland when I manage to get on a proper path or road where there are other people this as with the open access land it is always a risk you will come across an obstacle that it is impossible to get around and have to turn back, so when I meet a path that is well used I know I won’t have to go back. It was a particular relief here, since I did not want to go over that muddy bay again! I’m not sure how much (if any) time this route saved me but it was an adventure anyway and the most coastal route I could manage!

The path I was following soon came to a junction where I turned left on the wide path which bought me down to Gullane Sands, a glorious sandy beach backed by dunes. It was stunning.

Aberlady Bay

Looking across the coast I could see the coast of Fife still on the other bank and some hills and mountains beyond.

Aberlady Bay

By now the weather had continued to improve, and blue sky was now coming over.

I had originally thought of ending the walk at Gullane Bay around the corner and was still thinking of doing so. I followed the sandy beach to Gullane Point, which gave me a good view back over this unspoilt beach.

Aberlady Bay

Aberlady Bay

There was an easy path around Gullane Point which then took me down to a series of small beaches, mixed in with rock and soon around into the large Gullane Bay.

Gullane Bay

Gullane Bay

This was another fabulous beach, with a large sandy beach backed by dunes and some woodland at the north end. The beach has a small town, Gullane, behind it, and a large car park, so was proving more popular than it’s neighbour. It was hardly crowded, though.

Gullane Bay

I had thoughts of finishing here because my feet were hurting. This was caused because I was wearing firmer walking shoes designed for rougher terrain but the previous day had  been pretty much all pavement pounding, and so had now got blisters on my feet. However despite my hurting feet I had enough energy to continue, so decided to try to make it to North Berwick, on the basis this had a railway station, which would make it much easier to get back tomorrow and avoid another slow bus journey.

I decided if I felt too tired I could always turn back. When the beach ended there was a good path on the coastal side of the woodland of Jamie’s Nuek, which had formed on the large sand dunes.

At the end was another small beach, which did not seem to have a name, and the remains of a building on the top.

Dirleton West Links

Dirleton West Links

Rounding the corner I soon came to another large sandy beach, Freshwater Haven, which was completely deserted. It was a lovely walk over the hard sands of the beach.

Dirleton West Links

At the end of this beach there were a few rocks, but it was easy enough to walk over these and head round into the next beach.

Dirleton West Links

This beach doesn’t seem to have a name on the map, although it might be called West Links. In any case, it was another glorious unspoilt sandy beach. Mine were the only footprints in the sand. I like it enormously when that happens!

Dirleton West Links

Dirleton West Links

I could now see the island of Fidra ahead.

Dirleton West Links

This confused me for a while, because I hadn’t realised there were so many islands along this part of the coast. I thought the only one was Bass Rock and I knew that this was taller than the island I was looking at. This is, like Bass Rock, a seabird colony and there are cameras on the island you can view from the seabird centre at North Berwick. I’m not sure if it is possible to visit the island although I think boat trips from North Berwick go around it.

I followed the path along the beach, or on occasion the dunes at the back of the beach and soon reached the corner where the coast turns east , heading past Eyebeoughy some rocks just off the beach.


This once more took me around the corner to a glorious beach, Weaklaw. At the end of the beach it became rocky backed by trees.


I made my way over the rocks and pebbles initially passing the house of Marine Villa just up on the cliffs. Beyond this, I picked up the track from the house, which made a good path along the coast, although some development was happening in the wood, which is a shame.

Fidra from Dirleton

To the left I had great views of Fidra which looked close enough to wade out to, but I suspect the sea quickly becomes too deep.

Fidra from Dirleton

The coast near Dirleton

Fidra near Dirleton

Soon I reached the glorious sands of Broad Sands, to the west of North Berwick, so I knew the town was now getting close. Once more this was a stunning beach and it was especially attractive in the early evening light.

North Berwick

Behind the beach was a golf course and ahead I was a little puzzled. I was looking at a very steep hill and I wondered if it was Bass Rock but it didn’t look white at the top.

North Berwick

I only had a thin strip of map with me covering the coast (I had printed out before I left home to save weigh), which didn’t stretch far enough inland. But when I checked the full map later, I realised it was North Berwick Law, a volcanic hill formed at the same time as Bass Rock.

Somehow with this high hill towering over the town, or what I could see from here, made the town feel more rugged and remote than it really is. It was beautiful. Lining up out to sea I could now see three islands ahead, North Dog, Craigleith and Bass Rock. It would be nice to visit them.

Islands from North Berwick

The beach here was backed by a large house, Invereil House which I initially wondered if it was the club house, but I suspect not.

North Berwick

It certainly has a good outlook. Inland the clouds were now getting black and I was expecting a shower, but thankfully it didn’t rain. Soon I was passing the first few buildings of North Berwick strung out along the coast.

North Berwick

North Berwick

There were a few more rocks to get around at Cowton Rocks and then I was in the main bay of the town.

I could see the church ahead glinting in the sun, with the ubiquitous golf course in the foreground.

North Berwick

Craigleith from North Berwick

The beach at North Berwick

I followed the beach until I reached a track I could see marked on the map, heading over the golf course towards the station. This turned out to to be a tarmac track and unusually I was able to get across without getting in the way of golfers. I then followed the road up to the station and was pleased to see the train already in.

North Berwick Station

I bought a ticket from the machine and slumped down on the train. I was exhausted – but it had been a very good walk. I took the train from here back to Edinburgh. It was a new and very quiet train (both in terms of noise and the number of people on it), which was nice.

I liked North Berwick very much. It has all the facilities you could need on a day to day basis whilst being easy to commute to Edinburgh on the good train service. It is on the coast with beautiful beaches in both directions, and an interesting coast dotted with islands. The town itself is just the size I like, not too big but not too small and with some attractive buildings and the rugged hill of North Berwick law. It seemed like a nice place to live.

Soon I was back to Edinburgh and changed onto the bus back to my hotel. Or so I thought. It turned out the slipway the bus needed to use to get to my hotel was closed for road works so it took a diversion. I only realised this when we reached the centre of Queensferry – so had to walk back. I was not having much luck with buses today.

Overall though this had been a varied but enjoyable walk. Closer to Edinburgh the coast had been rather industrial with a run-down feel in places, but good views back to Edinburgh. As I had headed east however I was soon walking along glorious and largely deserted sandy beaches through a series of nice looking towns, ending at North Berwick, which I thought was a lovely town.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk. You need to change between the bus and the train. The shorterst walk between them is in Edinburgh City Centre but you may find it easier to change in Prestonpans or Musselburgh though the bus does not go close to the station in either of them.

Scotrail trains North Berwick Line : Edinburgh WaverleyMusselburgh – Wallyford – Prestonpans – Longniddry – Drem – North Berwick. Trains run hourly seven days a week, with services increasing to every 30 minutes at peak times on weekdays. It takes around 35 minutes to travel between Edinburgh and North Berwick.

Lothian Buses route 26 : Seton Sands – Port Seton – Cockenzie – Prestonpans – Levenhall – Pinkie – Musselburgh – Joppa – Portobello – Meadowbank – Abbey Hill – Edinburgh (Centre)Edinburgh (Haymarket Station) – Corstorphine. Approximately every 8 minutes Monday – Saturday and every 15 minutes on Sundays. It takes a little over 20 minutes from Edinburgh to Joppa/Portobello.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link

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4 Responses to 266. Joppa to North Berwick

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, not so sure of the legality of not giving change on a bus, but I suppose it also happens with some car parking machines. Grrrr!! Looking forwad to this section as I used to go out with a girl that lived in Gullane, back in the seventies

    • jcombe says:

      The bus company claims the drivers don’t have access to cash (I think it drops into some sort of box under the bus) and that this speeds up boarding (see bottom of https://www.lothianbuses.com/tickets/). I don’t buy it myself. Pensioners don’t pay. Regular travellers will buy a season ticket. So it’s occasional users and visitors that pay cash and I suspect this is a nice little earner for them! I certainly can’t see how it can possibly speed things up whilst the entire bus has to wait for someone to see if they can get the right change together!

      I hope you enjoy your trip down memory lane when you get here. I rather enjoyed this stretch (well apart from the bit around the power station).

  2. I like North Berwick and the area round about – we visit quite often – but I don’t know Portobello and Musselburgh at all. I keep meaning to visit but somewhere more exciting always crops up! My father-in-law was Chief Engineer at The Scottish Electricity Board (or something like that, not sure of exact titles) and Cockenzie was built on his watch. He died in 1968 when John was just 11 so I never met him.

    • jcombe says:

      I’m glad you also liked North Berwick. Portobello is probably worth a visit if you are nearby. My grandfather on my fathers side also worked for London Electricity Board based at Battersea Power station (now converted to flats) and also often working at Bankside Power Station (now the Tate Modern). Not sure what he’d make of it all now!

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