Granton Harbour (built in the 1830s and historical site of the first electric car factory) to South Queensferry – an easy and utterly heavenly walk which takes you along the shore, through woodland and between agricultural pastures.
This blog contains directions for the walk, together with a collection of observations.
Today was everything that is quintessentially reminiscent of my childhood in British springtime: bluebell woods and wild flowers by the path side.
I left at 11.20 and arrived at 4.20, but as my friend Ann said when she told me about this walk on Friday, it depends how many times you stop! I think I probably had half an hour at the cafe and half on the beach so I would allow 4 hours.
It was shorts-n-t-shirt weather.
Thanks to Kista for this quote onbeing.org
“The natural world is where we evolved.
It’s where our minds evolved.
It’s where we became who we truly are,
and it’s where we are most at home.”
– Michael McCarthy –
It starts among wasteland and industrial plots – either side of West Harbour Road.
Once away from the traffic, I saw a circle of gulls mimicking a mothers group, just out at sea; a pair of multi-coloured sparrow-small birds (red, black, brown and white) which played by the water line; eider ducks swam by – she brown and he black and white.
The little girl who held her mother’s hand was leaping for joy over the waves.
The tarmac way stretching from Granton through Silverknowes (1 mile) to Cramond is perfect for wheels of all sorts – scooters, roller skates and blades, prams, wheelchairs and bikes. Dad said, ‘look no hands’, and wobbled dangerously. As he passed me he muttered, ‘harder on this bike’!
It can be crowded at weekends at this stage, but at other times so very peaceful. As I passed, I caught the fragrance of elderflower and meadowsweet. The Edinburgh airport flight path is parallel to this trek so planes roared periodically overhead.
Past Gypsy Brae, I spied Almond House Lodge. At the corner you can cross to Cramond Island at low tide but beware! people often get stranded.
On the left are public toilets and then a steep slope up to the village. By now you will have passed two ice-cream vans. There are two cafes: the Cramond Gallery Bistro near where the Roman statue of a lionness was dredged up in 1977, and further on past the marina, the Cramond Falls cafe. There I stopped for a delicious green tea and what was not really a scone but nice cherry cake just out of the oven. I sat in the ‘walled garden’ listening to a woman read out a most distressing text from her son.
A duckling was nudged by its mother; a tan-headed crested grebe ducked and reappeared, its tuft upright though wet. Thin, shiny-green beech leaves seemed almost plasticy, matching the weed drifted in the river. The sound of bubbling water and the ‘creep creep’ of birds surrounded me.
One of a pair of women in serious sun hats were the first to say ‘good morning’, an hour and a half into my walk. She was American. ‘Oh’, she said as I went past, ‘I’ve been saying good morning all this time and it’s the afternoon!’ and laughed. Later there were many friendly families of cyclists cheerfully greeting me.
The path is generally very easy to follow, but do keep taking the right hand fork if you have a choice.
Take a right at Dowies Mill Lane where there is a playpark and Shetland ponies. I realised I was already at the field I was told about and, yes, there was an immediately newborn foal in a woman’s arms. Last week’s littl’un was being trotted round the field by mum. The two other adult horses were curious, and crowded round the shed door.
Then right again at Cramond Brig (bridge). (You could go left for the cycle path back to Edinburgh, or straight on for the continuation of the Almond Walkway).
After Bridge Cottage (above), go up the lane by the Cramond Brig Inn and keep right until there are signs to South Queensferry. The road travels through the Dalmeny Estate by a bank of comfrey, white dead nettle, dandelions, pink campion and buttercups. Flies looped the loop after each other in front of my nose. A cuckoo called; a bee buzzed by my ear; white cherry-blossom petals wafted.
Keep straight on.
Look to the right to see Granton’s very own disused gas building frame thing.
When when you get close to the sea take the left fork signed John Muir Way (JM Way).
A group of women came up behind me with their Glasgow accents. Actually, all day I heard almost as many foreign languages as I hear when walking in mainland Europe.
Turn left again at the beach. Here one can take a tiny right hand détour to lie on warm sand and sit on the promontory of Eagle Rock with its chocolate seams, in a beige cove. I looked back to my right at Cramond Harbour with a beautiful view of the island.
I meditated on the sound of the waves and tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore the fly crawling up my arm. I smelled the beautiful briney sea (sing-along-a Bedknobs and Broomsticks fans).
Oyster catchers, and curlews with long sabre-curved beaks perched on the starboard side.
At the cottages, stay right on the JM Way.
There was a coconut scent of warm gorse here. The ash trees had young leaves, no black nibs to decorate them now as it is April. I stopped and hung over the dinky wooden bridge and heard a bumble bee and the trickling brook.
The path continued beside the golf links, opposite the Fife Coastal Path.
Two geese flew over and honked. It is definitely spring – everything and everyone is in pairs. I will be honest, I want the whole world to be in love.
First I walked past the impressive Dalmeny House and very shortly afterwards, the grey stone Barnbougle Castle owned by the Earl of Rosebery and extremely private. This is where I saw my first magenta rhododendron buds. I was on cycle route 76 as well as the JM Way.
A great arc of precisely patterned oyster catchers alighted in front of the couple who sat quietly side-by-side at the shoreline. Later I spot them (the birds!) lined up neatly, a flock on a rock, like white cake icing.
I past a mum taking a snap of dad up a tree, son in his bike helmet looking up into the branches nervously. As I waded through springy undergrowth to get a shot, I disturbed spider filaments which clung to me and tickled as I got back to the path. There were cerise stalks and seed cases of the sycamore and pollen yellow clutch of unfurled ferns.
To my mind it was a shame about the yapping dogs on the beach and the droning of the water motorbikes; but a kid hurling stones, boys paddling and little girls rock pooling all seemed somewhat idyllic.
‘Do you trust me’ asked a lady’, shrilly? And then she laughed with a wicked stepmother sort of laugh. A black lab with a ruby, lolling tongue implied, ‘you might want to lie down but I want you to throw the stick’.
I passed out of the Dalmeny Estate through the Longcraig Gate at South Queensferry. If you do not want to walk the way I did, you can park at the foot of the rail bridge there and walk part of the way in the other direction. You could also take the train from Edinburgh to Dalmeny Town and cycle (£4.70 return with Scotrail).
A lad said, ‘Don’t you hate it when you get a speck of sand between your toes and then there’s a blister?’
Under the famous rail bridge I found myself on New Halls Road where perhaps 50 bikers with their beards and bald heads brummed their engines. I had a half of Holyrood pale ale in The Hawes Inn.
There are many steep steps to the station and tiny little signs. When you find yourself in the middle of a housing estate, go straight on (not right) and it is on the left. (I am not quite sure why I got a return except that my head is always ‘mince’ after a walk. The guard said if he had sold it to me on the train he could have refunded it!)
Perched high up on an ex-volcano (here’s hoping!) is Edinburgh’s second prime tourist attraction. With wonderful views over the city and the surrounding countryside as far as the Pentland Hills in the south and the Lomond Hills in the north, it is rather windy. Step inside to visit sparkling jewels and powerful weapons. Make sure you are nowhere near at 1pm unless you have your earplugs in – that is when they fire the enormous canon. Tip: book online to get a small reduction.
Set amongst spectacular grounds and with a peaceful Japanese Zen Garden, Lauriston Castle is on the banks of the Firth of Forth. There are daily tours to show off the sumptuous Edwardian interiors, and special events at Easter and Christmas. With free entry to the grounds, and castle admission being relatively cheap compared to Edinburgh Castle (adult £8, concession £6 (under 5 free)), it is worth taking the bus there and enjoying this elegant landmark. Tip: it is occasionally closed for functions so check before you travel.
This ruined castle was once a place where Mary Queen of Scots was sequestered for her own safety. Set a little way outside the city centre, you will need to take a bus (number 49 from the Bridges or Leith Walk, with a 13 minute walk at the other end). There are events in the grounds such as Medieval archery between July and September. Free to Historic Scotland members and children under 5; otherwise £3.60 (5-15 years) / £6 (adults). Tip: there is nothing much else in the area, so take your own sandwiches.
Tantallon is a semi-ruined, 14th century fortress in a spectacular setting featured in the film ‘Under the Skin’ with Scarlett Johansson. Walk the battlements and admire the Bass Rock, an island nearby which is a haven for seabirds, including puffins (you can take a boat trip there from the Sea Bird Centre in North Berwick). The quickest way is to take the train from Waverley Station to North Berwick and then get the 120 bus (from Dunbar to Edinburgh) with a 4 minute walk when you get off. Otherwise, this castle is best visited if you have the use of a car (it is an easy hour’s drive eastwards -very close to the A198 main road). Tip: make it a day out and visit North Berwick for fish and chips in the fresh sea air.
The hall-house part of Aberdour Castle was built in stone in the 1100’s, and you will discover it alongside later architectural additions (including a gorgeously painted wooden-beamed ceiling), a walled garden, and gay terraces. Located in Easter Aberdour, a pretty village in the Kingdom of Fife, this is a half day-trip from Edinburgh taking 30 minutes by train from Waverley Station, costing approximately £6 (Scotrail) and crossing the Forth with a fine sight of the new road bridge.
Or if you fancy a smart seafood lunch in the Room with a View restaurant followed by a walk along Aberdour beach for your digestion, you can make a whole day of it. Tip: St Fillan’s Norman church is close by and also worth a visit.
Wondering what the best Scottish visitor attraction is? Apparently it is the Royal Yacht Britannia at Ocean terminal in Leith, Edinburgh.
Craigmillar Castle is at Craigmillar Castle Road, Edinburgh, EH16 4SY. 0131 661 4445.
Tantallon Castle Opening times 1 Apr to 30 Sept: Daily, 9.30am to 5.30pm. Last entry 5pm.
1 Oct to 31 Mar: Daily, 10am to 4pm Last entry 3.30pm
A walk from the sea to the Castle!
It takes about an hour if you do not take photos, have a coffee, or stop to smell the flowers.
Then turn your back on the Firth of Forth (and the Kingdom of Fife across the water – see blog here) and take the road to your left, Granton Place for the first stage:
This short part of the walk will give you a glimpse of the Granton and Boswall residential areas and I am sure you will appreciate the number of green spaces and trees. At the end of Granton Place turn left. At the T junction turn right (small park ahead where people are sure to be playing with their dogs), and cross over so that you are next to its railings. Go round and up Boswall Drive on the right and past a small shop / post office on your left. (There are not many of these left in local places in the UK, so we are all very grateful to the family who keep it alive.) You will walk along this avenue of trees and houses, past another community pasture on your right, and Wardie Bowling Club, founded in 1930, opposite (Bowls: a peculiarly British pastime). Keep going up. If you are on a bicycle, you can go right at Boswall Avenue and join the cycle track at the end of the road on the left.
Otherwise, continue walking until you get to another T junction, this time with the busy main Ferry Road and turn left. Immediately think about crossing over because you will want to take Arboretum Road which is on the other side. However there is likely to be a lot of traffic and so you might prefer to walk along to the left until you get to the crossing at the top of Granton Road facing the church, and then walk back a little way.
Edinburgh Botanic Gardens and Inverleith Park
Now you will have the sports playing fields on your right (they might be playing cricket if it is a weekend) and you will start to head downhill, keeping straight, crossing a mini roundabout where you have a lovely choice: either walk through the hedge and into Inverleith Park:
Or on the left is the world famous Edinburgh Botanic Gardens where my kids and I spent many a happy day amongst the flowers, trees and sculptures come rain (there are extensive tropical glass houses) or shine.
This is a long road (it becomes Arboretum Place) but you can buy yourself a ice cream opposite the West Gate to the Gardens half way down to boost your energy levels.
Water of Leith
When you get to Inverleith Terrace on your left, cross over, and instead take Arboretum Avenue which is even more downhill because you are about to come to the Water of Leith, our city river (seen below, winter and Spring).
Quite soon take a hidden left turn (which if you carried on would take you past the lovely Glenogle Colonies (houses) to Cannonmills and Leith along the Water of Leith walkway). However, if you are carrying on into town to the Castle, take this opening but immediately afterwards open the gate on the right and go through to a tiny wooded path with the river on your left. At the end of the path is another gate (opposite the tennis courts) and you turn left out of there, walking on down to the end of that road where it joins Bridge Place (go left to the Colonies and the charming Glenogle swimming baths) veering right to come to the rather active Raeburn Place and Stockbridge.
Stockbridge is a lively part of Edinburgh: full of tasty cafe food (Patisserie Florentin, The Pantry, Soderberg); Saturday brunch (Hector’s); pubs (The Stockbridge Tap); excellent charity shops (Mary’s Living and Giving, the Oxfam book); and artisan gifts (Caoba, Sheila Fleet). Not to mention the famous Sunday Farmers Market. So here is a good location to stop, browse or sit and have a coffee.
So, you have now entered Raeburn Place between the two pubs mentioned above, and turned left past Sainsburys. Just over the bridge (past Pizza Express) on the left there are free public toilets (also not many of these now!) on Hamilton Place. At this junction / traffic lights on the right is an entrance onto the Water of Leith walkway which will take you to The Gallery of Modern Art (approximately 1 mile, 25 minutes) if you are so inclined.
But we are going uphill steeply now to the Edinburgh New Town, so walk through the shaded, sandy market place (to your left is NW Circus Place) and turn right onto Gloucester Lane into the…
Edinburgh New Town (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
This famous area of elegant Georgian houses stretches east-west on this north side of Princes Street and encompasses many delights.
Walk up Gloucester Lane and take the second on the right which is Doune Terrace. Faced with the garden, turn right onto Moray Place (below).
The road curves round and right onto Great Stuart Street, then left onto Ainslie Place (sounds complicated but it is not!). Now it is left again as you head up through a slightly busy traffic intersection between St Colme St and Glenfinlas Street. Go up Glenfinlas Street on the right there, and carry straight on by the side of Charlotte Square where there is a memorial of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, in the middle. Charlotte Square is the home of the annual Edinburgh Book Festival (11 – 27 August 2018) and the Georgian House owned by the National Trust for Scotland). If you are lost, ask for Charlotte Square as everyone knows where that is.
Keep straight, along Hope Street (Whighams Wine Cellar is on your left – you might need a glass of grape after all that climbing!), to the department store – House of Fraser and Cafe Nero – on the corner of:
Prince (not Princess) Street
where you will see – look upwards, slightly to the left and ahead of you –
Princes Street is our main shopping street with clothes, mobile phone, book and divers other shops on one side and, delightfully, Princes Street Gardens (I did tell you there were lots of ‘green spaces’ in this city!) on the right. It stretches all the way along and includes the National Gallery and the Scott Monument.
Do not go along to the right if you are still wanting the Castle. Rather, find your way right across this busy thoroughfare and go up Lothian Road (another landmark which everyone will know). Look right because you might just see a filmstar coming out of the Waldorf Astoria hotel! The Edinburgh International Film Festival is 20 June – 1 July 2018. On the left is the grand St John’s Episcopal church with St Cuthbert’s Church of Scotland behind it.
Going up Lothian Road, the first left comprises two streets: first, Kings Stables Road which takes you to the Grassmarket (a venue for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival (13 – 22 July 2018) with cafes, pubs, and designer clothes shops as well as a backpackers hostel and urban garden); and immediately afterwards, Castle Terrace which takes you where you want to go, ie the Castle.
As you walk all the way up Castle Terrace, you will get magnificent sights of the Castle. Take the steps (if you are still fit) on the left when you are almost there, and you will come out onto the Castle Esplanade with amazing views of Edinburgh, beyond and all around. It costs £18.50 (£17 in advance if you book online) and is full of jewels and weapons. You can walk around for free. Enjoy!
Here is a link to my centre of Edinburgh walk which starts at the Castle. It might be for another day!
If you want to return by bus, walk back down Castle Terrace, turn right onto Lothian Road, back to the House of Fraser department store which is at the top of Queensferry Street and on the left (beside the delicious pastries of Patisserie Maxime) you can take the #19 bus (£1.70 exact money) and get off at Granton Square where it is a short walk up Granton View on the right.
This blog has been written for my air bnb guests. If you have a smartphone, download the Granton View – Edinburgh Castle map before you start. Just in case you need extra directions.
More about the Grassmarket – the page takes a long time to load because of the many adverts, but there are also entertaining facts.
Saturday 20th January 2018.
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 Ching https://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.
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.
The sea was leaving its tracks behind.
Walking across these sands towards Bass rock was like my entry to Mont Saint Michel.
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.
Rutter’s setting of the Gaelic Blessing, ‘Deep peace of the running wave to you..’ http://www.amaranthpublishing.com/GaelicBlessing.htm
I have just come across this: ‘Walking clears your mind and feeds your soul #inpursuitofslow
Walk Highlands website: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/fife-stirling/east-wemyss-lower-largo.shtml
Wild Geese Sangha (meditation group), Edinburgh https://wildgeesezen.org/
Review of The Signature of All Things https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/06/signature-all-things-elizabeth-gilbert-review
Ladybank Golf Club, Annsmuir, Ladybank, Fife, KY15 7RA. Tel: +44 (0) 1337 830725 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Horse to Home Holidays facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Horse-to-Home-Holidays-184466762083175/
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.
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/
Late Winter / Early Spring 2017 / 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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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 (email@example.com).
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
What to take with you (and more helpful info.) for beginners.
Just to give you an idea of the context: I walked the Camino Francés (Spain) in October/November 2016, two thirds of the camino Via de la Plata / Sanabrés (Spain) in December 2016 and May 2017, and some of the randonnée GR223 (Normandy, France) also in May 2017, so you will deduce that I have walked in temperatures ranging from 20 to 41 degrees, in a relatively small area of Europe. I am under 5 foot tall (1.524 metres) and 7-and-a-half to 8-and-a-half stone (50-55 kilos). Take into account that I am female, just over 50 years old, and pretty fit with no injuries.
The basic recommendation is 10 percent of your weight, but given that many women’s weight varies according to time of month / day etc, and that you will undoubtedly lose weight as you walk, this is just a general guideline. It does not include water (1 to 2 litres depending on the weather and the route), nor food (only snacks are really necessary for a basic 6 hour walking day, except on a Sunday).
What sort of rucksack? I took a 44 kilo one which is easily big enough. Buy the strongest and lightest one you can afford, and you will have to have a cover for it. (Some people travel with nothing, or a laptop case with a toothbrush, but that’s extremely unusual.)
‘Each object a person carries represents a particular fear: of injury, of discomfort, of boredom, of attack. The “last vestige” of fear that even the most minimalist hikers have trouble shedding, he said, was starvation. As a result, most people ended up carrying “way the hell too much food”. He did not even carry so much as an emergency candy bar.’ M.J.Eberhardt, see below for link to Nimblewill Nomad.
So these are the ‘I absolute cannot do without’ items:
Boots or shoes: The first time I walked long distance, I wore second hand boy’s boots which a kind friend gave to me because her son had grown out of them. I did have blisters for a week or so but after that my feet got used to the walking and I was mostly fine. They got very wet very soon after it began to rain, and took a long time to dry.
For my second trip I bought light-weight, waterproof, Columbia shoes, and they were wonderful except that they went into holes after 3 months. Not a blister in sight.
When I went to colder climes, I wore heavy-duty Vibram (with gortex) boots, suitable for snow and big stones. One of the little metal bits on one side which the lace goes around broke off on the first day, but I was already many kilometres from the shop and they said I had to bring it or send it in, even though I sent a copy of the receipt and a photo. They have been supportive and comfortable pretty much from the start with the right socks (see below).
Foot cream: maybe antiseptic or anti-fungal, but definitely creamy cream is an absolute must. I was taught by my guardian angel of a companion on the Camino Francés to massage my feet every day before putting on my socks and shoes, and to do it again and air them well at night or when I stopped along the way. Vital!
Plasters (for blisters): preferably the special ones for all parts of your feet (heel, toes, balls), and I recommend the brand ones as the others come off after one day. A needle and thread – yes you heard right. Here’s why: thread the cotton through the needle and pierce the blister carefully with the needle. Draw the thread through the blister releasing the fluid (sorry!) and leave it there, removing the needle. Then tie a small knot and it should remain for a few days. The build-up of the fluid is the painful part, and this way that drains away whilst the skin remains almost in tact, allowing a new layer to grow underneath with the minimum of discomfort.
Passport and/or identity card, health card (to get free treatment in the EU, make sure it is up-to-date), and money: you may want one credit or bank card for emergencies (see below). I took a post office money card which, once I had worked out how to do it, I was able to quickly top up on my phone with euros.I also used it in big supermarkets and to pay for things over the phone/by internet like travel tickets. Paypal is also very useful if you have money in your account. Once again you can pay in £s or other currency. There are lots of cash machines on the Camino Francés and some on the other caminos. Banks are tricky because you have to be there when they are open and usually you will be walking during the morning and exhausted / too hot in the afternoon if they are open then, which they are not always.
Money: the Spanish caminos are cheap compared with France: allow 10 euros per night if staying at a hostel; coffee and tea are 1 euro each; the pilgrim menu is 6-10 euros; and supermarkets are basically cheaper than the UK. You will probably visit the supermarket every day as you will not want to carry food unless you have to (except for Sundays when everything is shut), and they are mostly geared to sell you one piece of fruit, one piece of fish, even eggs one at a time (watch the clever way they twist paper to make a carrying flute!).
By comparison France is really pricey, particularly accommodation, with the ‘auberges de jeunesses’ (youth hostels) being the cheapest. The ‘randonnee’ I walked was divided into stages but, in my experience, there were no cheap places to stay at the ends of those stages, not for backpackers.
Useful tip 1: for hostels/hotels make sure you research in advance for France and Norway.
Useful tips 2 and 3: Do not change money at the airport as it is very expensive, so take some currency with you from home. Neither should you use your ordinary bank debit or credit card unless you have checked before you go that you do not have to pay exorbitant charges for withdrawing money or paying in local currency. Many Spanish hostels will only accept cash.
Something to carry your important things in: I had a bum bag and liked it, but when it poured with rain everything got wet. My friend had a thick, flat plastic pouch round his neck, under the outer layer, and that was safe and stayed dry.
A ‘credential’, otherwise known as a pilgrim passport, which you can have stamped at every stop and will then present to the authorities in Santiago de Compostella so you can get your certificate of completion, your ‘compostella’.
A smart phone: I would suggest that you get the best phone you possibly can. One that
- fits in your pocket
- has as much internet capacity as possible (in the UK see ‘3’ for international packages and beware other companies who offer similar but which are geared to ‘normal’ holidays so are only valid for a month at a time)
- has the best camera you can afford (back up your photos eg with Google which is free and easy)
- has a torch
- has maps (also useful for bus and train times etc)
- has lots of space for apps (think guidebook app instead of a heavy Lonely Planet book, or specialist maps, airplane boarding passes, bus and other tickets, booking Bla Bla cars or accommodation, getting you out of trouble, making contact with home (or rescuers, or even new lovers)
- has a translation app
- has the capacity for writing notes as long as it is backed up (I write notes as I walk because I would not remember if not, but have been known to delete by mistake which is terrible ). You think you will remember everything but you probably won’t and so a notebook and pen or phone version may be invaluable
- has Spanish or other language lessons on it eg Duolingo
- is ‘big’ enough for downloading a film or book if you want.
A smaller, cheaper, old-style phone: I recommend you also take one of these, especially if you don’t have a contract on your smart phone which allows you to communicate outside your own country. You can buy a SIM card wherever you are and this will enable you to phone or text within that place. Also, if you lose it it isn’t the end of the world. The only problem I encountered was that one shop wanted a local address so my friend who lived there used his which caused problems when I wanted to top up. I suspect this wouldn’t always be the case.
A charger: I have had a great deal of luck with people lending or giving me a spare charger, and not much in buying cheap ones. You can charge your phone at all albergues (hostels) but if it is busy there will be a great deal of competition for the sockets, and although they are often by the beds they can also be in the kitchen or hallway instead. This means that you either need to stand beside the phone or trust that no-one will steal it – I didn’t hear of anyone having their phone stolen.
Useful tip 4: In Madrid you can get phone accessories in vending machines so you do not have to wait for shops to open. The quality seems to be good.
Useful tip 5: Always set a password or pass pattern on your phone so that others cannot open it.
Useful tip 6: You can charge your phone while waiting at bus stations. The sockets are at elbow height in the semi-outdoor parts of the buildings. You can also charge and get wifi on all intercity Spanish buses (eg Alsa).
An adaptor for 2-pin plugs: depending on where you are coming from and are travelling to, there are expensive international adaptors which are good if you are going all around the world, otherwise it is cheaper to get a 3-to-2 pin. You will only need one if you only have one gadget!
A wrap: I would not be without this large pink piece of cloth which doubles as a scarf, something to sit on, something to wear when visiting churches or at the mass in Santiago out of respect, a pillow, a cover-up…invaluable.
A sleeping bag or sheet: it depends on the time of year you will be walking and where. In the summer on the Spanish caminos you will not need a sleeping bag, but do take a sheet bag (I doubled over a single sheet lengthways and sewed the edges together), or buy a silk one. They stop you getting bitten in the hostels and keep you warm in the early hours or if the windows are open. In the late Autumn you will need a proper sleeping bag and if you can afford it, get a light-weight but warm one as they pack very small.
A light-weight travel towel: it dries really easily and is worth investing in if possible.
A torch: a head one is very useful if you walk in the dark, ie you might want to leave before sun-up in summer to avoid the heat of the day, and it leaves your hands free. You might manage with a phone torch to avoid the weight though.
Useful tip 7: You can buy replacement batteries easily, so don’t take them with you from home as they are very heavy. Or you could use an eco- wind-up one.
Camera: one person I know buys a cheap one before every trip so as not to carry a big heavy one or risk losing it or having it stolen. I would rather have one piece of equipment so my preference is to get a phone with the best camera I can afford, but I accept that often real cameras are better quality.
Pockets in my shorts: – one for water, one for phone and toilet paper. If you choose to have a water bottle attached to your rucksack with a tube to souk on, you would have a pocket free (see below). If you wear shorts without pockets, well, you decide, but if you take as many photos as me you will be wanting to have the camera on hand.
Useful tip 8: when you are on the path you will not want to keep taking your rucksack on and off unless you really have to because it is unwieldy. You would have to undo and do up, and then probably readjust all the straps, and you do want your hands free for the baton(s), or to swing your arms to keep the circulation going, or to hold hands with someone special.
Poles, batons or walking sticks: I walked the whole Camino Francés without one. Then I was gifted one and used it for the more tricky terrain of the end of the Via de la Plata / Sanabrés and was very glad to have it. BUT. Then I lost it and although I bought another one for the next trip, I also lost that one. SO…
Useful tip 9: Tie your baton(s) to your rucksack or boots when you stop, and at night so you do not leave them anywhere. I bought a children’s one from Go Outdoors for £5 which was fantastic, but then again, I am very short.
A map or guide book: well, it depends. The Camino Francés is very well signposted and whatever time of year you walk it there will be plenty of other people to help you find your way. Some people use theirs for a record, write notes in it and keep it for posterity. Others ceremoniously tear out the pages each night, as a sign of completion and to lighten their load. It is useful for albergues and other places to stay, and many are very well researched and have lots of interesting information. On the other hand there are also fantastic apps. Or you could wing it. As for the other caminos in Spain or elsewhere, in retrospect I would say get a book or app, but you will manage, especially if you speak some of the local language. People love to help even if they do not really know or understand you, so be prepared to be sent in the wrong direction sometimes!
Your specs and/or contact lenses and cleaning fluids if you use them. Sun glasses (whatever time of year).
2 x knickers or boxers (cotton, easy-dry material)
2 x bras if you wear them – it is nicer not to, many don’t
3 x socks double layer ones come highly recommended but they are expensive. Or wear one lovely soft, easy-dry pair underneath with a second pair on top which won’t need washing every night. You will need others in case your usual ones are still wet in the morning, and another pair if it is cooler in the evenings or for bed.
Useful tip 10: Do not wear wet socks!
1 x easy-dry T shirt and one other light top for evening that doesn’t need ironing and doesn’t crease.
1 x fleece, preferably light but warm with a hood to avoid the need for a warm hat. Note that walking by the coast along a linear walk (eg along the Normandy coast or the Camino del Norte) means that there could be a strong breeze in one ear day after day.
1 x sun hat or cap (it is better to have a hat so that the back of your neck as well as your ears and face are shaded). Also a warm hat if you do not have a hood.
1 x light, easy-wash and -dry trousers if you don’t want to get sun burn, bitten or scratched. 1 x other pair of trousers – not jeans as they are normally heavy and even heavier if wet. A belt because you will get smaller!
Useful info: even if you don’t wear your jeans to walk in, your whole rucksack may get soaking wet and then you will still have to dry them and they take days.
1 x rain trousers and 1 x rain poncho / jacket. Make sure they are not just for light showers because if it rains all day everything will be wet through. Hopefully they will pack up very small.
Gloves: you might not need them but they are very small and light. I did wear them in the mornings in late November / December and once at night.
Useful reminder: if you are arriving by air and planning to take your rucksack on the plane, you can only take 100 ml per tube, bottle or pot, and all that has to fit in one very small plastic bag which seals, about the size of a small freezer bag. This includes all sorts of foodstuffs such as marmite and tahini. Neither can you take sharp things, so this also goes for nail clippers or scissors, pen knife and body hair razor.
You may also want:
- a cream for between the buttocks /thighs or in the groin if you are male. All that chaffing…!
- Sun tan lotion. Toilet paper or tissues. Toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Condoms. The ‘pill’ if you are pre-menopausal and that’s what you usually use.
- Hair ties are very small and light and you will probably want to keep your hair off your face if it’s hot.
- Panty liners, sanitary towels etc. You can buy certain brands along the way.
- Find a joint shampoo / conditioner / soap (there is rarely soap in hostels).
First aid: Antiseptic, sprain and bruise cream. I recommend natural calendula for cuts and rashes which also covers sun burn, and arnica (bruises, bumps), or Rescue Remedy cream for the same as arnica plus bites. Rescue Remedy for emergencies for you and others. Mosquito stuff. Any medications you usually take (order more before you leave home), and bring a repeat prescription just in case.
Utensils and food stuffs: A pan which doubles as a carrying pot, a tupperware for left-overs and freshness (bread, soft fruit, opened packets of biscuits, chocolate which might melt), knife/fork/spoon, salt/pepper/spices, water bottle(s), and green tea bags (obviously!).
Talking about rain, I happened to have a newspaper in the bottom of my rucksack (quite heavy in the scheme of things, but fortuitous) the day it rained and it soaked up the worst, whereas my friend’s things all got very wet.
A carrier bag or a small light rucksack: for shopping/evening or sightseeing when the big one is in the hostel but you still need something.
Notebook and pen: if you are not using your phone, and /or a sketch pad and pencil.
‘Shaving down one’s pack weight, he said, was a process of sloughing off one’s fears.’ M.J.Eberhardt, see below for Nimblewill Nomad link.
The thing I forgot and wish I hadn’t: a small plastic bottle to fill with delicious Spanish olive oil.
And you will probably be happy to have these with you:
- Earplugs. Some dormitories are vast and in busy periods they are therefore noisy.
- One of those half circular blow-up cushions for plane / bus / car journeys when you might want to shut your eyes. And some like an eye mask.
- Clothes pegs – very light and easy to find little tiny spaces for.
- A corkscrew (or just buy screw-top wine and ring-pull beer), and a cup.
- A swimming costume – there were several times I wanted one. Even when I remembered it on my second trip, I sent it back and then wished I hadn’t!
Think very carefully if you really need these:
- A book or kindle: It depends on you. Both weigh quite a bit and personally I have not read much while on the road or seen others read. Many hostels have shelves of free books which you can pick up, read and then swap for another further along the route.
Please note that I have no experience of tablets or other phone alternatives, but do try to keep the number of appliances to a minimum.
- A wrist watch: your phone will probably do, and your tissues / flesh swells as you walk, plus there’s the sun and sweat. I found it was a nuisance.
- Same with jewellery, especially rings – they all came off and then had to be stored carefully to make sure they didn’t get lost.
- Make-up, hair straighteners, drier etc – I would say unnecessarily bulky and inappropriate but you know your self. If you need these things you might prefer to be in a private hostel as they have more amenitities for a slightly higher price.
- 1 x long skirt for walking: stops you getting your legs burned but I would recommend that you wear light shorts or boxers underneath. You will have to hitch it up for steep climbing eg Galicia on the Camino Francés.
- A coat, jeans, woollen jumper or cardi: they are all heavy and hot (even if the weather isn’t great, you will get very hot when walking), they get sodden and are then extremely hard to dry, plus bulky in the rucksack.
- Washing powder or liquid for clothes: you can easily use soap. And a clothes line.
You can send things home relatively cheaply, many people do: I met an English man who had bought his guitar to Spain with him, and he was on the way to the post office to send it home!
Before you go, write down what you know of your itinerary, especially if you will be in the wild or possibly without phone signal. Leave it with someone – just in case something happens and they need to know where you are.
Don’t get attached to your belongings! You will probably leave things in the fridge, or forget them in cafés, or want to swap them for a bottle of wine. They are only things. Walking the caminos can help you with perspective.
Finally, always remember that you will not be very far from shops most of the time. Do some research of your route before you leave, but the caminos in Spain and the randonnées in France are near civilisation, at least every few day, so you can buy most things. You will be surprised what you can do without, source from other walkers, substitute, or find lying around.
There is loads of good advice here: https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/threads/
Bottle holders range from £2 for a simple device you can hang your bottle on to £55 for a hydration vest (rather hot I should think).
Julia’s video of a useful bit of rucksack equipment: https://www.facebook.com/groups/278641215924452/permalink/321123008342939/
26th January 2107 – An aside!
Most people in Edinburgh live pretty close to some green space* – a patch of grass for dog walking, a play-park for children (and teenage smokers), or the grander Holyrood Park with its famous Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. Underneath, well, at a lower level than the roads, is where the network of railways used to run, and much of that is now an intricate, and, let’s face it, often very confusing, myriad of cycle paths. But, we are very lucky to have them.
On a very chilly morning, when my phone said it was -2 degrees at 8.30am, I set off through Trinity for a meeting with wise Jenny. There’s a new Sculpture Workshop cafe, Milk, at the Newhaven end, offering welcome hot drinks and scones, and they have blankets for the very cold weather, which is nice touch.
Three hours later, when the edges of the leaves still had white around them, I spontaneously chose not to return home on the pavements, but to take the path less travelled (know that poem by Robert Frost? see below for link), and I discovered that nature is at it again, preparing for spring.
Walking engenders trust, because every step I take is a reassurance that the earth is steady underneath me. And when I walk in nature, I notice that it changes, and that those changes are cyclical, reliably so. And if I keep on doing that walking, I become reassured without even knowing it. Today is a reminder of that – all around me is shiny and green. Look carefully and the bluebells and snowdrops are poking their heads through! Whatever I do, good or bad, the seasons shift regularly, and the ground is still there when I put my weight down onto it.
Walking is quiet, so the wildlife doesn’t know I am coming, and I am startled by a bird flashing out of the undergrowth; a squirrel makes a courageous leap across the path and lands on the thinnest of branches above my head, sweeping and dipping backwards and forwards and up and down, as it tries to regain its footing and run towards the trunk. It manages to save itself from plunging onto the tarmac in front of me. Just.
Traffic noise is in the background and thank goodness for that. I take an involuntary deep breath, and hear melodic birdsong, and a repeated shussh rustly sound, as if something is falling through the bushes beside me. It’s a mystery what’s caused it.
I saw a wren, yes, an actual wren, – so unusual that it must be a blessing. It was fluttering in the fetid-looking, standing-water in the sunshine. Except it can’t be fetid because then I see a lady blackbird, and a sparrow, and they are doing the same thing, so they must know better, and be on to a good thing.
A lot of the cycle path is in the shade in winter, but there are patches of sunlight, and that reveals badger setts. The black ice sometimes stays on the path all day long and my bike has skidded in the past, tipping me unceremoniously and painfully over. It can be dangerous in other ways: two of my daughter’s friends were mugged a few years ago on another section, and so I am repeatedly warned against walking on these ways at dusk.
Like the Camino, there’s a sense of a community along this network, with political or family-day-out posters on lighting poles. There is evidence of little kindnesses along the way: a rubbish bag that someone has put out to limit the mess, which is regularly emptied; a baby hat picked up and hung on a railing just in case someone comes back to look for it.
There are runners, buggies, and sometimes both – mums and dads running with the push-chair; there are bikes, some side-by-side chatting as they ride; there are single and multiple dogs (now that there’s a rise in people who go house-to-house collecting the canines for walkies while their owners are out at work); there are young and old; commuters; and sightseers with sunglasses and binoculars. The other day I was overtaken by a ‘proper’ walker, with a backpack, striding purposefully with poles; and there are folk on the way back from Morrisons with their shopping.
I walk on the tiny strip of grass by the side, and feel-hear a familiar, hollow sound underfoot. Not the clatter of my shoe on the hard surface, or the thud I get when I walk on the grass under the trees on Boswell Drive, but as if there’s space underneath the icy ground. And it’s springy.
For an hour I walk, and I am unaware of the news, or my day-to-day worries. When I walk, news becomes surprisingly unimportant. Walking and feeling the ground solid underneath me then seems to help me write about what is real, not imagined. ‘Soon’ writes Frédéric Gros, ‘you have lost all knowledge of the world and its gymnastics’. p.81/82 in A Philosophy of Walking.
*Study by Catharine Ward Thompson et al 2013: ‘Contact with green space in the environment has been associated with mental health benefits, but the mechanism underpinning this association is not clear. This study extends an earlier exploratory study showing that more green space in deprived urban neighbourhoods in Scotland is linked to lower levels of perceived stress and improved physiological stress as measured by diurnal patterns of cortisol secretion.’ http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/10/9/4086/htm
The Path Less Travelled by Robert Frost, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/44272
Edinburgh Cycle Paths http://www.cycling-edinburgh.org.uk/bike-paths.htm
Milk cafe http://www.cafemilk.co.uk/sculpture-workshop/