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Bass Rock

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Bass, a stupendous rocky islet off the N coast of Haddingtonshire. It once was a parish, but as such was probably identified with Aldham parish, subsequently incorporated with Whitekirk; and it now is claimed both by Whitekirk and by North Berwick. Fronting Tantallon Castle, it stands in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, 1¼ mile from the nearest point of land, and 31/8 miles ENE of North Berwick town; measures fully a mile in circumference; and rises to an altitude of 313 feet above the surface of the water. Its northern and highest side ascends almost sheer from the sea; its southern has a somewhat conical form, and rises with a moderate slope from near the base. Its surface comprises about 7 acres of pasturage, grazed by a few sheep, whose mutton is said to be peculiarly delicate. Solan geese or gannets, in vast multitudes, build and breed on its cliffs and rocks, and are taken and killed chiefly for their feathers and their fat. A cavernous passage, 170 yards long and 30 feet high, has been worn by the sea through an offshoot from the NW to the SE, and can generally be traversed even at full tide in calm weather, but presents no very remarkable feature. The only landing-place is a flat shelving point on the SE, and even this is often inaccessible with strong E and south-easterly winds; thence the summit is gained by stairs, through remains of old fortifications. According to Hugh Miller, the Bass is probably a mass of lava, which was moulded in a tubular crater, and from around which, after it cooled and hardened, all the more yielding rocks were swept away. It first appears on record as the hermitage of St Balthere or Baldred, founder of the monastery of Tyningham, who died on it in 756; it was described in Latin verse by the learned Alcuin (735-804). In 1316 it became the property of the Lander family, from whom it passed before the middle of the 17th century to the Laird of Waughton, and shortly afterwards to Sir Andrew Ramsay, provost of Edinburgh; by him it was sold in 1671 for £4000 to Government, and then was made a state prison for the Covenanters. Blackadder, Peden, Traill, and some forty more, chiefly ministers of religion, were confined on it for periods of from two months to six years, on no other charge than that they followed their own conscience rather than the king's will; and they suffered severe privations, catching, in some instances, diseases which enfeebled them for life. The cell in which Blackadder was confined proved his deathplace, and is still pointed out. At the Revolution the Bass was yielded early in the war, but on 15 June 1691,4 young Jacobite prisoners shut the fort's gate against its garrison of 50, who were all outside engaged in landing coal. Reinforced till they numbered 16 men, victual led by the French government, and also supplied with two war-boats, they actually held out till April 1694, and then capitulated on highly honourable terms (vol. vii., pp. 415-418, of Hill Burton's Hist. Scot., ed. 1876). The fortifications commanding the landing-place, and barracks for the accommodation of a garrison, were not demolished till 1701, and have left some remains. An ancient chapel also stood about half way up the acclivity, and claims to occupy the site of the original cell of St Baldred, which likewise has left some remains. The Bass, in 1706, became the property of Sir Hew Dalrymple of North Berwick; and it has since continued in the possession of his descendants. Mr James Miller published, in 1825, a poem, entitled, St Baldred of the -Bass, with notes containing curious legendary matter respecting the rock; and Hugh Miller and four others issued conjointly, in 1848, The Bass Rock, its Civil and Ecclesiastical History, Geology, Martyrology, Zoology, and Botany. See also G. Ferrier's North Berwick and its Vicinity (10th ed. 1881).—Ord. Sur., sh. 41,1857.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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