START: Elie, Fife
FINISH: Kingsbarns, Fife
DISTANCE: 16.9 miles (Total – 396.1 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 7.5 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 371
ACCOMMODATION: Beaumont Lodge, Anstruther
A few weeks had passed since my last trip to Fife and I was ready to make another excursion along the beautiful Fife coast. I booked myself in for an extended weekend at the Beaumont Lodge in the stunning coastal village of Anstruther, with a view to finishing off the rest of the Fife Coast Path and crossing over the River Tay into the city of Dundee.
The first walk would pick up from where I had left off in Coastwalk #32 in the village of Elie, which combined with its neighbour Earlsferry marks the start of the East Neuk of Fife. The East Neuk looked to be an excellent place when I Googled photos of the area, with a number of gorgeous fishing villages strung along this part of the coast, each with its own distinct character and history which I was greatly looking forward to exploring. It certainly didn’t disappoint!
And so the first day was here, a reasonably sunny Saturday morning, although dark clouds were building on the southern side of the Forth. After wolfing down a lovely breakfast courtesy of my B&B I took the short bus journey from Anstruther to Elie. By the time I got to Elie the sun had disappeared to be replaced by the dark clouds which had made their way from across the Firth of Forth and so the waterproofs had to go on just in case.
I headed back down to the beach next to the Ship Inn where I had left off last time. This time the pub was empty with it being a Saturday morning. The beach too was empty as the tourists hadn’t made it down here yet. During the summer The Ship Inn’s cricket team play matches on this beach, being the only pub in Britain to have its own beach cricket team. Teams from across Scotland and all over the world come back to Elie year after year to play The Ship Inn including the famous MCC in London. Naturally games have to be played whilst the tide is out otherwise the players would get a bit wet.
Away from the Ship Inn I followed a Fife Coastal Path sign which pointed down Admirality Lane. This led to me a car park which had a couple of cars in, the inhabitants eager to start exploring the East Neuk coast like I was. I continued to follow the coastal path as it edged around Ruby Bay (above) soon reaching Elie Ness lighthouse (below).
The lighthouse was first lit on the 1st October 1908 and had been built as a result of pressure from pilots who claimed that in bad weather they were unable to make out the lighthouses on the nearby islands of Inchkeith and the Isle of May. A light built on Elie Ness would be beneficial to mariners navigating the tricky waters of the Firth of Forth. Trinity House, the company responsible for the commissioning of lighthouses, agreed and gave the go ahead for the lighthouse to be built.
I left the lighthouse behind, following a track which soon came to the haunting ruin of Lady’s Tower (above), which lies on the eastern side of Elie Ness. This tower was built in the 1770’s as a fancy changing room for Lady Janet Anstruther who lived in nearby Elie House. The lady was supposed to be a renowned beauty and a bit of a flirt, however when she wanted to bathe in Ruby Bay she would send a bellringer around the village to let the residents know so that they could keep away. Lady Anstruther was also known to have an entire settlement moved so that the view from her house could be improved. She seems to have been a lovely lady!
I had a quick look round the ruins, wondering if they would shelter me from the threatening dark clouds in the event that it rained. I decided it wouldn’t especially as there was no roof so decided to press on anyway, hoping that the clouds would disappear.
The coastal path followed the shoreline for another mile, running alongside the trackbed of the old Fife coastal railway which closed in the 1960’s, before climbing up through the remains of a ruined castle (above). Ardross Castle, as it is known, was first built in the mid-14th century by Sir William Dishington, Sheriff of Fife. The castle remained in the hands of the Dishington family until it was sold to Sir William Scott in 1607. In the late 1600’s the castle was sold once again, this time to Sir William Anstruther, an ancestor of Sir John Anstruther who would marry the aforementioned Lady Janet. Since then the castle has fallen to disrepair, with a lot of stone being quarried and used to build the nearby hamlet of Ardross.
Just a little further along the coast lie the more substantial ruins of Newark Castle (above). A castle first appeared on this site in the mid-13th century, built by Sir Alan Durward. King Alexander III (who later fell to his death at Kinghorn further down the coast) spent some of his childhood at the castle with his half-sister. The castle along with its lands passed into the hands of Sir John Kinloch in the mid-15th century before passing into the control of the Sandilands family who were to be lairds for the next century-and-a-half, extensively renovating the castle during this time. In 1649 the castle and estate were sold to General David Leslie who was later captured by Oliver Cromwell’s forces at the Battle of Worcester. General Leslie was incarcerated in the Tower of London where he spent the next nine years, being freed in 1660 when he returned to spend the remainder of his days at Newark Castle.
Over the next couple of centuries the castle changed several hands but was left to ruin. In the late 19th century the dilapidated castle came to the attention of the Glasgow shipping magnate, Sir William Burrell, when prolific Scottish architect, Sir Robert Lorimer came up with a plan for restoration. The plans never came to fruition when the then owner of the castle, Mr Baird of Elie, refused to sell. Since then the castle has further deteriorated, with more and more of it collapsing into the sea.
I was originally going to stop to have a break at Newark Castle, however a large group of noisy American students had invaded the site, so I decided to continue on a little further, soon coming to the beautiful village of St Monans with its historic church nestling close to the shoreline (below).
The church is named after St Monan who was buried here in 875 and a shrine was built to venerate his memory. Fast forward five centuries to 1346 when King David II made a pilgrimage to the shrine after being injured at the Battle of Neville’s Cross by two barbed arrows. It was said that one of the arrows couldn’t be extracted, however miraculously removed itself from the wounded king following his visit to the shrine. The king understandably being a bit chuffed at this saintly medical intervention decided to build a church on the site of the shrine.
As to who St Monan actually was nobody is a hundred per cent sure. Some say he was a Scottish saint killed here by the Norse whilst others say he was an Irish bishop who lived in the village in the 6th century. Another theory is that he was an Irish missionary who came to this part of Fife in 832 and was killed by marauding Danes in 875.
Whatever his background, the village of Inverie which had stood on this site since the early 800’s became named after him and by the 12th century it had become a significant port. Over the centuries the port grew in stature, with a stone pier being built in 1596 (which still exists now), followed by two further piers in 1865 and 1900 to accommodate the hundred or so fishing boats that used the harbour (above). Shipbuilding was prevalent in St Monans, with the last shipyard closing in 1992, bringing an end to over two hundred years of shipbuilding in the village.
I stopped to have a break on a bench overlooking the harbour, now gleaming in the sunshine which had made a welcome appearance. There were a few fishing boats lazily rocking in the harbour, highlighting that fishing is still an important part of the local economy, albeit on a much reduced scale from the heady days of the early 20th century.
My break over, I continued through narrow streets lined with beautiful fishermen’s cottages (above) before rejoining the coastal path as it ambled alongside the shoreline. Ahead on the hill to the left of the path stood a windmill (below). The windmill, along with a few lumps and bumps in the grass to the right of the path is all that remains of what was a substantial salt panning industry that existed here, beginning in 1771.
In this year the local laird, Sir John Anstuther, along with his business partner, Robert Fall, established the Newark Coal and Salt Company. This venture involved the mining of coal from a colliery immediately to the north of the windmill. The coal was then transported by waggonway to feed the nine salt pans next to the windmill. Twenty men were then employed to extract salt from metal pans of seawater heated by the coal-fuelled fires. The seawater was pumped into the salt pans from reservoirs cut into the offshore rocks by power gained from the windmill.
It was a dirty but very profitable business. Once the salt was extracted it was moved by waggonway to the harbour at nearby Pittenweem, which Sir John Anstruther had spent a great deal of money improving on condition that the ships carrying his coal and salt were given priority over other marine traffic. The salt pans only lasted for another forty years by which point changing prices in salt made the whole operation unprofitable. The windmill was left to ruin, however was restored in the 1980’s.
I headed past the windmill, following the coastal path as it ambled its way along to Pittenweem. Before it got to the village the path climbed up to a small playground before winding its way downhill towards the shoreline.
The path headed past some beautiful multi-coloured cottages which hugged the shoreline. The inhabitants must be the luckiest of all people with such a fantastic view on display from their own doorstep. I passed pleasantries with one of the residents, an elderly woman, who was sat outside of her house watching the world go by with not a care in the world.
A short walk later I reached Pittenweem’s harbour (below) which is the most active of the fishing ports along the East Neuk of Fife. Indeed there were a good number of fishing boats in the harbour as I passed by. The harbour benefited from Sir John Anstruther’s improvements in the late 18th century, and played a big role in Pittenweem’s continuing prosperity long after the salt pans and coal mines had closed down.
Pittenweem gets its unusual name from the combination of the Pictish word ‘pett‘ meaning ‘place’ and the Scots Gaelic word ‘na h-Uaimh‘ meaning ‘of the cave’ so basically Pittenweem is the ‘Place of the Cave’. The cave in question is St Filian’s Cave named after the chap who used it in the 8th century. St Filian was an Irish missionary who later on in his life was said to have lived in the cave as a hermit. St Filian apparently had miraculous powers and supposedly wrote sermons in the complete darkness of his cave with the only light coming from a glow emitted by his arm. Whether this was true or not, the cave became a shrine to visiting pilgrims (church services are still occasionally held in the cave) and the Saint’s relics were used to inspire Scottish troops before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
I wanted to stay in Pittenweem a bit longer but there was so much more still to see on this walk so I pressed on. Next up, a couple of miles later, was Anstruther, the largest village on the East Neuk coast. Before I got there though I had to follow the coastal path as it edged around Anstruther Golf Course before heading in to the outskirts of the village along Shore Road.
A turn left at the end of Shore Road took me on to Crichton Street, before a sharp right took me on to Pittenweem Road with its rainbow-coloured houses. Just past the multi-coloured houses, sitting on the sharp bend in the road, was the yellow-stoned Dreel Hall (above). Formerly a church dedicated to St Ethernan (subsequently latinised to St Adrian), and later St Nicholas, the building also acted as a sort of lighthouse with a brazier blazing on the roof to guide ships into the harbour below the church. As the Burgh of Anstruther declined in importance so to did the Church until it was de-consecrated in 1961, becoming a community space.
I followed the road as it crossed over Dreel Burn and bent round into High Street East. A Fife Coastal Path sign pointed me down a narrow alleyway towards the shoreline on Castle Street. At the bottom of the alleyway was the remains of an old castle – Dreel Castle which had a sordid history as a secret sex club in the 18th and 19th century where a number of prominent gentlemen including Kirk Ministers, merchants and nobles would gather on a night time and get up to no good.
Nowadays, the place is a lot quieter so I headed along Castle Street, rejoining Shore Street which took me along to the harbour. I decided to stop for lunch here, grabbing a bag of chips from the chip shop and sat down on a bench overlooking Anstruther’s harbour to enjoy them.
For many centuries Anstruther was an important fishing port (herring being the major catch), also becoming a prominent export harbour in the 17th and 18th centuries, with a lot of trade going to and fro from the Baltic. Smuggling was a prominent activity especially when import duties rose sharply in the 18th century. It was often a regular thing to see small boats bringing brandy and rum up the Dreel Burn on dark nights. Even up to fifty years ago fishing was a major employer in the area, and it was said that you could walk from one side of the harbour without getting your feet wet by stepping from one fishing boat to the next. However, as the herring trade dried up in the North Sea, so to did the number of boats that called Anstruther home, although there a fair number who still set out to sea from Anstruther on a daily basis.
A little while after finishing my bag of chips, I headed away from the harbour, following James Street, then John Street, followed by George Street. These narrow streets were lined with beautiful fishermen’s cottages (above) and it wasn’t too hard to imagine the hustle and bustle that would have taken place not too long ago when the port of Anstruther was at its prime.
George Street brought me out on to this walk’s hidden gem – the tranquil harbour at Cellardyke (above). It was a dramatic contrast to the crowds and noise of Anstruther and I wished I had my dinner break at Cellardyke instead. Cellardyke gets its name from ‘Sil’erdykes’ which refers to the silvery shine of herring scales that were hung in nets over dykes (walls) to dry in the sun. Herring was big business with over 200 fishing boats using the harbour at Cellardyke in the 1880’s. However, in 1898 a huge storm damaged the harbour and the majority of the fishing fleet moved to the better protected harbour at Anstruther. This not only resulted in the decline of the fishing industry at Cellardyke, but also to the expansion of Anstruther which subsequently absorbed the once separate settlement of Cellardyke.
I followed the road out of the eastern end of the village which was appropriately known as East End. Ahead was a small caravan park which the coastal path edged by before heading out into a more rural environment. This was a pleasant stretch of the coast and altogether more quieter than what I had experienced during the day’s walk so far.
After a couple of miles I came to an unusual sandstone rock formation which was actually a system of caves, known as the Caiplie Coves (above). The caves were used for worship in the 9th century and in Chapel Cave there are a number of crosses incised into the rocks. The caves were also used for habitation, as recently as the outbreak of the Second World War when a hermit used one of the caves as his dwelling (right).
Half-a-mile later I came to a derelict house which is all that remains of a 17th century salt panning industry. I took a short break here as it was really peaceful. The gentle sound of the waves lapping at the shore added to the tranquility.
I left the old house behind, walking for another three quarters of a mile until I came to the edge of the village of Crail. Here, I got a glimpse of Crail’s picturesque harbour, before the coastal path climbed up into the outskirts of the village. I followed the main road through the village until reaching a Fife Coastal Path sign which pointed down a narrow alleyway between two houses. At the end of the alleyway was a steep descent down into the harbour which was a bugger on the knees going down so goodness what it must have been like coming up.
I had a good half-hour rest on a bench overlooking the harbour whilst demolishing an ice cream bought from a nearby ice cream parlour. The harbour area was quite busy with tourists and there was also a couple of fishermen tending to their boats. Here too in Crail, fishing has been the staple employer for centuries.
Crail has a very long history with records of a well established settlement existing here in the 9th century. By the 12th century Crail was a thriving port town which was later granted Royal Burgh status by Robert the Bruce in 1310 who also allowed a market to be held here on a Sunday. The ‘Marketgate’ which held the market in the town (which still exists) was once the largest marketplace in Europe.
I was originally planning to end the day’s walk in Crail, however I was thinking about what lay further ahead in the weekend’s walking. The plan for the second day was to walk from Crail to St Andrews and then St Andrews to Dundee on the third day. However this would necessitate an eighteen mile walk on the last day when my legs would be more tired so I decided to extend the first day’s walk to Kingsbarns whilst I was still a bit fresh.
And so I left the harbour behind, following the coastal path as it ascended up to a viewpoint with great views of the Firth of Forth, including the Isle of May which lay on the North Sea side of the Forth. From here the path headed along Nethergate, an attractive street lined with a number of large cottages. At the end of Nethergate, the coastal path headed down to the shoreline, following it for a quarter of a mile before climbing up to a road which led through a caravan park.
The Fife Coastal Path continued along the shoreline for a couple of miles before coming near to a line of houses which marked the start of Fife Ness, the easternmost point of Fife. A little further ahead the path edged between a small lighthouse behind a metal fence and a wooden bird hide which belonged to a local bird-watching club. I stood for a little while looking out to sea, noting that I had now managed to negotiate the Firth of Forth which I had been walking around since leaving North Berwick the previous September. Now I was truly following the coast once again.
The path rounded the headland at Fife Ness coming out on to the remains of an old harbour (above). A nearby interpretation panel said that there had been a harbour here as early as 1537 which was used to house fishing boats, although by 1790 there was only one left. The harbour was also used to export locally quarried stone.
There is very little that remains of the harbour and a nearby tide mill built in the 16th century apart from the rough outline of the harbour walls and a stone circle scoured into the rocks (above) which could be the remains of a crane used to load goods onto waiting ships.
I had another short break on a grassy patch overlooking the old harbour before making the final push to the finish line at Kingsbarns. Even though I was on a remote stretch of the coast there was still plenty more to see. I followed a metalled track for a couple of hundred yards before heading in between a golf course and the shoreline.
A little further ahead was a rocky outcrop which had a cave burrowed into it (left). This was Constantine’s Cave according to a plaque outside of the cave, Constantine being King Constantine II who was the penultimate King of the Picts ruling from 858AD to 874AD or 876AD. According to legend the King was killed by Danes in this cave, however there is little historical evidence to back this up. Following his death, the cave became an important Christian site with a chapel possibly existing at some point here. I did have a quick look inside, taking care to not damage anything as it is still classed as a holy site. I noticed some carvings on the wall which I was unsure were ancient or recent (below).
Away from the cave I continued along the Fife Coast Path as it edged around the golf course, taking care to watch out for any wayward golf balls. The golf course stretched a good way along the coast and it took me about fifteen minutes to bypass it all. Shortly afterwards the path headed below premonitory, passing under the site of a castle called Randertston Castle of which very little remains now. The castle itself was built on the remains of an Iron Age fort although again there is hardly any trace of this existing.
A short walk along rocky outcrops followed, before I re-joined more firmer ground, soon coming to yet another golf course. I edged around this one too, coming a little inland to pass through a small wooded area whilst passing by some rich American golfers of which there seemed to be many on this golf course.
The path headed back towards the shoreline once again making the final half-mile stretch to a car park overlooking the sea near the village of Kingsbarns where I would stop for the day. There were a good number of people in the car park, most likely taking advantage of the gorgeous weather on this beautiful evening. I didn’t stay long as I still had to walk a mile inland to Kingsbarns (below) where I would get the bus back to the B&B at Anstruther.
On the bus journey back I passed through all of the villages I had been through that day, which gave me chance to reflect on what a great walk it had been, possibly the best one I have done on the British coastline so far. The villages I passed through had managed to retain their unique character despite the onset of the 20th and 21st centuries and all the challenges these had brought.
There was so much history to see and because I had to walk a long way that day I didn’t get much chance to stop and look at it and take it all in. I definitely will be back to the East Neuk coast one day and this time I will take my time and savour every moment of what is truly a special part of the world.