Fife Coastal Path – Kingsbarns to Guardbridge

Sunday 20 January 2019

I am not exactly following the Fife Coastal Path (FCP) official map, partly because the daylight is too short and partly because of accommodation and transport plans. Judging by the website, the FCP people are guessing that folk will be doing it by car, although how they get back to their vehicles I don’t know unless someone picks them up at the end of each stage. I have come across one long-suffering wife who, together with friends, has been supporting her husband to walk around the whole coast of Scotland by ferrying him from Edinburgh, so perhaps this is more common than I thought! Be warned that although there are good places to stay if you look carefully, it requires quite some research and flexibility to do this.

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Due east of Cambo Estate, Fife

I recently came across a woman who pitched her tent approximately half way along the path and went back and forth with her car, so that’s another way of doing it, but it will still require the taking of buses and taxis of course. Here is her blog.

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I retraced my steps by taking the early Sunday morning bus from Anstruther leaving at 8.30am in the dark and waving goodbye to my dormitory companion who was making shorter stages. I watched her setting off with her head torch along the section I had taken the previous day.

Half an hour later I was set down close to the Cambo Estate entrance, (cafe opens at 10am) a place I would like to visit some time, and regained the Fife Coastal Path from the main road which took 20 minutes, passing the darkened kitchen window  where the kind woman had directed me 15 hours before. From there I completed the final part of the previous day: Cambo Sands to the Kingsbarns car park. (Where there are facilities: picnic benches and toilets. There were people asleep in their camper vans and lots of dog walkers even though it was not yet 9am on a Sunday morning). There were signs to The Cheesy Shack but I could not see it!

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Kingsbarns to Boarhills (around 1.5 hours)

I knew from the instructions that today ‘may be the roughest part of the whole route’, and that it ‘should only be walked at low tide’, so I was against the clock which caused some stress, day light being at a minimum in February and the high tide being around 1pm.

It was definitely colder, than the day before, maybe because it was earlier or maybe because there was a slight breeze coming into my face. I could see my breath ahead of me. It was brighter than Saturday with lots of cloud but also an area of pale blue showing inbetween.

The first thing I passed was a warning of remote bumpy landscape beside a field with a very strong smell of brassicas which overwhelmed the sea scent.

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Past the place of no return?

Another golf course and stretches of golden sands stretch as far as the eye can see. So far it is low tide, thank goodness, which is what I am going to need to manage the next part. There are little pillar-box-red poles all the way along, perhaps showing where you can get down to the beach.

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The sheer sands near Babbet Ness, Fife

It was hard going as they warned it would be, especially on the sand, beautiful though it was in colour and smooth surface. People and dogs had been there ahead of me. Then back on the scrubby grassland beside the shore the path was very uneven. The water in my bottle was almost too cold for me to drink which showed how cold it was.

Just to think that when most of us are in our cosy houses in cities and villages, the birds and cattle are here all through the night wheeping away, floating on the waves and managing the elements, whatever the weather!

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Flocks and flocks of black birds, alighting and taking off, swooping around, fighting and jostling to find their place, mostly on walls, fence posts, electrical wires and strand

Inland

There was a detour inland to Boarhills where I crossed the Kenly Water – a well kept path beside mossy boulders and where water bumbled over stones. It was well signposted over a metal bridge, and then there was a tarmac farm road followed by an equally long, straight grassy way heading back to the shore.

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The corn bunting or corn dumpling, the Fat Bird of the Barley can be spotted near here. A Red List species, it flocks in winter, fluttering its wings and dangling its legs in its identifiable fashion

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Boarhills to St Andrews

Next was a further geological treat: Buddo Rock, a stack of pink sandstone with a muted rainbow of organic colours and weathered into fascinating shapes and spaces.

Though time was galloping along, I had to stay a while and explore the nooks and crannies, and gasp at the intricate patterns which had developed over centuries.

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The Baddo Rock in the deserted landscape where I was surprised by another photographer

It is gentle land, unassuming and quiet, seeing to itself. Nature and birds are simply doing their thing – a situation which allows me to think what I want, do what I want, because it doesn’t care.

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View through the rocks, Fife

Gorse and lichen a matching yellow were situated amongst twisted shrubs which were sharp and almost bare of leaves. I padded along soft paths at the sides of which the sun lit up swathes of bright beige grasses with lavender coloured seedheads. Drystone walls cut into the shoreline at right angles and the sea turned alternate shades of baby blue and slate gray depending on the cloud movement.

glowing grasses

St Andrews in the distance
St Andrews started to show, glowing in the distance while the coast behind me when I turned round, was gloomy
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Up and down tons of steps, it was very steep and hard work. Then back on the shore before climbing again, Fife Coastal Path

A jogger running past. A man doing a pee, very embarrassed as he spied me.

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The sun went in and there was a definite sense that the rain might be coming on, then it cleared – it was changeable

There were more walkers than I had seen before on any of the FCP – there’s nothing like the Real Tough Part for attracting lots of folk! Both enthusiastic and uninformed walkers I would have said, given what they were wearing on their feet. It sure was tricky in places: steep like a roller coaster, and a real scramble up jaggedy rocks at others. The water came very close, even before the tide turned, but I didn’t get my feet wet!

In one place there was a thin plank, the width of one foot, over a narrow chasm and a couple were in front of me. The man went first with the dog and held it as it growled at me. As I passed I heard him murmuring, ‘mummy’s coming, mummy’s coming’ as the woman with beautiful makeup stood still and wondered if she wanted to cross. She took her time – there was no other way.

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There was a white bit of plastic to step onto but my short legs couldn’t reach it! Precarious with a rucksack

Further along was the Rock and Spindle – an eye-catching, rather thrusting geological feature standing separate from the crowd just off the main shore.

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Stones are set into the grass for climbing – sometimes with wooden hand rails and sometimes not. Pointing to the skies is the Rock and Spindle. See how the sea has eroded the land making semi-circular furrows which fill with water around it

 

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The Rock and Spindle closer up. Walking on pebbles, squelchy and noisy

St Andrews

High up on Kinkell Ness I stopped a very tall gentleman in an orange top with a beard and a petite woman and labradour beside him. Yes! 15 minutes over the high ground, he assured me, and I would be in St Andrews – I had done it, with a real sense of elation. I even laughed as the rain came down!

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St Andrews at last!

I heard children and looked down the steep cliffs to the beach, but no, it was a trick of sound over water – about 8 of them were in a boat in the bay.

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East Sands, St Andrews

The astonishing thing is that you do actually get there! However exhausted your muscles are, mine were all tense and brittle from yesterday’s exertion. On the East Sand, people wore trainers and sauntered with coffees, barking dogs and there were four white sails in the harbour.

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Jacob Polley’s poem, East Sands, Salt Prints winner of the TS Eliot Award for Poetry at East Shore, St Andrews

Reads, ‘to pry apart a sunbeam and find yellow like imperfect gilding, violet and purplish black laquer of a lobster claw, bottle-green depths and dandelion interiors, the frilly white of shoreline and seashell, and all light’s silverwork laid bare in a solution of common salt on the common sand.’

What did I find surrounded by a small crowd but the Cheesy Shack which I had seen advertised back at Kingsbarns Car Park!

There is the option here to carry on around the cliffs and past St Andrews Castle, or turn inland through the city. I did the latter. It was a bit of a walk as there are only a few places where you can cross the Kinness Burn and take the Pends into the city. I was pretty wet now and needed shelter.

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The Kirkheugh remains are near the Church of St Mary on the Rocks and St Andrews Cathedral on my right as I left the sea behind me
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Under the arch of the St Andrews Cathedral Priory Gatehouse – Medieval ruins

I took a left along South Street to find somewhere to find hot food and somewhere to recharge my phone. The soup was spicy and warm at the North Point Cafe, an unsophisticated wee place where the staff were attentive.

Be very careful when picking up a path leaving a town – it is always one of the most difficult things on a trail like this. There is a massive and most famous golf course on the edge of St Andrews and it is in many places uncrossable, so do not skirt the sea (where the toilets were closed) or you will have a very long walk!

I eventually found my way into the club house and the receptionists were kind and let me use their sumptuous facilities!

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The St Andrews Old Course where the famous golfers play with the Old Course Hotel on the left, in front of which the cycle path and the FCP runs to Leuchars

If you too stopped here for lunch here is my advice: find the main road A91 out of the city (the continuation of North street), direction: northwards. Alternatively you could askfor the Old Course if you dare (it is assumed you know where it is as it is so well known!). Keep to the left of it ie do not follow the coast road through the car park (West Sands Road) even though it does say coastal walk, but instead head for the enormous hotel and the facade which is facing away from the sea, inland. You are looking for the tree-lined North Sea Cycle Path which goes to the left of the Tom Morris Building (turf on the roof).

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This straight path takes you from St A to Leuchars, the next village, and tracks the main road

It was a long haul on hard ground after such a challenging day and there is little to entertain you but traffic noise. I changed into my other shoes, but it felt like I was wearing slippers and my feet were sore. You could always take the bus as they are frequent and cheap.

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On the right is a Nature Reserve, close to Guardbridge and the mouth of the River Eden. Arable land (blackcurrants?) and pastures where sheep crop
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The evening light was low and the industrial warehouses and hills covered in snow in the distance were lit up

I was very tired and looking for the Guardbridge Hotel when I saw that I could get the X59 bus back to Edinburgh. I stopped and waited on the same side of the road where I had been walking until a local bus stopped and said I was on the wrong side!

Ten minutes later I was hurtling back across Fife, taking the route through Glenrothes towards the Forth Road Bridge and home in the dark. I hadn’t made it to Leuchars, the end of the day’s walk, but then again I had started at Kingsbarns instead of Cambo Sands.

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I have been reliably informed that Traveline (see the phone number at the bottom of the photo) is an excellent resource for buses all over Scotland.

You may be interested in:

Walking Scotland’s Coast blog