Edinburgh – Athens of the North

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The iconic Edinburgh Castle standing on a volcanic plug, estimated to have formed some 350 million years ago.
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It was a prison in the late 18th century, and before that a fortress involved in the Jacobite Rising in 1745.

 

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On a good day you get a wonderful view from the Castle esplanade.
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Listen out for the bagpipes! Today he must have had very, very cold fingers.
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When you approach from Castle Terrace from the west you might already be in the Highlands. It dominates the city and attracts more visitors than any other monument in Scotland, but it is therefore very expensive to visit.
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Very close by are the bonny Ramsey Garden private apartments.
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The Camera Obscura is at the top of the Royal Mile (the round turret on the left of the skyline). The Palace of Holyrood is at the bottom.

The church-like building on the right of the skyline is now the Edinburgh Festival ‘Hub’. Built between 1842 and 1845, as the Victoria Hall, to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the building was created by architects: James Gillespie Graham and Augustus Welby Pugin. Curiously the building was never consecrated as a Church. In 1929 the Church of Scotland ceased to use the building and it became a temporary home for a variety of congregations. It was named the Highland Tolbooth St John’s Church in 1956, before falling into disuse in the 1980s. (http://www.thehub-edinburgh.com/about-us/history/).

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A series of narrow ‘closes’ on the left as you leave the Edinburgh castle, take you down steep steps to The Mound with the tower of New College (The University of Edinburgh) on the left here.

The snow on the hills of Fife, over the Firth of Forth, was visible to the naked eye in the far distance.

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The Lloyds Banking Head Office and the Museum on the Mound, focusing on money, coinage and economics, where you can view a million £s.
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A statue of a piper in a kilt!

The impressive, neoclassical buildings of the National Galleries, built by William Henry Playfair in 1859 at the foot of the Mound.

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Simple interior. January sees the annual showing of the JMW Turner paintings collection. They are only able to be displayed at this time of year when the light is dim so that they do not deterioriate too quickly. A gift to the city – free entry for everyone.
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Crossing Princes Street with its clothes, books and phone shops, look both ways for Rose Street running parallel and sandwiched between that and George Street to the north. It boasts some impressive concrete poetry (English, Scots and Gaelic) and plenty of places to drink and buy whisky.
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Continue down the hill and you have left the Old Town (the Castle etc) and entered the elegant New Town with its 1767-1850 Georgian style.

Visit Scotland website: https://www.visitscotland.com

For Edinburgh Castle opening times etc: https://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/

Edinburgh Camera Obscura: https://www.camera-obscura.co.uk/

Edinburgh National Galleries: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/

Oxford, England

A photo essay: November 2017

Oxford is very crowded with students and tourists – the pavements are narrow so allow time to walk around the centre, but at every corner there is an architectural marvel. From the Colleges and their gardens, to the River Cherwell and its fascinating bridges, there is just so much to see.

Check out the expansive Port Meadow with its wonderful views; the cafes of the Cowley area; the Museum of Natural History on Parks Road (not shown here) for the inside decoration alone, never mind the collection (there are plenty of events for children); and the magnificent Blenheim Palace (very close to the city and easy to get to by bus) is an absolute must-see.

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The Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian Museum.
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The Bridge of Sighs.
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View from Magdalen Bridge.
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Detail of the underneath of Magdalen Bridge.
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Oxford punts in winter.
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Wadham College gardens.
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Christchurch College.
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Hertford College.
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Entrance to the Bodleian Library.
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The famous spires of the Oxford colleges.
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Bicycles everywhere!

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Gardens, Christchurch College.
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Ashmolean Museum, exterior.
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The Ashmolean, interior.
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The sun shows up the glorious yellow stone towers.
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Cupid’s bottom – detail on ceiling of the Bodleian.
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Standing guard at the Bodleian.
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A typical street showing residential architecture.
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Broad Street.
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Beneath this garden lies a medieval cemetery. Located outside the Botanical Gardens.
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The rain shows up the black and white architecture to perfection.
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Wadham College courtyard at night.
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Wadham College – an inner courtyard.
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Astonishing gables.
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Cute cafe on St Clement’s St.

Newhaven Harbour, Edinburgh

Late Winter / Early Spring 2017 / January 2018

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January 2018.

Would you ever know that this gorgeous place is a mere 20 minutes bus ride (2 miles, 3 kms) from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh city centre? Found on the south side of the Firth of Forth, between Granton and Leith Harbours, it was James IV who created it in 1504 to build the warship ‘Michael’.

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Once a thriving fishing village, today’s piscary community is tiny compared with the fleets of the past. Well known for its oysters (until 1890), and once involved in whaling, it was Scottish folk songs about the herring business which first bought it to my attention.

The hard working women and girls who gutted and sold the fish from door to door in creels (baskets), are immortalised in songs such as Caller Herring (1798, words by Caroline Nairne and music by Nathaniel Gow) and Song of the Fishgutters.

Newhaven fishergirls pose with a creel. Photo by Hill and Adamson. 1840s

There is one boat I see regularly unloading it’s crab cargo, and the articulated trucks which carry the iced fish up and down the country are parked by the fish market in the eye catching red Victorian buildings where the museum used to be. There is a retail fishmonger there nowadays, Welchs, with its astonishing array of fresh and frozen sea food and associated goods.

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This conservation area somehow manages to sit cheek by jowel with the imposing Chancelot Mill, the happily situated Holiday Inn, and ecologically designed supermarket, none of which contribute in any way to the architectural beauty of the area.

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as you can see!

But you can find a very friendly welcome, comfy surroundings, and the best raspberry scones, freshly made cakes and affordable all-day breakfasts (sitting-in or to take-away) at The Haven cafe on Lindsay Road.

There are other sights to see in the area: a beautiful, wee community garden by the wall plaque.

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You can also find the upmarket Loch Fyne Oyster Bar; and the David Lloyd health club where you can swim outside in a heated pool right beside the seaside. There’s lots of accommodation, particularly air bnb (see below).

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The famously expensive Edinburgh trams do not come here, though there was a time when they were planned to. Now, however, there is an airport bus (number 200) which takes you to your flight in just over an hour.

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The old church is now the very popular Alien Rock, climbing wall.

This area was part of a massive re-development reputed to be the size of Edinburgh all over again, going to be built on the docks and reclaimed land between Leith and Granton. The economic situation put paid to that, but there are some impressive tower blocks (Western Harbour for example) around which you can wander in the wind and some rocks where people picnic and fish with their hoods up.

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Western Harbour flats.
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The ‘secret’ beach – see if you can find it!

There is plenty to see whatever the weather: the water itself and the seasonal bird population; Inchkeith Island housing left-over battlements and a still operational lighthouse; and the view of Fife and its hills across the estuary. In the summer the massive liners disgorge their tourists who are ferried into the harbour to be whisked away by coach to see the castle. The coastguard from Granton Harbour (half an hour’s promenade to the west) are always buzzing in and out accompanying the visiting shipping from Denmark (oil tankers), Malta, the UK and further afield.

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Inchkeith Island, Firth of Forth.

Fishmarket Square is just opposite the Oyster Bar, a quaint place where a (sadly) one-off Apple Festival was held a few years ago.

The recommended pub in the area is the Dreadnought, 72 North Fort Street (the bottom end!) with open jam sessions, the ubiquitous pub quiz, and appreciated pizzas. It stocks local beers from the Leith brewery (eg Pilot), a permanent gluten-free lager from Brass Castle (the owner Toby’s brother’s brewery), plus guest and vegan ones.

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The Dreadnought independent pub stocking craft beer.

Caller Herring on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFtXrT5sxRk

Chronological map of Edinburgh showing Newhaven http://maps.nls.uk/view/74400069#zoom=6&lat=6345&lon=5409&layers=BT

Air bnb http://www.airbnb.co.uk

Growing Together, Community Garden in Newhaven http://www.elgt.org.uk/projects/community-gardening/5-1-5-newhaven

Alien Rock http://www.alienrock.co.uk/

You can see who is anchored in the Firth of Forth at any one time on this website: https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ports/22435/United_Kingdom_port:FIRTH%20OF%20FORTH%20ANCH

Lothian Buses, airport services: https://lothianbuses.co.uk/airport

Inchkeith Island: http://www.abandonedscotland.com/the-island-of-inchkeith/

Scotland – Fife Coastal Path stage 2

A dander along the Fife coast from Burntisland at low tide 9.15am to East Wemyss at high tide 3.45pm. Twelth Night – 6th January 2018.

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Fife, the shape of a (Scottish) terrier’s head.

Fantastically well signposted (almost impossible to get lost if you pay attention). Distance: 19.5 kilometres (12.25 miles). Duration: the website said 4.5 – 5.5 hours, but if you have short legs and are out of practice (or both), and want to stop to take photos and have a cup of tea etc, then it takes longer. I took the 8.39 train from Edinburgh.

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Burntisland with pink buildings to rival Austria (almost).

 Terrain: mostly flat: there are a few sets of steps (ascending and descending), and a couple of sloping roads (out of Kirkcaldy, for example). There is some tarmac, but it is chiefly sand, grass, small stones and once (I am sure you could avoid it) a great tumble of rocks.

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In real life the rocks are actually black, so contrasting with the yellow gorse or whin.
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The tips of the sharp grasses are prickly in these ‘botanically important areas’.
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Ringlets of old man’s beard.

Linking the Forth and Tay Estuaries (Kincardine to Newburgh), the Fife Coastal Path runs for over 183km (117 or 105 miles according to different websites), through the varied landscapes of Fife. The route links some of Scotland’s most picturesque former fishing villages as well as the home of golf – St Andrews with its ancient University. In between are miles of golden beaches, attractive woods and nature reserves but the route also threads its way through industrial towns such as Kirkcaldy and Leven. History is everywhere, from the winding gear of the former coalyards (see below) to ruined castles and the pictish and prehistoric carvings in the Wemyss caves. (Mostly taken from Walking Highlands, with info from Fife Coastal Path and Birding the Fife Coast).

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Stunning beaches along the Fife Coastal Path.

I started at Burntisland, opposite my house on the other side of the Firth of Forth, regularly spied through my binoculars on a sunny day. A ferry used to run between the two.

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Too high for me to get a readable photo: it says ‘..station opened 1847..with a ferry to Granton (my home harbour) and thence by train to Edinburgh. The world’s first train ferry service started on this route in 1850. It ended in 1890 when The Forth Bridge opened with a new link line to Burntisland…’.

A few minutes from the station, the path begins near the links (links are green spaces in Scottish places, often on the dunes and used for golf courses). Straight down to the beach, I was going briskly to keep warm and happy to watch the dogs, spot shells (razors which I tasted for the first time in Santiago de Compostella at the end of the Camino Frances, cockles and the odd strongbow can.) All who passed wished a good morning, and that it was.

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A range of shells on the beach.

The path runs adjacent to the railway with its occassional very short trains and fumes punctuating my rural idyll. A bubble of joy was in me to be setting off on a hike again.

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The railway line, always there beside the path, glimpsed through the railings.
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The sun’s slanting rays emanated through the clouds – what a great antidote to doing the end-of-year accounts!

I chose the low tide route across the grass littered with droppings (deer? rabbit?). There was a sea odour; a raven with its dipped, dull head; the plaintive cry of the gull and peeping of the oyster catcher. Ahead was an obstacle and, immediately, boulders to clambering over. That definitely raised the body temperature. Anyone who follows my exploits knows this is business as usual, and it did not last long.

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The scarlet gash of a kite: what a brilliant Saturday morning de-stressor from a sedentary day job.

After pacing the pavements of the city the sand was oh-so-soft away from it all.

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Here was Petycur Caravan Site whose windows catch the sun so I can see them from my sitting room.

There is the constant background sound of the most attractive white horses rolling onto the edge of the beach. My peace is interrupted by a train or car, but otherwise I can focus on the wonderful sands and the marks of the dog who had been there before me. With a quietening in my belly I surveyed the uncreased sands.

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Kinghorn is the first of the dainty villages with its 5 or 6 boats tucked into the first harbour. Round the corner is a second with a lifeboat and pretty church. There is a smell of chips as I pass the cafe and another jolly greeting from those sitting outside at 10.40am.

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What a fantastic place for a holiday here in Kinghorn with its beach side bed and breakfasts – all pretty and welcoming.

 

It turns out that you can skip the ‘A’ road mentioned in the directions as I did, and get all the way here by beach, but you would miss the monument to Alexander III ‘who fell to his death nearby in the 13th century.’ (Fife Coastal Path website – see below for the link). The sand along the coast is black as well as golden, a reference to the once profitable, now plundered coal seams of this area. I glory in the muted palette of winter, similar but different to the Yorkshire Dales I walked 2 weeks ago.

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Comparing the gentle winter colour scheme of the Yorkshire Dales…
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….with Fife.
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‘Black Gold’ (coal dust), a remnant of the past industry.

Out at sea are the ubiquitous oil riggs and red bottomed tankers. On land the municipal toilets are shut for the season. Perhaps, I wonder, I should have paid 30p at the last ones. There are lots of folk around so I cannae squat now!

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Two oil rigs and a tanker inbetween.

The path is well waymarked but I get very easily waylaid by views and ideas when I walk. The path moves away from the coast here under the aforementioned railway into a playpark, and through a little tunnel. It was nose-running weather but as per normal I was lucky – no rain and not too much wind though it was very cold even when the sun came out in the last third of the day.

Men from the train passed, going in the opposite direction. I stood aside and one kind one said ‘we are making you walk on the grass, go on, you go past’. What a sweetie.

The increasingly beautiful scenes meant I just could not stop taking photos. My weight felt heavy on the ground now and it was lovely. More tramping than skittering as at the start. Here was the promised rugged coastline with its horizontal striations of gentle sandstone, pillowed volcanic rock, columnar jointing of basalt and great hunks of black volcanic dolerite (a reminder of an eruption of The Binn volcano over 300 million years ago).

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 A gentle incline led to a sunny path and the blue sky was reflected in the rock pools below. Real crowds of ramblers went by, and whereas the local people were friendly to a one, those from Edinburgh were not all, especially the women.

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There was Seafield Tower in the distance.

The yellow lichen contrasted with its grey and brown hosts, and I remembered the Judi Dench documentary about trees from last night, a new sense of awe at the immense benefit of the connected aspects of nature. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09jxnv4

I listened to the unknown, feathered singer of dee doh dee doh dee doh dee doh deee.

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And Seafield Tower close up.

This tall beige and tan, broken 16th century castle with its 5 feet thick walls, stands above the beach where happy hounds bounce in the sea air, and there was a long legged, curved-beaked curlew at the waters edge. The chunks of rock cubes and parallelograms, the regular flat-topped mini cliffs of Dover, and occasional man-made stacks of concrete were all fascinating.

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Kirkcaldy was ahead with its three blocks of flats showing up their white frontages in the sun.

This poster was on the outside toilet wall and wholeheartedly subscribed to during my wanderings. Unless, that is, I have given Shiatsu, when a deep sense of relaxation is a happy thing to have left.

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‘Leave nothing but footprints!’

Walking over bumpy terrain is reputedly good for the brain. http://mxplx.com/meme/2622/  Plus, the inner ear has to constantly re-balance. My legs are starting to feel heavier but I am so glad this will not end soon.

I pass through the three quarters circular metal gate (a contrast to the stiles with tiny wooden ones in the Yorkshire Dales) into the Seafield carpark where there is a woman in her nighty and white ankle socks walking her dog. A man with purple lips at the end of his constitutional makes pithy conversation: ‘That’s a good walk that is’, he said, when I regaled him with my route, ‘I was a member of the Ramblers. Walked all over Britain we did.’ He corrected my pronunciation of Wemyss (say ‘weems’). ‘There’s a cafe in Dysart’ (say ‘die sut’) he went on ‘and toilets’. A fount of local information he was.

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Each tiny stile also has a mini gate to pass through in the Yorkshire Dales.
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Whereas in Fife, it was this more mechanical one.

I made it to ‘The lang toun’ (meaning, the long town, which Kirkcaldy is known as) just after midday. There was the Raith Rovers football ground and a Morrisons. It is a large sprawl with inevitable industrial outskirts, space-age covered esplanade seats, and a weird public sculpture. I popped into Lidl for chocolate and a free pee where I saw what rosy cheeks I had developed from the wind. Then the way resumed by the really extreme sea wall of white concrete blocks which was a project for relieving unemployment in the Great Trade Depression of 1922/23. The Link Sands were softer, again, for my feet but with a smell of, what was it, chutney?

 

The Hutchison’s flour mill is like our very own Chancellot Mills in Newhaven, Edinburgh, and rows of  birds made a dotted silhouette on its roof like decorative braid. There was an unpleasant, burning plastic smell. Past ‘Ultimate Reptiles’ and hideous car parks I went, past the derelict Nairn Floor Cloth Manufactory (1847) which facade hid a modern place to learn fighting, and steeply up past the Nether Street cemetery into the spacious Ravenscraig Park with its Three Tree Legend. Apparently the three trees were planted over the graves of the trio of Sinclair brothers who, mistaking each other for robbers, killed the other. The dark shot of the nearby castle (built by James II for his wife Mary of Guelders) and bay behind was suitably sinister.

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A Gothic looking, ‘Northanger Abbey’ type castle.

At the top of a flight of steps is a rather gruesome fishy poem by C W Berry (1927 – 1998). Here is the last stanza:

‘The gear’s aboard      reclining in the blood.     The slaughter’s done –     The silver’s down below.’

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There was an option here to go by the beach instead of following the signs, but this would have been missed. The sun’s rays splayed out over ripples of the rounded bay and in the distance the hills of Edinburgh showed in varying shades of grey, all lit up behind a path of silver sea.

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Stone art comes next, situated amongst foot-crunching beech husks. It is by Kenny Munro and features the poem Stanes by Duncan Glen (who ‘fittingly ascribes his achievements to his wife Margaret of 51 years’) with ‘Scots words [which] allude to the many stone features around us.’ (Quotes from the information sign nearby). There is also a doocot (dovecot) which provided the king and his court with meat.

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The castle doocot (dovecot).

Next are a series of little coves divided by what look like noble curved walls. Many are  entered through tumbledown arches and are seriously narrow. Here are what one of Judi Dench’s experts called arboroglyphs (a great word for man-made tree carvings). As directed, I take a right at the four forks and trip under the railway to Dysart, ‘claustrophobic’ (as described by the Walk Highlands website) or idyllic, depending on your outlook. Here I saw ancient mariners in their wee huts flying the Scottish ensign; a handsome harbour master’s house (much mentioned as it is the official Fife Coastal Path headquarters but shut today despite the number of hikers and it being a weekend).

 

 

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Tree hieroglyphics.
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Fishermen busying themselves in and out of their huts.

There is a thunder of waves now, and another sculpture made up of wooden uprights in pastel blues and greens of the sea when seen in different lights. A herring gull with a gruesome beakful stands on a wall. A cute looking baby seal stranded on the beach was causing a right to-do.

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Modern scultpure, Dysart harbour.

Further on were many slightly incongruous, what I call Narnia lamp posts; gleaming white-washed stepped gabled houses; and I finally got my cup of tea which was a mere £1.50. It came with a sugary round of traditional Scottish shortbread, and I bought  a piece of tablet (a sort of hard fudge made here – popular and delicious if you have a sweet tooth) for my daughter.

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Tea at the Timeless Tearooms.
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Dysart Tolbooth and Town House: erected in 1576, marking the Burgh’s medieval civic centre. It was originally partly a prison and still retains prisoner’s graffiti.
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Dysart harbour.

The next part of the path was sodden and my waterproof boots let the cold fluid in. The last remnant of the local coal mine has been left on this part of the Coastal Path as a reminder.

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The Frances Colliery Memorial, dedicated to the men and women who ‘wrocht’ (worked) there. Known locally as ‘The Dubbie’ because it stood above the Dubbie Braes (a brae is a steep bank or hillside).

Down a flight of steps I joined the very attractively stacked West Wemyss, and on the way in I passed another castle, this time with blue conical Chinese-looking hats atop its turrets. Behind the walls was an impressive hidden garden glimpsed through cracks. In the misty distance I spied Berwick Law (a low, lone peak in East Lothian- too far away for the camera to pick it up).

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West Wemyss beyond the magnificent sandstone boulders. The gulls breasts, like waiters’ bibs, caught the sun.

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The area has been decorated with lottery money and spring bulbs are starting to push upwards.

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Next time I plan to visit the Community Pub.

The tide was now crashing against the rocks and on the shingled and seeweed-covered shore there were more wonderful pinky orange rocks (colour-matched in the clouds). The words ‘gentle’ and ‘benign’ came to mind as I enjoyed their appearance in the glowing late afternoon sun. It was really so very pleasant.

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The Belvedere Miner’s Institute and Reading Room. Here you can see the same gorgeous stone (above) used for building West Wemyss.
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A coven of black cormorants, one with its familiar, jagged outstretched wings gathered at the end of the pier (blurry with the zoom).

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At the end of the day I enter East Wemyss, the home of Jimmy Shand (1908 – 2000) one of Scotland best known musicians (think ceilidh jigs and The Bluebell Polka).  you tube link

Do not turn off the path as soon as you arrive. Instead, stay on until you find Back Dykes (as I did not) on your left. At the end of that road turn left onto Main Street and then take an immediate right onto School Wynd. The bus stop is past the Primary School on the same side of the A955 High Road. If you are not sure, everyone is friendly and helpful, so ask.

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East Wemyss Primary School.

On the Stagecoach bus it took 15 minutes to get to Kirkcaldy, where it took me 3 hours to walk, and I drove home into the sunset, crossing the new Forth Road Bridge as the moon rose.

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Useful websites/information:

In case it is of use: for this cold January walk I wore long-legged thermals under thin jersey trousers with an elasticated waist (easy to pull up and down quickly when needed), my double layered walking socks (invaluable for avoiding blisters), a vest top, cotton long-sleeved blouse (better for the sweatiness), under a walking hoodie and jacket with a hat, gloves and scarf. I was cool enough what with all the movement, but also protected from the weather. Oh, and I had my sturdy boots on (thanks again, Sabine).

Scotrail. £6.70 for a one-way ticket from Edinburgh to Burntisland (it takes 35 mins). There is a toilet but no refreshments on the train.  https://www.scotrail.co.uk/

Stagecoach buses: £10 one way, £10.70 for all day and any bus. Buy on the bus or via the app. The journey takes 1.5 hrs Edinburgh to Burntisland with a change at Inverkeithing (which is why I took the train in the morning). In the evening the 16.03 from East Wemyss arrived at 17.15 in Edinburgh, and there were heated seats, wifi, a place to charge your phone, and a toilet. All 3 drivers I spoke to, though helpful, were very abrupt.

Timeless Tearooms, Dysart near the Tolbooth (no website). Not perfectly clean but there is a decent toilet, the staff were very friendly and helpful (she lent me a device so I could charge my phone while I drank). It was full of locals having a chat and crocheting, and there was a nice atmosphere and a good cup of tea. There are other cafes open in the summer season.

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 http://www.fifecoastalpath.co.uk/  This is the official Fife Coastal Path website, with the circular blue, yellow and green sign which is used to show the way. It has interesting facts but no detailed directions so I did not find it as useful as the Walk Highlands one below. Also the 2 websites divide the walk into different stages.

https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fife-stirling/fife-coastal-path.shtml Walk Highlands has much more useful information. You have to register and they ask you to say which is your favourite mountain etc, but they have good downloads of maps. The directions for this walk are beside photos and so had to be cut and pasted into a hand-made doc/pdf (which I am happy to send you (www.tamsinlgrainger@gmail.com).

Geology http://www.burntisland.net/geology.htm

Beautiful birdsong https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/our-guide-to-birdsong

Some information about Duncan Glen  http://www.scottisharts.org.uk/1/artsinscotland/scots/archive/poemjunejuly2006.aspx