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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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