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The North Berwick Law

Home > Edinburgh > Day Trips | Dog Friendly | Escape the City | Outdoor | Walks
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published August 28th 2015
Formed as a volcanic plug, and shaped by glaciers into a crag and tail style, the North Berwick Law (known locally as simply the Law) provides a great landmark to orientate yourself around in this otherwise flat, lowland area of Scotland. Standing 187m above sea level, it takes about 30 minutes for a reasonably fit person to climb it, and anyone visiting the area would be advised to make the effort. If you really want a challenge, keen runners use it as part of their training too!

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The North Berwick Law

One of the most iconic aspects of the Law is the whale's jawbone standing proudly on the summit. There has been a jawbone in place since 1709, the last one having been installed in 1933. When it crumbled in 2005, no new jawbone was put in place, and the hilltop looked bare and bereft. In 2008 funding was donated for a fibreglass replica to be put in place, and once again it towers high.

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The Whale's Jawbone

Less overt are the shelters used In both the Napoleonic Wars and WWII. You're more likely to find animals sheltering in there now, but the roof can make a good perch with excellent views.There will always be animals grazing on the Law, and visitors are reminded to take care (e.g. sheep and ponies). It is also a great place for bird watching. You can hear the smaller birds in the trees below, and if you wait long enough, all kinds of interesting birds may come across your path.

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A pony stopping to drink on the Law

The Law has been inhabited in some form for millennia. On the south side, eighteen hut circles dating back 2000 years have been discovered. An excellent defensive position, the Law was originally owned by the Cistercian Convent, and there are also remains of religious buildings here. A small stone cottage is also situated just shy of the summit. Ruined now, it must have been extremely exposed for its inhabitants. It makes another good picnic spot. There are also remnants of an Iron Age Fort.

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Stone Cottage on North Berwick Law

The summit itself is on a little rocky outcrop, require a sure footing, but it isn't high. The marker was erected in 1803, and gives basic summit information. The views are magnificent, over the Firth of Forth, and on a clear day, as far as Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. This is Lowland Scotland, after all.

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The summit

In previous years the Law has suffered with vandalism and fires, particularly in the gorse. Along with concerns about erosion, this means that routes to the summit are managed, and may change. They are well-signposted now though, so visitors should not worry about needing to navigate. The walk isn't overly arduous, and can even be done with a pram; particularly in bad weather you would be well advised to wear sensible footwear. There are cliffs up the north side. While bits of them can be climbed, it isn't advised for preservation and safety reasons.

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If you can see the whale's jawbone, you're nearly there (with the WWII shelter to the right)!

You can go a long way around the base of the Law, if you don't want to climb it, but bearing in mind its crag and tail formation, this plan fails when you reach the extended tail.

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The Law from the North Berwick rugby pitch, in the oncoming mist

The main entrance to the Law sits a short distance from the road on the way out of North Berwick towards Haddington. There is plenty of parking, although it is a popular dog-walking area and so the car park can get quite full. It is also opposite the leisure centre, so you can combine indoor with outdoor pursuits.

north berwick, law, hill, firth of forth
The Law from the Firth of Forth
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Why? Stunning views over East Lothian and a great walk
When: open all year
Where: North Berwick Law
Cost: free
Your Comment
The whale jaw bone is a great feature.
by Bastion Harrison (score: 4|12626) 2334 days ago
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