Some hills have a presence and character out of all proportion to their physical size, and North Berwick Law is certainly one of them. Standing to a height of 613ft or 187m immediately to the south of North Berwick, North Berwick Law can be seen from across a very wide area including much of the eastern half of the Lothians and Edinburgh, Fife to the north, and the northern edge of the Southern Uplands to the south.
300 million years ago, this part of Scotland was home to a number of active volcanos, and North Berwick Law is all that is left of the plug of lava that once welled up within one of them. Everything else has been eroded away by glaciation, leaving just the cone of harder material that was once deep underground. Other similar volcanic remains within sight of North Berwick Law include East and West Lomond in Fife, Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Traprain Law six miles to the south and, Bass Rock, three miles to the north-east in the Firth of Forth.
A good parking area is signposted from the B1347 just as it leaves the edge of North Berwick. A track leading around the south side of the Law gives access to a path which leads you upwards. Signposts have been kept to a minimum, but you don't really need them. The main path carries on around the rear or south side of the Law as it climbs, and though in a number of places you seem to be given options for "short cuts" taking steeper routes more directly upwards, the best path takes a line of least resistance, doubling back on itself several times as it climbs.
The first real "wow" moment of the ascent comes as you crest the shoulder of the Law to the west of the summit, and for the first time get a view over North Berwick and the Firth of Forth. From here the path zig-zags more around the front of the Law, becoming a little fragmented as it nears the top. Much of the path is on grass that has been worn beautifully short by the passage of feet. In one or two places it has broken through to the soil below, and in a number of places, especially nearer the top, you can find yourself (depending on the exact route you take) on rock that has been worn to a smooth finish that can be slippery, especially in the wet.
The summit of North Berwick Law is home to rather more in the way of structures than you might expect. Just below the summit to its north are the remains of a stone building used as a watch-house during the Napoleonic Wars in the years either side of 1800. Soldiers based here lit a warning fire if they saw French ships trying to enter the Firth of Forth. The Law had long served this purpose: in 1544 the watch, this time for Henry VIII's English navy, was kept up by nuns of the nearby Cistercian convent. And in World War II the Law once more served as a lookout, this time by troops based in the brick and concrete structure just to the west of the Napoleonic watch-house.
The summit itself is best known as home to a pair of whale's jawbones standing within a small enclosure surrounded by railings. These were first placed here in 1709. The first set blew down in a gale in 1935 and were replaced. In 2005 the replacement pair were in danger of collapse, so were removed. Somehow North Berwick didn't seem the same without the arch of whalebones on North Berwick Law, yet in a more environmentally sensitive era, the idea of replacing them with more whalebones was clearly out of the question. Instead they were replaced in June 2008 by a pair made from fibreglass that had been cast from those removed in 2005, with the whole cost being covered by an anonymous friend of North Berwick. After three years with "something missing", North Berwick Law once more looked complete.