I have written a before about Downton on the River Avon in Wiltshire, and the New Forest which is nearby. Here is a link to a map showing it outlined in red, and you can see that it crosses the three English counties of Wiltshire and Hampshire, very close to the Isle of Wight.
I stayed with kind and hospitable relatives in the village of Downton. It used to have a tan yard and still boasts the remains of a Saxon Moot (Mote, or meeting place) with a rarely surviving amphitheatre. If you read the rather amazing novel ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Süskind you will get a graphic account of the scent that must have pervaded the town where they tanned the leather in those days. It also has an impressive range of trees; mainly beech, yew and elm.
Four Matildas and three Henrys – a little history
Situated on the edge of the New Forest (or Nova Foresta) it was William I, the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and husband of Queen Mathilda (1032-1083 of Flanders) who created this 30 square miles of private hunting ground for their use in 1079.
‘William I was described as a tough, brave, inspirational and religious man. This invasion by the Normans changed much of the Anglo-Saxon way of life that was being established here. French became the language of the upper classes, cow meat became known as beef and swine became known as gammon; murder became a crime and slavery was abolished.’ from William the Conqueror and the New Forest
‘Empress Matilda’ was named Adelaide at birth in 1102. Daughter of Henry I and Matilda of Scotland, she was only aged 11 years when she was married to Henry of Germany, 20 years her senior. That was when she became Matilda. Her husband Henry was crowned Holy Roman Emperor which is why she became Empress Matilda. Made the first Queen of England by her dad but never officially known as that, she was nevertheless in charge of Normandy in Northern France and had claims to land and fortifications, namely Downton Castle.
Mother to Henry II of England by her second marriage to Henry of Anjou (at 15 years old he was 10 years her junior), she maintained her links with the church and the matter of pilgrimage by bringing the Hand of St James (titular head of the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain) back to England (now in Reading museum) and turned out to be great at supporting monasteries (eg Bordesley Cisercian Abbey, Worcestershire)
In the mid 12th century she was engaged in the civil war with Stephen her cousin, in and out of Oxford, incidentally married to another Matilda (of Boulogne), who then won Downton from her.
One of Empress Matilda’s good friends was Lanfranc, prior of her favourite religious house, the Abbey Bec-Hellouin in Normandy. He was her children’s tutor, and when she died (aged 65 years) she was originally buried there (later her bones were transferred to Rouen Cathedral where they remain).
Walk 1 featuring Eyeworth Pond
We began our first day’s walk at Telegraph Hill, the highest point of the New Forest and once the site of a beacon which was used ‘as a form of communication, in chains up and down the country to act as alarm systems in case the country was invaded. They were placed on elevated positions to make them easily visible for miles around.’ It was said ‘that in 1588 it took 12 hours for the news that the Spanish Armada had been sighted to travel from the south coast of England all the way to York.’ National Trust page.
There was ice in the puddles and streams, and wet squidge underfoot in places. Thankfully we were wrapped up warmly against the cold wind.
Sixty million years ago, I was told, this forest was a tropical sea and it sits today on a bed of chalk with flint, reminiscent of my native Kentish Downs and therefore hosting similar flora and fauna.
It was fascinating hearing anecdotes from my hosts for whom the forest was the site of family parties when the children were growing up. Like all good adventure tales there was the game of Cargoes where teams have camps on either side of the burn and are charged with routing the other’s territory.
We sloshed our way across the landscape, past the Eyeworth pond to The Royal Oak in Fritham for a half of bitter and delicious lunch.
Around the table stories were recounted, notably of the traditional Mummers Play (a medieval theatrical) which comes to this hostelry, ‘in which a champion is killed in a fight and is then brought to life by a doctor’. A scene was painted for me, of the play being performed with a glass of ale in one hand, and I could imagine it clearly in this traditional setting.
As a young teenager, I participated in a Mummers Play – back section of the dragon wearing swimming flippers and processing through the town. It was to celebrate the 300 year anniversary of our primary school, and resulted in terribly sore bits at the fronts of my ankles where I still have scars!
Walk 2, in which we came across Shetland ponies
On day two we visited the wonderfully named Godshill Pit, this time in Hampshire. It was misty and raining with, once again, ice in puddles and between blades of grass. Copper water bubbled over orange flints beside bronze bracken as we leapt soggy brooks and landed on springy peat turf. Aside from this, it really was very deeply squishy under foot!
Down country roads we walked, pitted with puddles; past ancient cottages with mud walls, pigs in oval-roofed huts, alpaca in fields, a delightful Shetland pony (why are they always so delightful?), and many elegant horses attended by adoring women in wellies.
We drove back through Braemore (say Bremmer) with its quaint bridge over several waterways, its dairy, railway station, working blacksmith and post-office. It is an extremely pretty village built of local stone and I was starting to get used to the crowds of donkeys perched by the roadside, tearing off brambles and bracken from the banks. The pub was closed today so hot soup was most welcome on our return.
Thanks go to Angela for preparing special vegetarian food for me; to Mike for cleaning my walking shoes – twice; to both for showing me this wonderful part of the world and telling me stories about it.
Fife Coastal Path, Scotland. Stage 3, East Wemyss to Lundin Links 11.5kms. 3.5 hours.
Stagecoach Edinburgh Bus Station (also other starting points) to East Wemys (there’s only one stop) £10 single, very prompt, 2 hours.
‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished’ – Lao Tzu (Thanks to Jackie Jarvis for reminding me of this from the Tao Te Chinghttps://inpursuitofslow.com/books/
I am trying to maintain my strength for the longer walks in Spring carrying a heavy rucksack, plus I wanted to be able to write in the evenings, so I took my old laptop. (Thanks to Gustaf at the Wild Geese Sangha for the prompt to do less kilometres (after all, it is winter). The Walk Highlands website lists these stages as short anyway. Just as I left I spotted my new baton. I have been training myself to act on these intuitive moments so took it just in case, and that turned out to be a good move.
Before the bus stop I was already feeling the familiar relaxing bubble of excitement in my tummy knowing I would be walking all weekend. It just seems to suit me, this particular pursuit!
A woman who also had a pink rucksack was waiting and we struck up a conversation. She was travelling to Carlisle to present her PhD on lichen (she works at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens). I mentioned a good novel about botany and moss where many of the characters spend a great deal of time on their knees at ground level. ‘The world had scaled itself down into endless inches of possibility,’ (Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things).
When walking I become fascinated by the small things and in the dark morning the pavements were sparkling with ice. After yesterday’s amber weather warning I did wonder if it was perhaps foolhardy, but being used to solo mountain treks and the fact that this track is never far from a conurbation it seemed worth starting. And the birds were in full voice and the Edinburgh skyline was very pretty. I tried to meditate on the journey but was itching to start so it seemed to take a very long time. Then again, crossing the Firth of Forth at sunrise was special and the views through the (sadly darkened) coach windows were spectacular.
As I made my way down from the primary school in East Wemyss to the sea, past a dainty church in a snowy graveyard, the sun was dim behind soft cloud cover. Then gaps revealed patches of blue sky and they were reflected in the sea. I had arrived, back on the Way, soft snow puff and crunch cold ice under my feet, clean air in my nostrils, starlings arguing, and street with names like ‘Back Dykes’.
Seagulls fought over fish in mid air, gravestones were silhouetted up on the hill, and industrial reminders lay ahead cheek by jowl with more recent wind turbines.
The sun continued to shine and the snow sparkled. The gorse’s corn kernals glowed, and soon the first steep steps ascended and descended with Macduff’s Castle at the top. I took a détour to visit the caves.
Pigeons cooed as they flapped in and out of the doo (dove) holes in the second cave.
Soft stone tones – rose, gold, pale pewter – and a low winter sun threw my shadows.
Although there were seriously snowy hills behind me, underfoot was variously green and white depending on the shade. It was quiet here, well, except for the birds which sqwarked and twittered and ‘arrgh-ed’ and trilled. Indeed, they cawed and cheep cheep cheeped, just like they are supposed to.
Macduff’s Castle – from the 14th century – is supposed to be haunted by the ‘Grey Lady, Mary Sibbald. According to Wikipedia, Randolph Wemyss was a descendant of Macduff, as well as the local laird and mine owner.
A robin sat silently and showed off his orange breast in the sunshine. He was camouflaged perfectly with the orange pink stone.
Out to sea were the Bass Rock (its puffins too small to be seen), oil riggs, and Berwick Law, the only high ground on that stretch of the opposite shore. Land and sea birds’ voices competed.
As soon as I zipped my camera in my pocket, out it had to come again because it was all just so bonny.
Helpful hint: zip up your pockets every single time in case you lose something vital and have to go back to search.
I felt extremely happy, and even nervous Hugo (the little grey dog who waited for me to go past and made a snorty sneezing noise) could not change that. I noted that, like pregnant tummies, everyone pats dogs when they are out walking. They are so abundant that I chose the name ‘Walking Without A Dog’ for my Scottish blog (rather than ‘Walking Without A Donkey’ which is the overall title of my foreign ones) because I do not have one.
Of course the snow throws everything into brilliant relief, the blackbird in the leaf-less branches is always visible at this time of year, and the old nests are exposed. Brambles tickled as they caught my hand. The fields curved smoothly. To the left side were rooves of distant dolls houses which frontages I fancied I could open for spying on the family inside. A jut of headland was beyond, with its black foundation below and green lawn layer on top: Buckhaven. Gentle steps were sensible because it was very slippy in places.
Remember to turn right here, as instructed. Do not go straight on as I did (where there were diggers and, ‘aargh!’ traffic noise) and then have to go back….
My kneecaps were bothering me and I had to take my gloves off to relieve the sweatyness, but just look at the view!
There were higgeldy piggeldy boats houses, and copious signs telling you about the bay and fishing. St James stood in someone’s front garden and welcomed me .
They are really trying hard in Buckhaven, providing a good range of services: bank, post office, shops, bakery/cafe and lots of butchers along its wide main road (initially made like that for the tram lines which were lifted in 1936 to make way for the more popular buses), though much was shut on this Saturday morning.
Yellow and pink icing for the apple turnovers, and yes, those really are baked beans on top of the pies. Traditional Scottish fare!
When I emerged, fortified by my cup of tea, I smelled not just fresh air but snow too. There is a Heritage Trail here and one oval sign explains that the community orchard was started from apple cores thrown by the Globe cinema goers (1921-50s) or railway travellers (1888-1955).
At the far edge of Buckhaven the Wellesley Colliery, or what remains of it, can be found, looking really rather grand and shiny in this weather.
Even these few left-over buildings dominate, and it’s not hard to understand the devastation that Margaret Thatcher’s government wreaked when they were closed in the 80s. (A similar situation in Northern England is well portrayed in the film Billy Elliot directed by Stephen Daldry.) Tellingly, as so many died underground, Denbeath Funeralcare is over the road.
There are rows of the sorts of cottages which have become expensive in today’s housing market, similar to ones in Granton which we thought must have been for the workers but no, they would not have been able to afford them. They were actually for the bosses, or at least the ‘middle management ‘.
There is a molten candlewaxy smell and a factory has replaced the mine with something more chemical. As I round the corner the sign on the warehouse says ‘Fab’ and tower blocks and roundabouts are the order of the day.
The ice is starting to melt, trickling down drains, and my stick taps on the bare pavement. People complain about this stage of the walk because of the long stretch through towns and villages, but it’s alive with the real history of the area and not too ugly in this sunny moment. Next: Methil with its docks.
There was a slight warmth when I was in the open sun, meanwhile Stagecoaches roared back and forth along the main road when I got near it (rarely, thank goodness). My body called my attention again, a niggling right shoulder, but it was nothing serious. The sidewalks were very icy here so I walked on the grassy verges to avoid tumbling. The Tap Haus wall sports the slogan, ‘get yer juice!’ It seems we are a nation who treats alcohol as juice, which might explain our problem. (In the late 19th century, the Wellesley Pub was run on Gothenburg Principles to limit excessive drinking.)
I easily amused myself during the long stretch of tarmac by likening splodges on the ground to jellyfish, and swinging my cane like Mr Banks in the happy bit of the film, Mary Poppins. Everywhere looks good in the sun, even the garish pink house with the gold railings, and I enjoyed the cacophony of sparrows (if that is not the collective name then it certainly should be).
Then, over the river to Leven.
In Spain they have elaborate art work and enormous signs in the middle of roundabouts. In Edinburgh they are hoping to turn Picardy Place roundabout into a ‘gateway to the World Heritage Site’. Here there is a miniscule advert for safety boots and footwear.
‘Leven Welcomes You’ with its three steeples set against the decent sized, snow covered Largo Law (hill). The tall chimney mentioned in the directions I was using had indeed disappeared. At 12 noon I felt the first sign of weariness. A spider-legged, hooded youth wafted past in a cloud of strong aftershave, and then I was finally back to bingo and beach. I found myself disapproving of a man smoking in a car with a baby in the back, and my back was aching. It was not a proper hiking backpack having no upper strap, and that was where I was feeling it, at the top vertebrae. I had to pay 30p for the toilet and kids were screaming relentlessly in the neighbouring Action Centre. Ah, see my mood? I must be hungry.
The further I went from the town, the more the landscape became sand, stones and the sound of lapping waves. Really it did! There was a reassuring briny odour as I traipsed 1.5 kms of strand, which made up for the caravan park’s monotonous green cabins.
There were none of the sea stacks of stage 2, nor the rock formation; simply uninterrupted sandy heaven, and watching other people’s dogs caper in the waves.
Walking back in the direction from whence I had come, all was quiet inside. Only occasional practicalities took me from my pacing: a runny nose in the wind, the water bottle falling out as I crawled under the fence, or a song from yesterday’s choir repeating in my head.
Must I take short cuts? At this time of the day I often find that I do, yes. I was following google maps to my destination. Surely, I thought, I can just go across here instead of all the way round? So I crossed Lundin Links with its soft feminine curves of virgin snow.
But three times I came to a dead end. Luckily, not only was everywhere interesting and beautiful to survey, but I discovered unexpected gems: Silverburn Park with its hidden garden, pebble walled paths and frozen pond.
When I found myself stuck, I asked folk the way: two men with far-away dogs and hi-vis jackets were helpful, indeed one gave me a ‘bunk-up’ across the cemetery wall, despite my boots and his bare hands.
My host had texted me ‘I wouldn’t advise walking up the main road there’s no paths and can be a fast road. There’s a glen called “letham glen” it’s lovely ! Walk though the glen and up the hill. Turn right and follow the path and your here!’ (sic). The best air bnb owners share local knowledge and are helpful like this.
The brilliantly named Bawbee Bridge was near my penultimate destination: Letham Glen where six grown lads were engaged in a lively snowball fight while their broad Fife accents overlapped excitedly. Initially the Glen is all about children playing, but deeper into the woods there are quaint stone bridges over babbling burns and although there was no real wildness on this hike, here was some ‘Deep peace of the running wave..’ (Gaelic Blessing set to music by Rutter. See below).
Largo Law (hill) is a permanent feature along this part of the Fife Coastal Path and in the late afternoon, as I negotiated today’s final stage, it was on fire.
I stayed at the Country Farm House with Caroline and Will, Lexie the dog and Lucy the cat, and they could not have been more kind and obliging. The evening meal and breakfast were home prepared, and the bread and butter pudding with Baileys and After Eights was delicious. Look out for Caroline’s cuisine at Ladybank Golf Club where she has recently won the catering contract. I highly recommend their facilities, and if you own and love horses you will be in heaven because you can bring them for a sleep-over here and take them for beach rambles while you are treated to an idyllic rural break.
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/).
The snow on the hills of Fife, over the Firth of Forth, was visible to the naked eye in the far distance.
The impressive, neoclassical buildings of the National Galleries, built by William Henry Playfair in 1859 at the foot of the Mound.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Western Harbour flats.
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.
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.
The Dreadnought independent pub stocking craft beer.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
After pacing the pavements of the city the sand was oh-so-soft away from it all.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
The area has been decorated with lottery money and spring bulbs are starting to push upwards.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.