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Victorian splendour and island views

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Dave Edwards was walking on air after a flying visit to North Berwick and a spectacular stretch of Scottish coastline


My previous visit to the Macdonald Marine Hotel in North Berwick was more than 20 years ago and a lot has changed since then.

Gone is the outside swimming pool overlooking the Firth of Forth and the famous North Berwick golf course. Behind the marine’s magnificent Victorian facade you will now find a state-of-the-art spa and leisure centre, although thankfully the Marine’s bedrooms, Links bar and restaurant have retained their period charm and individuality.

We received a warm welcome on arrival and were shown to the luxurious Fidra Suite, overlooking the small island of the same name, our home-from-home for the next two nights.

Our bedroom and bathroom with its free-standing bath and separate shower were impressive, and our lounge had a beautiful five-sided bay window with a stunning view over the famous links and Fidra beyond.

At 4 o’clock we headed off down to the spa for a revitalising 90-minute ‘top-to-toe’ treatment.

My own masseuse, Levi, and Emma, my wife’s, both delivered firm but relaxing deep tissue back-massages to help relieve tension and aching muscles, before turning their attention to administrating a deeply relaxing facial, and finishing with a luxurious foot massage.

The treatment promised to leave you walking on air, and they were right.

That evening we dined in the Victorian splendour of the Craigleith restaurant, named after the other island visible from the hotel, and our waiter, Amar, could not have been more attentive.

After our pre-dinner stroll on a decidedly chilly evening I opted for a warming bowl of carrot and coriander soup followed by chicken stuffed with haggis in a whisky sauce while my wife chose fresh melon then a rib-eye steak with all the trimmings, which was cooked to perfection.

We chose a bottle of red Viognier which went equally well with my other half’s Scottish cheese board and my homemade apple crumble and custard.

It goes without saying that the Marine sources its produce locally, and you can certainly taste the difference.

After a full Scottish breakfast the next morning we headed out to visit the majestic semi-ruined Tantallon castle, only a 10 minute drive from the hotel.

If you do find yourself in this most picturesque part of Scotland, a visit to the atmospheric Historic Scotland site is a must.

This 14th century fortress, the last mediaeval curtain wall castle to be constructed in Scotland, is perched precariously on a promontory looking directly out to the Bass Rock and its equally famous lighthouse.

Tantallon remained the impenetrable stronghold of the ‘Red Douglas’ family until it was besieged by James V in 1528, later Oliver Cromwell destroyed much of the fabric during his 1651 invasion.

Now, had we made our two-day trip to North Berwick a week later, we would have then headed off to Scotland’s National Museum of Flight, at East Fortune airfield, just six miles away in the other direction.

The former World War II base is home to a fascinating collection of aeroplanes, including a Vickers Supermarine Spitfire, a Vulcan bomber, a German Messerschmitt, a de Havilland Comet, a Hawker Siddeley Harrier jump-jet, a lightning, and a Buccaneer – but pride of place goes to the first Concorde to go into service with British airways in 1976.

Instead of a journey through time we returned to the Marine for a more leisurely afternoon of self-indulgence, but not before we sampled a spot of retail therapy along North Berwick’s thriving High Street, packed with little independent shops, in many towns a thing of the past.

We enjoyed a sumptuous afternoon tea back in the Craigleith restaurant, hand-cut sandwiches of different varieties, scones with cream and jam, and equally delicious fancy cakes.

After that there was only one place to go… bypassing the gym, we made our way to the Marine’s health club.

We headed straight to the outdoor Jacuzzi for a long soak before coming back inside to sample a variety of saunas and steam rooms, not to mention the ice-room, before finishing off with a dip in the swimming pool.

That night we dined in an atmospheric and ultra-modern little Italian restaurant on Quality Street in North Berwick, called Zitto’s, a great find.

While my wife started with fresh East Lothian asparagus on a toasted muffin topped with a poached egg and Bearnaise sauce, I chose traditional minestrone soup.

After that we both opted for a delicious spaghetti Bolognese, accompanied by a refreshing glass of Chilean Merlot, before meandering our way back to our hotel for a little night-cap.

After breakfast, we bade farewell to the splendid Marine and vowed not to leave it so long until our next visit.

  • Renowned for its beautiful coastal setting and glorious 19th century Victorian architecture, Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa is less than 30 minutes from Edinburgh by rail or car. Part of the Macdonald Hotels’ Signature Collection, Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa is home to the award-winning Craigleith restaurant where guests can savour the finest freshest Scottish cuisine while enjoying stunning views of the Firth of Forth. With extensive conference facilities and a luxury spa, the 4-star Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa is the perfect destination for business and pleasure.
  • Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa, Cromwell Road, North Berwick. Visit or phone 0844 879 9130. Rooms start from £111 per night. Price per night is subject to availability and all rates vary according to season.