Situated within the setting of Aberlady Bay Local Nature Reserve (the first site to be designated a Nature Reserve, in 1952) the beach in itself is well worth a visit. On a clear day, you’ll see panoramic views of the Firth of Forth, with Edinburgh Castle, Forth Bridges, and the Fife coastline all visible. Look out too for pods of dolphins, which can regularly be spotted swimming in the waters of the bay.
As you enjoy the view and the tide ebbs, you will notice a pair of mysterious dark lumps revealing themselves in the surf to the west. You’d be forgiven, as many visitors do, for dismissing them as some boring old rocks, but they are in fact two of the only surviving examples of the X-Class “Midget” submarines.
The X-Class was built as a new unconventional approach for taking down Germany’s most powerful warships. They were only 52 feet long and powered by London Bus engines. As you stand by the wreck, it’s difficult to imagine how four sailors lived and worked inside this small space during combat.
They were involved in a daring raid in September of 1943, when a pack of six submarines were sent to stealthily plant charges on Nazi warships based in Norway, including the monstrous Battleship Tirpitz (sister ship of the Bizmarck). They also played a vital role in the allied invasion of D-Day. Covertly surveying the Normandy coast and even sending crew ashore to collect soil samples from Omaha Beach using condoms.
The wrecks are a training variant used at the base on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. They were towed to Aberlady in 1946 and moored to a large concrete block and used as targets for RAF aircraft. In all, 23 sailors died serving aboard X-Class boats during World War II. The wrecks stand as a humble tribute to the heroes that rode such an inhospitable machine right into the most hostile places in the world.
Know Before You Go
The beach can be accessed by a short 2.5km walk, (30 - 45 minutes at a brisk pace) from the car park from a wooden footbridge. The crossing is rickety and the slates are shaky. Pass Marl Loch and keep left until you reach the dunes, from there the wrecks will only be visible at low tide.
A small car park is located just off the A198 to the East of Aberlady village. The 124/X5 bus runs between Edinburgh and North Berwick. The stop to alight is the Nature Reserve. Public toilets are available at the car park. As it is situated in a bird sanctuary, dogs are not permitted.
Great care must be taken, as the submarines are located along a sand spit and are only accessible at low tide. The tide can cover ground quickly and you should check and double-check the tide times here. Adding the time it will take one to walk out to the location. Wear sensible shoes and clothing, and be aware that the path is made of dirt, along with loose sand.