START: Kingsbarns, Fife
FINISH: Guardbridge, Fife
DISTANCE: 12.6 miles (Total – 408.7 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 5 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 371
ACCOMMODATION: Beaumont Lodge, Anstruther
A beautiful sunny morning greeted me upon waking on the second day of my mini Fife holiday. It was Sunday, and whereas Sunday usually means poor public transport, in this part of the world it wasn’t the case with buses running every hour until well into the night between my B&B in Anstruther and St Andrews where I was hoping to finish off the day’s walk.
First off though I had to get showered and breakfasted (though not at the same time) before changing in to my walking gear and then heading across the road to the bus stop to jump on the X60 bus. Half an hour later I was in Kingsbarns where I had left off on the previous walk (see Coastwalk #33) the day before.
Like the rest of the villages on the East Neuk coast of Fife, Kingsbarns is a beautiful place to visit, although on this Sunday morning it was very quiet with hardly anybody about. The village was traditionally an agricultural settlement for much of its history, getting its name from the barns that was used to store the royal grain here before they were transported to the Royal Castle at nearby Crail or Falkland Palace in the centre of Fife.
From the village I headed down the coastal road towards the car park where I had finished my last walk. Unsurprisingly there were less cars in it this time with it being a Sunday morning although a couple of people were already out walking along the beach.
Near the car park lies the remains of Kingsbarns’ harbour which was first built in the early 19th century when a pier was constructed to provide shelter for boats exporting grain and potatoes to London and Newcastle. This pier was extended in 1861 by a farmer, who also built a second pier to create a harbour. The harbour could house ships of up to a hundred tons but soon deteriorated as trade died off, and by the end of the 19th century only small fishing boats used the harbour. During the 20th century the harbour fell gradually out of use until only an outline of stones marks where it once stood.
Away from the car park I followed the Fife Coastal Path as it edged in between a golf course and the shoreline. I soon came to a sign which warned the walker that the next seven-and-a-half mile stretch of the coast to St. Andrews was across rough and remote terrain. It certainly wasn’t lying as I would later find out!
A little further on I decided to join the beach and walked along the sands around Airbow Point, where a disused beach-house stood (above) before joining more firmer land as the Fife Coastal Path headed around Babbett Ness. A short hop later brought me out onto the beautiful secluded bay of Salt Lake (below) marked at its western tip with an old ruined cottage. The bay looked like it may have been used as a small harbour in the past as the coastal path ran alongside a sea wall which curved round the bay. At the western tip near the ruined cottage was a slipway down into the bay which presumably the inhabitants used to access the boats that docked there. I walked down the slipway and had a short break sitting on one of the large rocks that poked up from the sand.
KENLY WATER AND BOARHILLS
After Salt Lake the path followed the coast for a short while before diverting inland along the beautiful wooded vale through which Kenly Water ran (above). This was a pleasant stretch as the tree cover provided welcome shade from the hot sun. I passed the remains of an old water mill (below), one of many that used to operate along Kenly Water. Even though its haunting ruins were now covered in vegetation it wasn’t too hard to imagine what it would have been like in it’s heyday.
The path meandered its way alongside the stream soon coming to a footbridge which carried the path across Kenly Water, past a farm and then out onto a metalled road. At a bend in the road the coastal path diverged away along a farm track until it reached a T-junction at the edge of the hamlet of Boarhills.
I decided to take a small detour from the coastal path and took the road to the right towards Chesterhill Farm. Just past the farm a track led down towards the coast close to the remains of a disused lifeboat house which was now used for agricultural storage. I had another short rest on a rock overlooking the shoreline before continuing on my way, soon rejoining the Fife Coastal Path. Ahead I could see the spires of St Andrews further down the coast, which didn’t seem too far away but actually turned out to be further away than I expected.
To my left the cliffs started to rise dramatically, providing some shadow as I followed the path past an unusual sandstone rock formation known as Buddo Rock (above). The path continued to meander underneath the cliffs, at one point running alongside the cliff face. Ahead was a small wooded valley known as Kittock’s Den (Kittock being an Old Scottish term for a flighty lady) down which a small stream flowed which was crossed by a bridge. Immediately after the bridge the path climbed a steep set of steps up the side of the cliff, coming alongside a golf course at the top.
The way ahead was wedged in between some gorse which hid the edge of the clifftops and a stone wall marking the boundary of the golf course. You could tell I was nearing the birth of golf, St Andrews, as there was golf course after golf course to work my way around. A little further on the path descended down the cliffs towards the shoreline once again soon coming to a place where the path disappeared into the sea altogether.
Now I had been warned about this part of the Fife Coastal Path in my guidebook, plus a handy sign just before this section warned that access along the path depended on the tide. I had checked the tide timetable to see if the tide would be out for this part of the walk, but even though it wouldn’t be out until mid-afternoon at the earliest I decided to press on anyway.
This almost backfired on me. At low tide the coastal path would head across a small beach and then climb on to some rocky outcrops, however the beach was submerged under two feet of water when I got there and there was no way I could walk around as the beach was surrounded by large rocks which could only be climbed with great difficulty.
I had three choices. One – stay put and wait for the tide to retreat further. Two – go back the way I had come and find another way round. Or three – take off my socks and boots and wade across. I went for option number three, mainly because I was keen to press on.
So there I was barefoot and almost knee deep in seawater. For the first time in this entire coastal walk I was having to walk in the sea itself. At the other side of the small beach there was a plastic handle screwed into the rock face which aided me in clambering up onto the rocky outcrop. This was actually harder than it looked, especially when you’re an unfit bugger like me. After a couple of failed attempts I managed to pull myself up on to the rocks, whilst nearly tearing the muscles in my thighs. I had a little break just to regain my composure and also to dry my feet off.
I was soon back on my way, but was getting a little tired from all the ups and downs that the walk was throwing in my way, plus St Andrews still didn’t appear to be getting any closer. Just as I finished grumbling, the coastal path decided to climb up another cliff much to the despair of my tired legs. I sincerely hoped this was the last climb left and to be fair it actually was.
Through glimpses in between the gorse along the clifftops I could now see St Andrews very clearly below me, and on reaching a caravan park the path finally and blissfully headed downhill into the town alongside the beautiful East Sands.
The coastal path headed along a promenade which was packed with people who were taking advantage of the sunny weather. There were a few people out in the water too, with a number of sailing boats out in the bay. I ambled my way along the promenade looking for somewhere to eat. I crossed over Kinness Burn next to St Andrews’ small but picturesque harbour (below) and found a cafe immediately on the other side of the burn where I stocked up on a cheeseburger, a chocolate bar and a can of coke. I know it’s not the most nutritious lunch of all time but I was hungry and didn’t care what I ate.
I sat on a bench overlooking the harbour and took in the sights and sounds of this stunning historical town. St Andrews has its origins in the Dark Ages where it is first recorded as being called Kilrymont (an anglicized pronunciation of the Old Gaelic Cillrigmonaid meaning “church of the King’s mount). The settlement of Kilrymont was an important royal Pictish town and it was here that a monastery was established in the 8th century by the Pictish King Oengus I (732-761AD). According to legend a number of bones belonging to the patron saint of Scotland, St Andrew (including an arm, a kneecap, three fingers and a tooth) were brought to the monastery by King Oengus. This led to a vast number of pilgrims coming to the monastery over the centuries and over the time the settlement of Kilrymont changed its name to St. Andrews.
After my lunch break I followed the Fife Coastal Path past the site of this old monastery upon which the Church of St Mary on the Rock was later built, now too little more of a ruin. This site tends to be overshadowed by the much larger and more spectacular ruin of St Andrews’ Cathedral (below).
The cathedral began construction in 1160 and became the seat of the senior bishop (and from 1472 the archbishop) of Scotland. The building was for many centuries the largest in Scotland and cemented St Andrews as the ecclesiastical capital of the nation. An Augustinian Order had set up shop at an older church dedicated to St Rule next to the site of the cathedral in 1144 but it soon became too small for them, resulting in the construction of the much larger cathedral.
Due to the sheer enormity of the building’s size, it took over 150 years for the cathedral to be fully built, eventually being consecrated on the 5th July 1318 in the presence of Robert the Bruce. As it happened the cathedral only lasted for another two-and-a-half centuries. In 1559 during the Scottish Reformation, the powerful Presbyterian reformer John Knox made a sermon in St Andrews’ parish church that so angered the congregation that they immediately trundled off to the cathedral and destroyed the fittings and furnishings inside which were associated by the reformers with ‘popery’ and Catholicism. Within a week of John Knox’s speech the Augustinian friars had been driven from the cathedral and it virtually ceased to function as a place of worship.
In the following centuries, despite debates about restoring the cathedral to its former glory, the building gradually fell into ruin with much of the stonework being used in the expansion of St Andrews during the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s a shame really as I’m sure it would have been a stunning building fully intact, something on the scale of York Minster or St Paul’s Cathedral. I did take a quick peek around the cathedral’s grounds, pausing to take a couple of snaps of St Rule’s Tower (left) before continuing on my way.
A little further along the path was the remains of St Andrews Castle. The castle was the official seat of the Bishop (and later Archbishop of St Andrews) and was first constructed by Bishop Roger in the late 12th/early 13th century. Due to its importance as the home of a powerful bishop, the castle often found itself at the centre of religious struggles particularly during the Scottish Reformation. Cardinal David Beaton, the Archbishop of St Andrews from 1539 to 1546 was a strong opponent of closer political ties with a Protestant England ruled by King Henry VIII and went so far as to burn a Protestant preacher, George Wishart in front of the castle in March 1546. This was a very bad move on the Archbishop’s part as a couple of months later a group of nobles stormed the castle, captured the Cardinal and hung his body outside the castle window for all to see. It was also alleged that one of his executioners urinated in his mouth. The Cardinal’s body was then salted and thrown in the castle’s dungeons.
The castle was abandoned in 1592 when bishops were abolished and gradually fell into ruin, particularly during the 17th and 18th centuries when the castle was essentially used as a quarry, with a lot of its stonework being used to construct new buildings in the ever expanding town.
Leaving the castle behind, I joined a street called The Scores which was lined with a number of old buildings which made up part of the University of St Andrews. Each building seemed to house a Department of the University – I passed the the School of Economics and Finance, the University Museum and the Ministry of Magic. Ok I made the last one up, but the place did have a Harry Potter-esque feel and I kept expecting a group of wizards/students to swoosh above my head on their broomsticks.
The University started off life as a learning society established in 1410 by a group of eminent ecclesiastics who wished to set up a centre of learning in St Andrews. Three years later, Pope Benedict XIII issued a series of papal bulls allowing the society to become a fully fledged university. Over the centuries the University has grown in prestige and is now one of the world’s renowned universities.
Many notable persons have studied at the University in its six-hundred year history, including the Presbyterian preacher John Knox who who was one of the leaders of the Scottish Reformation; John Napier, the mathematician who invented logarithms and made the use of decimal points in mathematics widespread; the author J.M. Barrie who would later write the novel Peter Pan; and more recently Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge who met his future wife, Catherine Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge whilst they were both students at the University.
I continued down the street soon coming to a grassy area. At one end was the town’s Aquarium, in the middle was a picturesque bandstand (above) and nearby was the Martyrs’ Monument, erected in 1842 in memory of the Protestant reformers who were executed in St Andrews before and during the Scottish Reformation (including George Wishart).
At the end of the road I came to a T-junction which intersected with a road called Golf Place. Golf is something else which St. Andrews is world famous for and the town is called the home of golf. St Andrews Links has been used for golf for nearly 600 years. In 1552 Archbishop Hamilton signed a charter which granted the townspeople the right to play golf on the Links on what is now called the Old Course and is also recognized as the oldest golf course in the world.
The Old Course played a pivotal part in the development of how the sport is played to this day. The standard eighteen hole course as its origins in St Andrews. In 1754 the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews was founded which from the late 19th century onwards was regarded as the governing body of the sport until this role was handed over to a new body in 2004. The Old Course has hosted several major tournaments over the years including 29 Open Championships (the most recent in 2015). Since its opening the Old Course has been joined by a further six courses on the Links so even if people can’t get on to the popular Old Course they can play one of the other courses on the Links.
From Golf Place I headed right onto a road called The Links, before joining Old Station Road. This took be past the Old Course Hotel and also alongside a rugby field where several matches were being played watched by a crowd of hundreds of people. At the end of Old Station Road I joined a cycle track which took me the rest of the way into Guardbridge.
I will admit the rest of the walk into Guardbridge was not the most exciting of journeys. The cycle path ran alongside the busy A91 and there wasn’t too much to see apart from the occasional glimpse of the River Eden. I soon got into Guardbridge where I decided to end the walk. I was originally going to walk into the next village – Leuchars – and finish the walk there but I came across a pub – the Guardbridge Inn – just before I crossed the River Eden and so decided to have my dinner there.
After a beautiful meal washed down with a pint of Belhaven Best (which has become a favourite of mine whilst coast walking in Scotland) I crossed the old bridge over the Eden which gives the village its name. Dating from the 15th century the bridge was built by Bishop Henry Wardlaw, who then went on to found the University of St Andrews.
I looked up the River Eden as I crossed and saw the remains of several piers which once supported the viaduct that carried the St Andrews Railway across the River Eden here until the line’s closure in 1969. There is a local campaign to restore the rail link between Leuchars and St Andrews as campaigners believe a restored rail link would be beneficial to St Andrews as it would reduce the amount of road traffic in an already-cramped town.
It had been yet another pleasant and challenging walk along the Fife Coast which continued to delight with its beautiful scenery and historical settlements. The next day’s walk would involve finishing off the Fife coast before crossing over the mighty River Tay and into the city of Dundee – a walk I was really looking forward to!