START: Guardbridge, Fife
FINISH: Dundee, Angus
DISTANCE: 16 miles (Total – 424.7 miles)
APPROXIMATE TIME: 6 hours
OS MAPS: OS Explorer 371
ACCOMMODATION: Beaumont Lodge, Anstruther
It was Monday morning. A wee bit cloudy. Rain threatened although it wasn’t forecast. Still that didn’t put me off. Even though my legs were tired from the previous couple of day’s exertion I was still keen as mustard when I woke up bright and earlu. The last part of the Fife Coastal Path beckoned, as did the grand River Tay and the city of “jute, jam and journalism” – Dundee.
After scoffing down my breakfast courtesy of Beaumont Lodge B&B, my body was as ready as it was ever going to be so I headed off on the bus retracing the journey back to Guardbridge on the banks of the River Eden.
It was even cloudier when I got to the village of Guardbridge, with even darker clouds continuing to threaten rain. I double checked my backpack to make sure I had packed my waterproofs just in case. Phew! They were still there from yesterday.
I crossed over the 15th century bridge across the River Eden built by the Bishop of St Andrews (and founder of St Andrews University), Henry Wardlaw. The bridge made it far easier for pilgrims heading to St Andrews to cross the river and indeed the name ‘Guardbridge’ possibly comes from the French word ‘gare’ meaning ‘station’ as the village was often the last overnight stop for pilgrims before pressing on to St Andrews the following day.
I obviously wasn’t good at this pilgrimage malarkey as I wasn’t heading in completely the wrong direction from St Andrews. My path took me through the village of Guardbridge, past the old paper mill which had been in production from 1874 until its closure in 2008. The old clock attached to the outside of the mill still told the correct time, but none of the paper mill’s workers were now there to look at it.
Continuing on past the mill, which has now found new life as a distillery, I followed the road out of the village and over the Motray Water. Ahead at a fork in the road, I took the road to the right which brought me into Leuchars.
Now the first thing you will notice on entering Leuchars is that there is a lot of barbed wire fencing, CCTV cameras and signs warning people not to take any photos. This isn’t because the local people aren’t very friendly but instead it is due to the fact that Leuchars is home to an Army base. This was highlighted even more as I headed further into town along Main Street as I saw groups of soldiers marching about.
The Army base at Leuchars was actually a RAF fighter station until 2015 although RAF units are still based there. The RAF have been stationed in Leuchars in some form since 1908 when the War Office acquired land here on which to test man-carrying kites. Three years later a balloon squadron of the Royal Engineers commenced operations here before the airfield became a training centre during the First World War. The airfield was heavily modernised prior to the outbreak of the Second World War where it was at the forefront of Britain’s air defences, a role which it continued throughout the Cold War. The last air defence units left the base in 2014 before it was handed over to the Army.
I quickly sped through the centre of Leuchars, feeling slightly intimidated by all the military apparatus and unseen eyes watching me. I left the main base behind me, heading through suburban streets, before heading out of Leuchars along a nice country lane. The lane took me briefly alongside the perimeter of the army base before diverting away through a clump of trees.
Ahead the lane made a sharp right hard turn as if it was heading back towards the base, however a Fife Coastal Path sign pointed me almost to double back on myself across some fields. A short while later the path made another sharp right and for the next half mile headed straight as an arrow through a marshy area over which a dozen or so duckboards had been installed to stop walkers from getting their feet wet.
The last duckboard being crossed, the coastal path headed sharply to the left, passing through a gap in between two sets of trees where I encountered my first group of people out on a walk. Shortly afterwards the path passed through a kissing gate before entering the depths of Tentsmuir Forest along a woodland track.
This huge pine forest is home to one of Scotland’s most important nature reserves. A variety of different plant species have been recorded in the reserve including locally scarce flowers such as mudwort and spearwort. At Tentsmuir Point, which I would come across later in the walk, a large number of both common seals and grey seals regularly use the site to rest, pup and moult. A large number of wildfowl live in or visit the reserve including 5500 eider ducks, along with 3000 pink-footed geese.
Smaller animals are often seen in the reserve too including eighteen species of butterfly, 270 species of moth (about 11% of the UK’s total) and 460 species of beetle (two of which are rare). These variety of species make Tentsmuir and the linked reserves of Tentsmuir Point and Morton Lochs a very important place.
The woodland track I was on soon came out onto a metalled road which plunged even deeper into the forest towards a car park. Numerous woodland tracks diverged away from the road including one called ‘Polish Camp Road’. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Tentsmuir was identified as a potential landing site for invading German troops so a contingent of the Polish Army along with locals built a system of linear defences including concrete anti-tank blocks, observation towers, pill boxes and long wooden poles designed to stop gliders from landing behind the defence lines.
The Polish Army also built a camp at Tentsmuir as they were entrusted with the defence of this part of Scotland. When German spotter planes flew over Britain to spy on enemy maneuvers the Poles were under orders to shoot at the planes but deliberately miss them so that they could report back to base that Scotland was well defended. Telephone poles were also painted to look as if they were huge anti-aircraft guns. The ruse apparently worked as a German report stated that a planned invasion of Scotland had to be abandoned as they believed the country was too well defended. The camp was destroyed after hostilities had ceased although bits and pieces of it still remain hidden amongst the trees.
I continued to follow the road through the forest eventually coming out on to the reserve’s car park. There were a number of benches on a grassy area next to the car park so I took the opportunity to break and have my lunch here. Even though the sun was shining, it was quite nippy as the wind had been growing steadily stronger as the day went on.
My break over I followed a path which led away from the car park and towards a beautiful beach – Kinshaldy Beach in this case. I headed northwards along the beach for a little while, taking in the views of the Angus coastline at the other side of the River Tay. This was my first real clear sight of the Angus coastline and it is always exciting to see what the next stage of the coastline is like.
As I started to run out of beach I headed inland back towards the nature reserve, joining a woodland track near the remains of an old WW2 pillbox. During the War the pillbox would have laid right on the shoreline, however was now a couple of hundred metres away showing just how much the coastline has changed in the past seventy years.
The narrow forest track meandered its way through dense woodland eventually joining a more substantial gravel track which immediately brought me alongside a ruined building. This was the remains of a 19th-century ice house which was used to store salmon netted from the sea, the ice being provided from a nearby pond.
The gravel track ploughed on northwards for another mile eventually coming to the top end of the forest. The track angled left and ran parallel to the shore, glimpses of which could be seen through the trees. The odd path led off through the trees to the shoreline so I decided to follow one which brought me out onto a line of WWII concrete anti-tank blocks overlooking the River Tay. I decided to have a break here, although I would have to make it quick as the tide was coming in.
Whilst resting my legs and watching the world by I noticed a popping sound in the distance like someone was letting fireworks off. This happened a number of times and it was only when I glanced at my map did I notice that there was a military firing range on the other side of the river, and these ‘fireworks’ were in fact live ammunition being fired. This firing range would later be a hindrance on my next coastal walk.
The tide was starting to get a bit too close for comfort so I headed back into the forest and re-joined the track which continued to snake its way through the trees. About a mile later I came to the edge of the forest and got my first look of Tayport about half-a-mile away.
The forest track gave way to a gravelled track which took me into the outskirts of Tayport. I walked through a small housing estate before taking a right down another road through a nice caravan park. The road came alongside a sea wall, which the tide was doing its best to breach with water lapping over the sides of the wall.
The road headed through another housing estate before coming out on to the town’s picturesque harbour where I decided to take another break. Tayport started off life as a quiet fishing and agricultural village being known as Partan Craig (Gaelic for ‘Crab Rock’). Over the centuries this became Anglicized to Portincragge then Port-in-Craige and finally in 1598 when the town received its burgh charter as Ferry-Port on Craig. The ‘ferry’ part of this name comes from the ancient ferry that carried people across the River Tay for centuries. It is said that in 1050AD that MacDuff Thane of Fife fled from the wrathful Macbeth across the Tay and because he had no money, paid the ferryman with a loaf of bread. As a result the ferry became known unimaginatively as ‘The Ferry of the Loaf’.
During the early 1800’s Ferry-Port on Craig was left without a ferry when the better used Newport-on-Tay to Dundee service became the most prominent one on this part of the Tay. However, the arrival of the steam ferry in the 1840’s restored the service between Tayport and Broughty Ferry on the north bank. This was taken over by the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway in 1847 who rebuilt the harbour and introduced one of the first rail roll-on roll-off ferries which completed a rail link between Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. The Railway renamed the town to the more easily remembered Tayport and the name stuck.
The roll-on-roll-off ferry ceased in 1878 with the opening of the Tay Rail Bridge, however was restored the following year when the bridge collapsed during a storm as a train was going across with the loss of 75 lives. The replacement rail bridge which opened in 1887 ended the rail ferry for good, and the ferry reverted to a passenger-only service until its eventual closure in 1920.
The harbour became used by a timber processing company until the 1980’s when it was taken over by a local boat owners association who restored the harbour allowing it to be used by pleasure craft, of which there were many when I was in Tayport that day. A couple of boats headed out to sea whilst I watched from my view point next to the harbour.
Even though my legs were tired I was keen to push on. Away from the Harbour, I followed Inn Street which seemed to come to a dead end, although a Fife Coastal Path pointed me up a gravel road which I thought was someone’s driveway. A little further up the road a path veered off uphill bringing me to a set of old bridge abutments which once crossed the railway line that used to bring people and goods into Tayport. The rails have long gone and the trackbed has been filled in so that the old bridge doesn’t appear to cross anything. A little further ahead was another set of bridge abutments down which a Fife Coastal Path sign pointed.
This led me along the old trackbed and the next couple of miles to the Tay Bridge were some of the finest walking I’ve done in Fife. For the first part of this section the trackbed was lined by trees through which I caught glimpses of the River Tay and two lighthouses (called Tayport East and Tayport West) which still guide ships into Dundee. I could see one giant ship making its way along the river, looking to dock at the city on the north bank.
Further ahead the trees thinned out and as the trackbed was raised high above the river I got fantastic views over towards Dundee. The sun was beating down on the glistening Tay, and also on Dundee itself with windows reflecting the glaring sunlight. It was a perfect vista and it gave me the motivation to keep going as my legs were getting really tired now.
The trackbed eventually came alongside the B946 road and for the rest of the way to the Tay Bridge the sound of cars was a constant companion. Still it didn’t spoil my mood at all as the views were just too good. Ahead I could see and hear the Bridge which was now filled with rush hour traffic.
The coastal path came away from the trackbed which continued onwards underneath the bridge towards Newport-on-Tay. My path took me across the B946 and through a car park. At the other side a path headed underneath the southbound carriageway of the bridge and then up a ramp which brought me into the middle of both lanes. Fortunately I wasn’t as exposed as this sounds. A high fence at both sides of the path protected me from the worst of the traffic and it wasn’t too bad a stroll as I headed along to Dundee.
If I had been doing this walk back in the first half of 1966 I would have either had to get the ferry (locally know as the ‘Fifie’) at Newport-on-Tay or continue walking along the south bank of the River Tay until I reached Perth, cross over there and then walk all the way back along the north bank until I hit Dundee (I may do this in future so stay tuned!) The ‘Fifie’ has now gone (the last ferry sailing just hours after the bridge’s opening), replaced by the Tay Bridge which was opened by the Queen Mother in August 1966 after more than three years of construction and at a cost of nearly £5 million. Suddenly towns and villages in the north of Fife such as Newport and Tayport were just a few minutes drive from Dundee, resulting in both towns becoming dormitory towns for people working in the past fifty years.
There were certainly many people making the crossing. Most were on four wheels, a large number were on two, but only the odd one crossed on two feet. The bridge drops nearly 29m from the Fife side to the Dundee side which made it a lot easier on my now very tired legs. Before heading into Dundee where I finished off the walk, I took one last look at Fife behind me as I had now completed another county. I can honestly say that so far Fife is one of the best places I have ever walked through. From the spectacular three bridges at North Queensferry, through the stunningly beautiful villages of the East Neuk, to the glorious banks of the River Tay, it never once failed to disappoint.
Since my two visits to Fife in March and April 2018 I have thought more about moving to the county as it is so beautiful, but then again I’ve said the same about North Yorkshire, Northumberland and East Lothian in the past. It constantly changes whenever I discover a new beautiful place of which there has been many on this coastal walk around Britain and no doubt there are many more in the years to come that will catch my eye!