Every year since 2008 some brave people have put on a Fringe festival in Scotland that grows and develops each time. No, not the Edinburgh Fringe, dummy! This is the Fringe by the Sea (until 12 August) held 40km from the pullulating Festival City in the small town of North Berwick in East Lothian.
Recently the town has been called the most desirable place to live in Scotland and house prices (and prices in the shops) reflect this desirability. For years its cruel moniker was Morningside-sur-Mer – a sobriquet that tips its hat to the genteel, fur-coat-and-nae-knickers Edinburgh suburb.
The neat little town of North Berwick is one of the relatively few old-fashioned, small working seaside resorts left in the UK. It retains a degree of quaintness and NB, as locals like to call it, on warm summer days is chock-full of holidaymakers, beach bums and daytrippers. The harbour is swollen with pleasure boats, the town’s residents in their expensive villas are very much the haves and have-yachts. The one-way high street has tiny pavements and a plethora of boutiques (and charity shops) and an abundance of chain stores, Boots, Fat Face, Costa… the place fair bustles and even the gulls seem upmarket. Oh, and the town is super dog-friendly.
From the window tables of eateries like the Herringbone much sport can be found in watching little old ladies, peering above the wheel of their great BMWs attempting to park. The Lobster Shack at the harbour and its sister the Rocketeer are both recommended. The town has its fair share of care homes suggesting that the population is somewhat aged. It’s also a great base for golfers (the area’s been labelled the Golf Coast) who want to take advantage of a number of excellent nearby courses.
But it’s not all old duffers. Hip java-lovers get everywhere and the coffee hangout Steampunk is a popular watering hole. Just this year there’s been a pop-up café called Drift on a promontory out of town overlooking the magnificent bird sanctuary of the Bass Rock, the guano and gannets gleaming white in the summer sun.
Fringe by the Sea – now celebrating its 10th anniversary – attracts locals and visitors. Daytrippers wanting to get away from the push and shove of Edinburgh are more than welcome. And the town is within easy reach by a quick train, a longer bus and now an open-top double-decker which can transport you all the way to Tantallon Castle. Is it unfair to call Fringe by the Sea down-home? There’s not much here that’s cutting-edge and most of the events are safe bets – writer Richard Holloway, Mica Paris singing Ella Fitzgerald, Shooglenifty, Arthur Smith, the ubiquitous Judy Murray and much more.
Off-season NB has that faded sadness of many seaside towns but in the summer, en fete, it has a delightful quality with folk in their finery (the women in Boden wrap dresses and men in Linen blazers from Gant) looking every inch like the Kennedy clan on vacation in Hyannis Port.
For those wanting to get a bit of Fringe cold turkey there are plenty of non-cultural diversions from the Seabird Centre which offers boat trips around the Bass Rock, two wide beaches, pitch and putt sunsets, islands, fish-and-chips, Mr Whippy and all.