Fringe By The Sea offers haven from city madness

Fringe At The Sea at North Berwick. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Fringe At The Sea at North Berwick. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SOMETIMES the Edinburgh Festival can get a bit too much.

For those of us who still have to rush to and from work each day, pick up children from child care and generally get from A to B, the Festival can be a stressful and infuriating few weeks.

But there is a solution for residents looking to escape the hustle and bustle whilst still getting their fix of comedy, music and festival entertainment – North Berwick’s Fringe By The Sea. Now in its eighth year, the event, which starts on Monday and runs until the following Sunday, has quickly become a popular fixture on the local festival calendar.

Started by three residents, Jane Thomson, John Shaw and Eric Wales in 2008, it has escalated each year, with more than 8000 people expected this year.

Comedians such as Alan Davies and Elaine C Smith will be topping the comedy bill, whilst singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading, pictured, is this year’s music headliner.

“We have been very fortunate over the last seven years in being able to bring some great names to our festival, but Joan would have to count as one of the biggest stars to visit us to date,” says Eric Wales.

The three-time Grammy Award-nominee will be performing at the festival on Tuesday.

Other musical offerings as part of Fringe By The Sea include The New Rope String Band, Phil Cunningham & Aly Bain, Eddi Reader and ska band Bombskare.

A new strand to the festival this year will concentrate on the best gigs, performances and shows involving local talent – both born and bred or simply now resident in East Lothian. This series has been entitled Homegrown, and will be represented through drama, literature, art and both classical and contemporary music.

The festival is also family-friendly, offering children’s shows – including the popular Mr Boom – and donkey rides on the beach.

Foodies will also be catered for with a food market and cookery demonstrations provided by chefs John Paul McLachlan from JP’s Deli in North Berwick, Fred Berkmiller from L’Escargot Bleu and Blanc in Edinburgh, and Derek Johnston from The Golf Inn in Gullane.

Local pubs and restaurants are also on board, with live music and food and drink deals on offer throughout the week. “Local people and businesses have really taken it to their hearts”, says one of the three organisers, Jane Thomson. “I don’t actually think they would let us stop doing it! We all work together and help each other out.”

She adds: “When we first started, it was an idea between the three of us to capitalise on what was going on in Edinburgh and give people the chance to have a day by the seaside and eat fish and chips. We borrowed a marquee and a bit of grass outside the Scottish Seabird Centre and we ended up getting 2000 people along.

“The following year we decided to up the ante and we got a Spiegeltent down in the harbour area and each year we grew our numbers.

“A lot of the people that come to Fringe By The Sea are people who would normally have gone into Edinburgh but have chosen us because it’s a lot easier. And a huge percentage of people are locals who love the fact the festival is on their doorstep.

“We are also getting a lot of holidaymakers who come and stay in North Berwick for the festival and go into Edinburgh for the day.”

As part of Fringe By The Sea, all things Scottish will be celebrated on Saltire Day on Wednesday.

Starting with raising the Saltire flag at The Law, there will be a full riding out with as many horses and riders as possible parading on a route round the town.

There will also be talks and events covering the life and history of the area, as well as a number of musical performances at various venues – both musical masterclasses and various “taste and try” sessions. All finished off with a couple of concerts and some fireworks to end the day.

“We try and make it a fun, quirky little festival and the atmosphere is fantastic,” adds Jane.

To ensure festival-goers get the full Fringe By The Sea experience, organisers have worked with train and bus operators to ensure there’s public transport running back to Edinburgh at midnight each night.

For the full programme, and to book tickets, visit www.fringebythesea.com.