Coastwalk #30 – North Queensferry to Burntisland

START: North Queensferry, Fife

FINISH: Burntisland, Fife

DISTANCE: 12.2 miles (Total – 352.5 miles)

APPROXIMATE TIME: 5 1/2 hours

OS MAPS: OS Explorer 367

ACCOMMODATION: Northcraig Cottage, North Queensferry 

Oh boy was I looking forward to this one. Back in September 2017 I had reached North Queensferry at the end of a very long walk from Leith and my tired legs could take me no further. Just before making the steep climb up to the railway station I remember clearly looking down a lane off to my righy where a Fife Coastal Path sign pointed towards, wondering what was down there and what the next part of the coast would be like. Six months later, in March 2018, I was finally going to find out. Much excitement!

NORTH QUEENSFERRY

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It was an early start for me on the Friday morning. I got the train from Newcastle to Edinburgh Waverley, and then a connecting train across the beautiful Forth Rail Bridge to North Queensferry. A quick check in to my B&B (the fantastic Northcraig Cottage which sits right underneath the Rail Bridge) and I was back up heading to the railway station once again to meet my old school friend James who was joining me on the day’s walk (by the way you should check out his excellent website about his stunning photography and treks across Scotland – well worth a visit!)

We stocked up on crisps and chocolate from the shop next to the railway station and then wandered back downhill again to stop at a little cafe in the village to get a cheese and pickle sandwich each (the sandwiches were gushing with pickle!) Finally it was time to start to the walk. We headed back up the road to the Fife Coastal Path sign where I had left off in September and followed the cobbled lane as it headed underneath the Forth Rail Bridge and off towards Carlingnose Point (below). A ruined pier stood forlornly in the water hinting at a by-gone industrial age. 

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The day had started off cloudy although the sun was now trying its best to peek through the clouds. The wind was picking up as we continued past Carlingnose Point and towards the sands of Port Laing (below). We spotted a fair bit of plastic washed up on the beach which highlighted the huge global problem of plastic littering in our seas and oceans that has been heavily in the news recently. It is such a shame to see a beautiful spot blighted by unsightly litter and it is a problem we must all tackle.

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We passed a plaque mounted on a wall overlooking the beach which paid tribute to the heroic bravery of Lieutenant George Paton. Lt Paton, aged just 21, died whilst shielding his fellow soldiers from a grenade blast during a training exercise. On Tuesday 20th June 1916 Lt Paton was in charge of a grenade throwing exercise when one badly thrown grenade ended up near a group of men. Quick as a flash, Lt Paton shouted out a warning and then tried to throw the grenade away. Unfortunately it exploded instantly killing him, however his brave actions shielded the other soldiers from the blast. Lt. Paton is buried in nearby Inverkeithing.

Away from the plaque the path continued through a wooded area before rounding West Ness and coming to a road which led through an industrial area. To our left was a massive quarry and as we continued along the road we passed a scrapyard to the right which was very noisy. Further along the road we passed old abandoned warehouses (below) before heading underneath a railway bridge and following the road to our right until we reached the town of Inverkeithing.

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INVERKEITHING

The town of Inverkeithing has very ancient origins with some historians stating that it dates back as far as 83AD when Agricola and his Roman Army ventured into Scotland. There was almost certainly a settlement hereabouts in the early 5th century AD when a church was founded by St Erat. During medieval times Inverkeithing became a walled town, due to its importance as a developing port, however this was was removed in the 16th century with the stonework being used in the construction of other buildings in the town. There was also a convent ran by the Franciscan monks from about 1350 until the Reformation in 1560.

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Inverkeithing benefited from the export of coal mined from the Fife coalfield in the 19th and early 20th century, and for a short period of time shipbuilding took place in the harbour. However, since the 1920’s Inverkeithing has become chiefly known not for the building of ships but for the breaking of them. Some famous ships which have sailed the seas have come to their end in Inverkeithing including the battleship HMS Dreadnought, the Mauretania, and the Homeric and Olympic which were sister ships to the ill-fated Titanic. 

We passed quickly through Inverkeithing, not because there was anything wrong with the place, we were just keen to get back on the coast again and also find somewhere to have our gushing cheese and pickle sandwiches. From Inverkeithing’s High Street we headed down Townhall Street, which merged into King Street before taking a right down Commercial Road and then Preston Crescent which led us back down to the coast (above). We followed the coastal path for a hundred yards or so until we came to the remains of a disused pier which had the remnants of an old winching cable that once over would have lowered goods onto ships waiting in the water. It was a beautiful place to sit and have our lunch (even if it had clouded over a bit) and the old winching gear perfectly framed the Forth Rail Bridge in the distance (below).

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Fortified by our cheese and pickle sandwiches and also some homemade chocolate brownies that James had brought along, we continued along the coastal path, passing by the site of an old quarry. Ahead the path hugged the coastline as it curved its way towards Dalgety Bay.

DALGETY BAY

Dalgety Bay is a modern town built from the 1960s onwards, which takes its name from the bay it overlooks. The bay itself took its name from the medieval village of Dalgety which was removed on the orders of the Earls of Moray in the 18th century who owned the lands hereabouts. The modern town actually stretches across three bays – St David’s (which we came too first – below), Donbristle, and finally Dalgety Bay. 

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During the First World War the 17th Earl of Moray donated some of his land to the Crown who built an airfield there in 1917 that was ran by the Royal Naval Air Service. The airfield was expanded during the Second World War, becoming HMS Merlin and was home to an extensive aircraft repair yard. By the 1960’s the airfield and the surrounding lands was sold off by the Earl of Moray to private housing companies, from which the modern dormitory town of Dalgety Bay grew. The dormitory nature of the town was clearly highlighted to us as we passed through quiet suburban streets. As it was a Friday the majority of the town’s residents would have been working across the Forth in Edinburgh, which gave Dalgety Bay a bit of a ghostly feel to it. 

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At one stage we dropped down to the beach and followed it as far as we could before heading back through the town, alternating between quiet streets and shoreline-hugging tracks. We came onto Donibristle Bay (above), which takes its name from Donibristle House, once over the family seat of the Earls of Moray. Nowadays the House is home to modern luxury apartments. 

We took a short break at a bench overlooking Donibristle Bay, near to the remains of an old harbour which was used by the Earls of Moray to berth their boats. The sun was back out again as we set off once more, following the coastal path as it rounded another little headland, through Dalgety Bay Sailing Club and along the shoreline of the bay which the town takes its name from – Dalgety Bay (below).

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ST BRIDGET’S KIRK

We continued to follow the coastal path as it followed the shoreline around Dalgety Bay before heading into a short wooded section which hid the wonderful ruin of St Bridget’s Kirk (below). The Kirk was originally built to be the parish church of the long gone medieval village of Dalgety Bay. First mentioned in a Papal document dating back to 1178, the church was dedicated to St Bridget (also known as St Bride), an Irish nun from the 6th century. The Kirk was granted to the canons of Inchcolm Abbey on nearby Inchcolm Island. 

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The Kirk became a burial place for some important Scottish nobles including Alexander Seton, the 1st Earl of Dunfermline and the Chancellor of Scotland who was buried here in 1622. The Earl’s family had a private vault built at the Kirk and also a private room on the upper floor where the family could sit and view the church service without having to mix with the local riff-raff. 

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By the mid 19th century, after 700 years of service, the church was no longer fit for purpose, with the medieval village of Dalgety it had originally served having disappeared as the population moved a little north to where the work was in the burgeoning coal mining industry. As such a replacement was built about a half mile to the north and the original Kirk was unroofed and left to ruin, until it passed into the hands of Historic Environment Scotland who have managed to preserve the Kirk.

20180323_150741We had a look around the Kirk and the kirkyard, wondering at the significance of the skull and crossbones that adorned some of the gravestones and also inside the church itself. I have yet to find the reasoning behind these ghoulish decorations, perhaps they were the fashion at one time, or an attempt to ward off demons and other supernatural characters. Whatever the reason, they added a bit of a character to what was a very beautiful and peaceful place overlooking the Firth of Forth.

Leaving the Kirk behind, we followed the coastal path as it headed inland to avoid the oil terminal at nearby Breahead Point. We headed down a metalled track lined with daffodils which somehow had managed to survive the plethora of heavy winter storms that had occurred recently. A couple of women from a local charity were out cutting the flowers and we later passed a sign saying they were selling them for £1 per bunch. 

ABERDOUR

The track we were following soon came to the edge of a golf course and then ran alongside it for half-a-mile until it brought us in to the beautiful village of Aberdour. The village gets its name from the Dour Burn that enters the Firth of Forth at the harbour – basically Aberdour means “at the mouth of the Dour”. Up until the arrival of the railway in 1890, Aberdour was split into two villages – Wester Aberdour and Easter Aberdour. 

Resting on the boundary between the two halves of the village lies the remains of the 13th century Aberdour Castle, home to the Earls of Morton. The 4th Earl, James Douglas was Regent of Scotland on behalf of the infant King James VI who was too young to rule himself. The Earl later came to a gruesome end when he was executed by means of the Maiden, an early form of the guillotine, which he himself was said to have introduced to Scotland. Bit unfortunate really!

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We actually got a little bit lost in Aberdour due to missing the Fife Coast Path sign which pointed down towards the harbour. We ended up at the railway station and had a quick check of the map to see where we had gone wrong. The arrival of the railway proved to be a further boon to the village as it put Aberdour within half an hour of Edinburgh. Ticket inspectors on the railway line through Aberdour were known for their sing-song refrain “Half an hour, Half an hour, Half an hour to Aberdour – tickets please.”

Now that we knew where we were going, we headed back through the village and managed to find the coastal path as it headed down Shore Road towards the harbour. The name ‘Shore Road’ should have been a bit of a giveaway as to where we should have headed but it wasn’t. At the end of Shore Road we had a short break on a bench overlooking the harbour (above) with Inchcolm Island and it’s Abbey clearly visible out in the Forth.

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The harbour initially developed as a fishing port but then in the 1700’s coal from the nearby collieries started to be exported. By the 1850’s Aberdour became a popular destination from pleasure steamers from Leith, bringing with them thousands of tourists which led to the building of hotels and tourist facilities. With the arrival of the railway in the late 19th century the steamers were put of business as it was much quicker to go by rail.

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A little more rested after our short break, we continued to follow the coastal path as it edged around the harbour towards Hawkcraig Point. The water in the harbour was sparkling in the sunshine that had made a welcome appearance late in the day. Just before we got to a couple of houses nestling on the eastern side of the harbour, the Fife Coastal Path zig-zagged up the side of a steep hill before descending down into a small car park at the other side of Hawkcraig Point. 

HAWKCRAIG POINT

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There may be little going on now at Hawkcraig Point, however 100 years ago it was a very different matter altogether as the place was home to a research establishment which played a significant part in Britiain’s naval success during the First World War. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Britain was under grave threat from the German submarines (or U-boats as they were commonly known). The U-boats had been responsible for the destruction of such a significant amount of merchant shipping that there was a real danger that Britain would be starved of vital supplies and food. Indeed at one stage in April 1916 there was just six weeks of food reserves left in the entire country.

As a result the Admirality built an Experimental Establishment Station at Hawkcraig Point in 1915, its task to come with ways to eradicate the U-boat threat. The Navy set up their main hydrophone research and training base with the hydrophones (underwater microphone receivers) being fitted to submarines and anti-submarine shipping to allow them to detect U-boats lurking under the water. The station was named HMS Tarlair and highly significant technological advances were made in the detection of submarines. The hydrophones developed at Hawkcraig Point are the forerunners of modern sonar systems used by the Royal Navy today. 

HMS Tarlair closed in 1919, a year after the War had finished, its mission highly successful with the U-boat threat being neutralized allowing Britain and her Allies to be victorious. The base was quietly and quickly dismantled and today there is little evidence of it ever existing with only a couple of indicators around Hawkcraig Point that something of major importance was once here (including the remains of a stone pier – below).

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Away from Hawkcraig Point we followed a metalled road towards Silversands Beach (below). To be honest the beach wasn’t that silvery or sandy, but I don’t think it could be blamed too much. A lot of the coastal geomorphology around the British coastline had recently been altered by the huge winter storms that had ravaged the country. A lot of the sand that would have lain on this beach previously would have been swept away by the storms leaving a lot of rocky debris behind.

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We walked along the beach for a little bit before re-joining more solid land as the coastal path headed along the shoreline, wedged in between the sea and a railway line. This next section of the walk was quite pleasant as we passed under a canopy of trees which provided a little shade, despite not yet being in leaf. A little further on the path headed through a short tunnel underneath the railway line. The tunnel was flooded so we had to gingerly step on stones and bricks deposited in the tunnel in order to keep our feet dry.

BURNTISLAND

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We continued along the path passing by a waterfall (right) which had a large volume of water cascading down it and underneath the path into the waiting sea off to our right. A little further on we came to the outskirts of Burntisland, our final destination for today’s walk.

The path continued alongside the railway to our right and also some new housing to our left. We reached Kirkton Road and turned right, following the road until it merged into Lothian Street which brought us out on to the town’s High Street.

We were getting a little peckish so I had a look to see if there was anything decent in town, however we decided instead to get the train back to North Queensferry and eat in one of the pubs there. We turned away from the High Street, heading underneath a railway bridge before following the road as it looped round towards the railway station. Our tickets purchased we took the short twenty minute journey to North Queensferry, headed back down the hill we had walked down earlier in the day and went into the Ferrybridge Hotel for a bite to eat and a pint or two to drink and a good reminiscing about days gone by. A great end to a great day’s walking.

It had been a very scenic introduction to Fife’s coast and I was really looking forward to the next two days walking especially as the weather was forecast to be really good for this time of year. Tomorrow’s journey, one I would take on my own, would see me head back to Burntisland and follow the Fife Coast Path to Buckhaven, a walk which promised a great number of delights! 

REFERENCES

North Queensferry

http://www.dunfermlinepress.com/news/14570422.Soldier__39_s_brave_sacrifice_on_beach_recognised/

Inverkeithing

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/inverkeithing/inverkeithing/index.html

Dalgety Bay

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalgety_Bay

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donibristle

St Bridget’s Kirk

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/aberdour/stbridgetschurch/index.html

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/b/stbride.html

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/st-bridgets-kirk/history/

Aberdour

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/aberdour/aberdour/index.html

http://www.aberdour.org/history.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Douglas,_4th_Earl_of_Morton

http://www.hmstarlairfife.org.uk/Index.asp?MainID=18391

Hawkcraig Point

http://www.hmstarlairfife.org.uk/Index.asp?MainID=18391

Burntisland

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/burntisland/burntisland/index.html

 

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