The Bass Rock, St Baldred and the Imprisonment of the Covenanters

The Bass Rock, situated only two miles east of North Berwick and one mile off the mainland, has famously been described as “One of the Twelve Wildlife Wonders of the World” by the respected wildlife specialist, David Attenborough. Today, the spectacular volcanic plug is the home to approximately 10% of the world population of North Atlantic gannets.

The Bass Rock, originally named ‘Sula Bassana’ after being studied by scientists in the 19th century, is also known to have served as a useful place of imprisonment, during the early 15th century after King James imprisoned Neil Bhass Mack and Walter Stewart among other political enemies. However James I was not the first to inhabit this historical island. Above the castle, situated on the gentler slope to the south of the island, was a small chapel, built around 1491. This chapel, known today as St Baldred’s, was used as a retreat for prayer and meditation by Baldred, a monk of Lindisfarne, who had been sent to the Lothian’s in the 8th century in order to convert his irreligious beliefs to Christianity. However, the main attraction to the Bass Rock today lies in the vast population of gannets which occupy over 80,000 nests on the island.

While today, hundreds of tourists travel to the East Coast from all over the world to marvel at the lifestyle of the spectacular gannets which dominate the Bass Rock, in the 1870s the young birds were appreciated solely as a delicacy to be served at breakfast. The killing of the birds, also known as ‘harrying’ attracted hundreds of spectators to the premises of whom the birds would then be sold to, leaving the tenant with a healthy profit. Among the wildlife population and the ruins of the castle, stands the 20 metre light house, built by Robert Stevenson and opened in December 1902. The lighthouse has remained unmanned since 1988 and today is remotely monitored from the board’s headquarters in Edinburgh, leaving the Bass Rock to be dominated only by the natural wildlife of Scotland.

(article supplied by Alison Wright, NBHS Pupil ©2011)