Seacliff is a little known corner of East Lothian five miles east of North Berwick and immediately to the south east of Tantallon Castle, of which it offers some of the finest views available. It comprises an estate including the sad ruin of a once great house; a beautiful beach looking north towards Bass Rock; a remarkable, tiny harbour; and the almost hidden ruins of a castle. Truly a wonderful slice of Undiscovered Scotland!
You access Seacliff via a private road that heads east from the farmstead at Auldhame, which is on a sharp corner on the A198 half a mile or so south of the turning to the Tantallon Castle visitor centre. A little further on you are directed left, though a barrier that gives access, on payment of £3, onto a track that leads you down and along the rear of Seacliff Beach to the parking area, a large grassy space just before the road turns away from the beach and back on itself.
A path from the parking area leads you to the east end of the broad sweep of Seacliff beach. A broad sweep at low tide, anyway: much of the beach is covered at high tide. The rocks at the east end of the beach extend north to form the jagged St Baldred's Boat, whose presence is marked by a stone beacon surmounted by a cross. This is one of several local features named after St Baldred: another is a shallow cave behind the access track.
Around the corner from the beach, to its south east, are the Car Rocks and Scoughall Rocks, once reputed to be where the Pagans of Scoughall used lights to lure ships bound for the Forth Estuary onto the rocks where they could be plundered. Wrecking, it seems, was not an exclusively Cornish activity.
As you walk across this lovely beach, keep a lookout to the south for the stark remains of Seacliff House, partly hidden by trees. This was originally built in 1750, before being rebuilt in 1841 and extended in the 1850s. It burned down in 1907 and has stood as a ruin ever since.
It is also worth looking out for the remains of Auldhame Castle, on the headland to the west of the beach. This little known castle ruin once formed the focus of a village of which very little trace now remains, beyond the use of the name by the farmstead on the main road a few hundred yards to the south west. The castle ruins serve as a reminder of Seacliff's strategic military position throughout history. The beach here was used on a number of occasions as a base by those wishing to attack Tantallon Castle, just half a mile as the cannonball flies to the north west.
Troops were also stationed here during the Napoleonic Wars to guard against French attack. And during the First World War, the surviving outbuildings of Seacliff House became a top secret naval base called HMS Scottish Seacliff. One of the things that doubtless attracted the Navy to Seacliff becomes apparent as you complete your walk west along the beach.
Two surprises await at this end of the beach. The first is the "end on" view of Tantallon Castle that emerged from behind the headland. The second is an incredible harbour that has been carved out of the rocks of a feature known as the Gegan. This was constructed in 1890 by Andrew Laidley, the then laird, who used a steam engine and compressed air to cut the stone. Even with the technology of the day, this must have been a daunting project.
It has been claimed that the harbour is Scotland's smallest. We suspect there are some on Arran that run it close: but it is certainly Scotland's most unexpected and one of its most intriguing harbours.
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