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/