Locals share what life is like in Dunbar, a fishing town situated on the North Sea coast of East Lothian in Scotland
With breathtaking scenery that you may recognise from shows like Wild Isles, Springwatch or Outlander, Dunbar is a working fishing town grounded in a rich history.
It sits on the North Sea coast of East Lothian, looking out to Bass Rock, an island in the Firth of Forth that has captured the imagination of writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson and William Boyd. Back on mainland, the ruins of Dunbar Castle watch over the town. Centuries ago, Mary Queen of Scots fled there after the murder of Rizzio. Today, you can admire it from the harbour in between a boat tour and a pint at the pub.
"Dunbar is the birthplace of John Muir, known as the 'Father of the National Parks'"
Among its more curious tourist attractions is the Bridge to Nowhere, a strange little footbridge that, at high tide, seems to lead nowhere. At low tide its purpose becomes apparent, as it crosses Biel Water, a three-mile-long stream.
The town is the birthplace of John Muir, known as the “Father of the National Parks” for his role in creating the American national park system. Despite spending most of his life in America, he never forgot Dunbar and Dunbar never forgot him. You can find traces of him throughout the town, from the four-storey building that he was born in, now a museum, to John Muir Country Park, stretching along the East Lothian coastline.
A few of the locals share what makes Dunbar so special…
Alan Stewart is the managing director and owner of BlueWild Nature Boat Tours, a tour company that offers stunning boat trips to Bass Rock and the Isle of May.
I’ve lived in Dunbar for four years now. We lived in North Berwick for 20 years but we wanted to downsize and Dunbar was the next available town by the sea that was also close to Edinburgh. For many years Dunbar was seen as a poor neighbour to North Berwick, but that’s the wrong comparison. People will say, oh, it’s not North Berwick, but that’s actually why we chose it. It’s next to the sea, it has a great harbour, it’s a very genuine town with a traditional feel.
Dunbar is a small town with a disproportionately huge history. You look at it and think it’s just a normal little town but there’s so much more beneath the surface. It’s got a beautiful coastline, great walks, easy access to Edinburgh and then of course this fascinating history, being the birthplace of John Muir.
"Dunbar is a small town with a disproportionately huge history"
Dunbar is a very traditional town with families who’ve lived here for a long time, you know, four or five generations of fishermen. It’s a very self-sufficient town. If you go up the way you’ll find a lot of commuter towns and holiday towns, but Dunbar has been its own working town for a long time. It’s also expanding, with people like myself moving here. I’m sort of the new person in town, but I would say that you really grow into Dunbar. The people are very friendly and welcoming. It has its traditional core, lots of family business, but it is also at the point of change. There is a feeling that things are happening in Dunbar, and that’s a good place to be.
Dunbar is a town with so much natural history, so much wildlife, and for a long time it didn’t have a tour boat. That’s how BlueWild Nature Boat Tours was born. We looked as Dunbar as visitors and thought, what’s this place got to offer? The answer is a whole lot! This is the birthplace of modern geology, this is the home of Britain’s third largest puffin colony, this is the home of the world’s largest northern gannet colony. There’s so much to see, and BlueWild shows it all.
It’s challenging running a tour boat company. We had a lot of setbacks at the start—COVID-19, the avian flu. But it’s so rewarding when you see your office view—just miles and miles of beautiful blue sea. We’ve also been able to work with film and television production crews getting them out to where they need to film, which is great, too. We’ve worked with the BBC and Netflix.
My favourite spot in Dunbar is actually sitting in the boat, looking at Bass Rock on one side and straight out to the North Sea on the other. It’s just amazing. I was on the phone to someone the other day who said to me, “Alan, I think there’s just some traffic going past you, I didn’t quite catch that.” I said, “No, that’s the waves.”
Mick Kerr is the general manager for Belhaven Bay Caravan and Camping Park, a 5-star holiday park located in John Muir Country Park.
I came to Dunbar for work and I’ve been here five years now. I think the location is absolutely fantastic. Dunbar sits on an unparalleled coastline. Belhaven Bay is just an incredible place to be, with miles and miles of untouched coastline. And on top of that, it’s such a short distance from Edinburgh—just 25 minutes on a train or an hour on a bus, and you’re in the city centre.
"My favourite spot in Dunbar is Belhaven Bay Beach, every single day"
The caravan park is in the John Muir Country Park. John Muir is the gentleman who introduced the national park system in America. Places like Yosemite National Park exist thanks to him, he created the whole conservation concept of national parks. He was actually born here, so in Dunbar you’ve got the John Muir Birthplace Museum and you’ve got a celebration of what he did to put us on the map.
Dunbar’s got a fantastic feel. It centres around the harbour and the industries that are supported by the harbour, but there are also far more commuters now, too. It’s a town that is constantly growing and evolving, while still retaining its traditional high street and harbour and roots. There’s a really strong community and it’s sort of a place where old meets new.
Belhaven Bay Caravan and Camping Park is a five-star rated camping and caravan park. There’s not many caravan parks that are five-star rated by Visit Scotland! We offer exceptional quality and service in a really fantastic location.
My favourite spot in Dunbar is Belhaven Bay Beach, every single day. You’ve got the famous bridge to nowhere, you’ve got views out to Bass Rock and down the coast to North Berwick. There’s always a mix of surfers, families and dog walkers. It’s a really well-used beach and a beautiful place to spend time.
Sara Crowe is a waitress and bartended at The Brig and Barrel, a cosy, dog-friendly pub in heart of the Historic Town of Belhaven.
Two and a half years ago, I moved to Dunbar to live with my husband, who has lived here his whole life. I love Dunbar’s sense of community, and being so close to the sea. Walking the cliff-top walk around the coast is always a popular choice on a sunny day.
To be a Dunbar resident is to be a part of a small and tight-knit community. Residents of Dunbar love to support the ever-growing small businesses of our high street. The spirit of Dunbar is energetic. There are always community-based events going on to encourage residents to come together.
The Brig and Barrel is a one-of-a-kind pub. It’s a community hub! It’s a place where families come to enjoy meals together, friends gather for drinks, or some just pop in for a pint to enjoy the banter and friendly atmosphere. There is always a friendly face to welcome you in. And the staff really try to make the customers feel at home. The staff feels like one big family. The owner, James, ensures that we have a great work environment. When you work at the Brig, you don’t feel like you’re working at all!
My favourite part of Dunbar is the beaches, hands down! I could easily spend all day walking up and down all the different beaches searching for sea glass. Residents, as well as the local council, pay extra attention to ensuring the beaches are in pristine condition for everyone to enjoy. The best is going down when the sun is shining—they do call Dunbar “sunny Dunny” after all!
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