St Monans to Kingsbarns

Saturday 2nd February 2019 (one year since the last leg of the journey). 26kms (16 miles)

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After last weekend’s walk on the Berwickshire Coastal Path I was aware of the short day-light at this time of year, so I set out in the dark with a rucksack that I found upstairs looking like it had never been used, telling myself:

  • It’s going to be harder than you think it’s going to be
  • You never know what’s going to happen

Slowly the sky lightened as I trundled through the countryside on the train from Edinburgh to Kirkcaldy, a blue glow over the misty fields. My phone registered one degrees.

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The majestic Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy, Fife

The X60 Stagecoach from Bennochy Road (close to Kirkcaldy railway station) dropped me off by the entrance to the Holiday Park with its puffin sign on the outside of St Monans and the memorial to George Hutchison 1945-90.

Time flies, Shadows fall, Love is forever, Over all.

By 10am I had walked through it and down the steps to the mirror clear water of the salt pans, the mini windmill, and onto the beach.

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On the sea side of the Holiday Park, St Monans, Fife
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The first of the salt pans where ‘at the end of the 18th century the dirty, smokey process of salt-making went on around the clock’ (public notice), St Monans, Fife

I heard the sea before I saw it as there was no wind. Somebody was ahead of me, somebody behind me.

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The windmill, another tangible reminder of the salt production industry, St Monans, Fife
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The remains of the St Monans pan houses where 6-8 tons of coal was needed to produce 1 ton of salt. Fife

Like last weekend, white waves rolled over themselves, but there were no cliffs just flat, jagged rocks the colour of sandstone. Closer to the water they were black, etched deeply, at right angles to the land making little coves of apricot sand. A yellow gorse bush was tucked under the eroding edge. A pair of mallards drifted, and the air was very still with the smell of smoked fish.

Big white birds perched on the outcrop and, looking closely, almost hidden, black-on-black, large dark ones as well, one standing up and opening its wide wings: cormorants.

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Water sliding over the rocks, slippery with weed in shades of teal
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The constant sound of the waves as the tide came in

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I could see Pittenweem’s orange roofs ahead but it was too early for a stop. I was hoping to find somewhere to buy something to eat later on though, as a picnic with my flask of (not very hot) Jasmine tea.

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The approaching view of Pittenweem, Fife

A bunch of friendly ladies all dressed in pink and purple left strong wafts of perfume as they chattered by, each saying ‘morning’ to me.

I had expected a cold bright sunny day like yesterday, but it was dull instead so I could not see into the distance and it was warmer as a result.

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Here the stink of seaweed was palpable and friendly dog walkers were out and about. Pretty cottages, all marled in pale hues – beige, pumpkin, baby blue and the odd lavender – line the harbour. Wood smoke hung in the air and as I passed a bicycle decorated with scallop shells I wondered if it was owned by a fellow camino walker.

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In Pittenweem I could have tasted ice cream or supped on fish and chips, drank a dram at the Larachmhor Tavern or admired the arts and antiquities off to the left. Were the toilets open? Yes, and well supplied – warm, light and clean – excellent as public facilities go. What I couldn’t spot was a food shop. Pittenweem is an active harbour, however it being the winter months, the Dory Bistro and Gallery was shut and there were few people around considering it was a Saturday morning.

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Pittenweem harbour, Fife

Coming out of the village, I noticed that there were not many wild flowers – one or two orange marigolds (calendula) and a few with tiny dandelion-like heads to a stalk. The path goes along the back of what look like holiday cottages. Here pink mallow in someone’s garden, there a pinky-purple hebe, otherwise not much colour at this time of year.

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Found poetry: soar alba / free Scotland scrawled in Gaelic, and ‘bee (sic) happy’ written in shells on the rocks

I was walking higher up now above the sea and behind a fence. Down below, right by the shoreline were man-made concrete blocks, presumably the remains of WW2 battlements or look-out towers. On my other side were well manured and beautifully ploughed dark brown fields.

The cropped green of the well manicured links (golf course) contrasted with the improvised yellow lichen of the fence posts.

A cormorant’s proud neck and head were at right angles to its body and suddenly it dove down amongst the tumultuous waves.

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Then I too was right down by the beach, enjoying the lovely gentle colours of the rocks – threads of khaki and caramel with carmine underneath and black above.

Sparrows trotted along with pointy beaks dabbing amongst the blades. A single cormorant flew past, neck reaching, its body the shape of a black cigar remaining dead parallel to the sea, while both black wings flapped up and down simultaneously.

I passed a big group of hikers, some of them properly dressed to tackle the north face of the Eiger. A castellated tower had a list of names below it; a war memorial.

As I entered Anstruther I spotted a street labelled ‘Formerly Witches Wynd’. I thought wryly, that’ll be before they killed them then!

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The Dreel Burn, Anstruther, Fife

A nearby sign read: ‘James V travelled incognito through Fife as the ‘Guid Man o’Ballengiech’, coming to the Dreel Burn and fearful of wetting his hose, he was carried across at this point by a stout gaberlunzie (beggar) woman, who was rewarded with the king’s purse.’

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Shell House, Anstruther

Around an extremely sharp and very dangerous bend with no pavement, was more coquille Saint-Jaques decorating a house and the Dreel Halls with a lot to see – the church architecture, its graveyard and various monuments and inscriptions.

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Concealing a casket, Dreel Halls, Anstruther, Fife

Around the glass the inscription reads: There is a stone coffin which has stood exposed to the injuries of the weather in the churchyard. Tradition says it once contained the relics of St Adrian. Time immemorial.

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Written on the stone is a poem about God:

‘…He drops into the kirk, and sits as sunlight on a rear pew. It is warm, the sermon’s mighty long.  He sucks a mint and dozes…’

Taken from ‘In Anster’, engraved on a stone in the yard, by Andrew Greig, 2013 who grew up in the town.

The path takes walkers into the town but remember to take a right turn at the wee shop, walking between the A & A Stores and The Bank hotel! The path turns quickly to the right down a very narrow wynd back to the sea.

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At the harbour there is the ubiquitous fish bar plus a post office, cash point and the Scottish Fisheries Museum (shut but the cafe was open and there were eco toilets that I have never seen before where the water for cleaning your hands fills the cistern after use).

You can learn about the desperate outcome of a collision in 1918 between submarine troops on an exercise who, due to the wartime blackout, collided with minesweepers, leaving 108 dead.

This is where one can take a trip to the Isle of May during the summer months.

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Teasal plants and an orange glow to the horizon where you can see the Island of May

Islands of the Forth

Anstruther is an extensive town made up of 3 or 4 boroughs (depending on which source you consult). It was bustling, and I happily spotted the elegant hostel where I would be spending the night.

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The Murray Library Hostel, Anstruther. I gave it 5 stars

Nearby was an artisan bakery where I treated myself to an expensive packet of thick and chunky cheese oatcakes (made, so the board informed, of ‘Anster cheese crafted by Jane Stewart’) which came in very handy for the remainder of the trip (ie I ate them for breakfast, lunch and tea!)

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They were also selling traditional Scottish fare!

A wee way along was Cellardyke Harbour (known locally as Skinfast Haven created in  1452) with washing lines beside it. I sat down and supped my tea.

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The Plough and the Reaper, Marion Smith. Anstruther, Fife
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Cellardyke harbour where there are washing lines to dry your clothes
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I sat a while here, looking out to sea and having a snack, Cellardyke, Fife

Oooh weep, oooh weep – big crowds of curlew with their long thin, curvy beaks. A stretch of uneven grassy path and it was definitely sniffly weather. A couple trundled ahead of me; the sea rolled and crashed close to my right shoulder; and then a kissing gate which I really had to squeeze through because I never want to take the rucksack off when I have got it comfy and settled on my back.

The high point of the day were the rocks. Sandy to the touch and with amazing colours, stripes, indentations, wave patterns and all manner of other shapes that you could make stories up about. I stood underneath them and looked up to the sky and out to the sea. There was something very powerful about the place.

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The colours (the camera did not do them justice)…
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… and patterns of these rocks amazed me
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Partly eroded, they create fantastic shapes, …
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… holes and arches to crane through

More cormorants seemed mammoths compared to the orange-legged oyster catchers beside them up to their knees at the water’s edge.

 

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Taken with the zoom, this photo is blurred and no cormorants, but you can identify the oyster catchers paddling and, on a rock on the right, a lapwing
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The land tapering into the sea in the distance
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The Coastal Path sign warns of danger!
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Climbing up I snapped a bird in flight – there isn’t much uphill on this stretch

A stony beach meant that the withdrawing waves cause the rocks to clatter against each other and tufty puffs of white foam rise high between rocks. What’s left of the water in the pools had the setting sun reflected in them, even though it looks as though it’s way over to the horizon and nowhere near overhead.

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The sea was active, crashing and washing over the rocks

It was 1 o’ clock and I was already starting to feel tired and slightly anxious about the evening, a bit cranky as I came into Crail!

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Crail, Fife

I lost the signs and asked a couple who directed me back the way I had come and they recommended the Golf Hotel where I duly stopped for a cup of tea and some ‘rocky road’. Report: very nice waitress, very slow service, not my sort of place.

Once out there was a clear sign downhill to the sea – I must have needed that boost!

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Crail coat of arms, Fife. The panel reads. ‘Restored and given new life by The National trust for Scotland’ but if you search their site they have no results for this village!
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Sauchope Caravan Park, Fife

Roome Bay was next and caravan site #3: Sauchope Links. There is lots of space for visitors with little huts, white yurts with little chimneys coming out of the side and a swimming pool. One larger dwelling had a hot tub on its balcony, and overall it could not be closer to the sea. Like a spotlessly clean small village, everything is well kept and perhaps because only a few are inhabited at this time of year it seemed soulless.

Out to the ocean, I watched while banks of water gathered, dark on the forward slope, white bubbles teetering on the edge before crashing down and running into the bay. Sometimes when you think you get to the top of a mountain it turns out to be a false summit, and this was the same: that long wave was all over until it turned out that it wasn’t and there was another edge, and another beyond that, and…

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I looked at them and they looked at me!

My attention was attracted by baah and the sheep’s great thick ruffs of coat bunched up around their necks. When they have their heads down it looks as if you might be able to extend them, opening up those folds like a concertina.

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Kilminning Coast Wildlife Reserve, Fife and more rock stacks
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Symmetrical square and rectangular chunks lined up in a row

The massive rocks were sometimes triangular but never curved, gravity having squashed down the layers of the land. Even the vertical cuts and breaks were all at right angles.

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3pm saw me rounding the tip by the lighthouse and the Fife Ness bird watching hide

A little further on there were some demure cottages, more caravans and golf links. It was darkening now. The birds were in clusters and from a distance they looked as jaggedy as the rocks at very corner, battered by the waves, like dinosaurs’ backs across the peach sand to the sea.

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The odd quack came from ducks all settled down comfortably on the pungent seaweed interspersed with a squawk of ravens. As the cormorants were standing with their wings open but there was no sun, I could only conclude that they too were having hot sweats and needing to cool down!

Constantine’s Cave is just here. According to tradition, King Constantine I was killed in this place after a battle with Dubhghall (‘dark foreigners or Danes’) in 874.

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I was nervous of being stranded by the sea at night, so I took a left before I got to Cambo Ness. Although Kingsbarns village is covered up by a panel of writing on the Coastal Path map for stage 5, I had researched in advance and knew I could get a bus from there. I found my way across the corner of the golf course and up the beginnings of a small road where I spied a lit window where a woman was washing up. She kindly came to the door and advised me it would be quicker to stay by the sea. However, she is familiar with the area and I was not, so I took off up the farm track, through the yard, and narrowly missed the bus by about 3 minutes as it thundered past on the main A917. Then I had to do what she said I would and walk at the side of a very busy road, initially with no pavement, and into Kingsbarns by the church where I waited nearly half an hour for the 95 bus.

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I thought it looked like a member of the KKK!

Back I went to Anstruther and to the Murray House Hostel which I had seen earlier. The French hospitalier was extremely helpful and let me practice my French. The communal rooms are large, and I was put with the other solo woman Coastal Path walker in a 4-bed (usually more expensive) dorm which was very kind. Cost £14 (not including breakfast). I was told that I had to sample the famous fish and chips at the Anstruther Fish Bar and Restaurant which I dutifully did – I gave it 4 stars! The hostel has a very decent kitchen and a supermarket is not far away so there’s no need to eat out. Do book the hostel in advance during this time of year though, as it will open for 2 or more people but may be shut if you turn up on spec.

I had a very good, long sleep to prepare me for an early start to stage 6 the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lundin Links to St Monans

Sunday 21st January 2018 Lundin Links to St Monans, Fife Coastal Path, Scotland

This is the second day of a winter walking weekend. Here is the sister blog!

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Acres of caravans for the pickers, polytunnels reduced to skeletons

At 9.30am I left my air bnb with numb feet. Snow was on the ground, there was a pink sky, and almost no-one else about.

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Largo Law now in the morning light
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It turns out that Silverburn Park is not a secret Garden as I thought last night!

I walked briskly between ploughed fields towards the sea, across the main road and through the park. Past the sweet wee red brick cottages (not open on Sundays) I went and met the first lot of dog walkers including a woman in high heels with her breakfast hot chocolate.

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By time got to the beach (10.15am) my toes were all but thawed but I was walking slower than usual on account of a dodgy left knee. Joggers went past and dogs were constantly barking and disturbing my peace.

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Another of Fife’s sublime beaches

The tide was way out revealing water with a smooth metallic look about it. It was the light catching the shallows sands which was so beautiful. Wind was on my right cheek today, rather than heat, as I made my way eastwards along the coast.

Mountain bikers took the path well trodden. I went across streets which were treacherously icy with puddles deeply frozen, and the only sign of the sun was the pink rim on the eastern horizon.

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I never pass up a wee swing

As I swung forwards I surveyed the changed shoreline with its diagonal black rocks familiar from stage 2. Then straight on I went, past the orange house where a white-haired saunterer in shorts returned from getting the morning paper. Readers of my blog know that I love my shorts but not in this weather!

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Lower Largo

Lower Largo is a very pretty village with brightly painted doors and model yachts in windows.

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Here is Alexander Selkirk, view haloo! Lower Largo

Alexander Selkirk, mariner, is the original Robinson Crusoe, who lived in solitude on the island of Juan Fernandez for 4 years and 4 months.

It has to be said that it was all a little bleak this morning with only a weak sun.

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The Fife Coastal Path

Multi-coloured rocks and bright green pebbles with shiny brown seaweed and opaque glass pieces could be found along the shore. Oyster catchers were peeping and others trilling. A couple held hands and battered shells littered the ground.

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It was a hard walk in a good stretch of nature. I saw a couple of thrushes and a tall, friendly man with a ruddy face. His long-legged red setter had a neon tennis ball clamped in its jaws as we crossed the Dumbarnie Links Nature Reserve. Here there were raven-esque, empty mussel caskets (I was directly opposite the town of Musselburgh!) and I felt melancholy.

It was what I call wonky walking where one of my feet is on higher ground than the other. The strand stretched out ahead and while gulls swooped, black and white waders dipped orange beaks.

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Berwick Law in East Lothian to the south, was snow covered too. Here was only one other human in sight. There seemed to be miles of those lumpy sea creatures’ corpses, all rubbery, and simply trillions of shells on their way to becoming sand creating quite a different crunch underfoot compared with the ice and snow.

To follow this part of the coastal path, just keep walking along the beach before a long line of dark green trees with appear across your view. Then you will see a sign to the left heralding a change of terrain.

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Shell Bay: evergreens signal a change of landscape, Fife Coastal Path
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Between bleached grasses, round and over the peedie bridge
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Brilliant clear air and the stillest of waters makes for magnificent reflections
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A World War II look-out post  – what a cold job that must have been!

Up and over the cliffs runs the way, some roughness and muddyness, steep but not very high. Sadly I missed the part where there is a chain to climb up. Apparently people have died so on second thoughts that was probably a good thing, although being me I would have liked the challenge.

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Earlsferry Beach, Fife, Scotland

Around 1.30pm I arrived at Elie beach with its yellow brown sand and a headless seal. People were foraging for cockles and a feathered wren hopped by my side.

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Cove after cove was made of delicately hued sands

The next urbanisation, Earlsferry, seemed to be a well-to-do area with mansion turrets and BMWs all over the place.

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Earlsferry Church, dated 1872, Fife, Scotland

There is a library and care home but no shops or pubs. The sky was fair lowering (getting dark – looks like rain!) and I was getting hungry, so I took a detour until I spied a golf club and the Pavillon Cafe which was busy. What incredible luck as ever!

Inside I not only found warmth, hot victuals and a distinct lack of wind, but I unexpectedly spotted a familiar face. I ordered my food and said ‘Hi’ to a colleague from long ago. We struck up a conversation and with true kindness he and his partner announced that they lived in St Monan’s (my destination) and asked if I would like to stay the night. I gratefully accepted because I had nowhere booked and transport back to Edinburgh from small Fife villages is hard to find on a Sunday evening. I declined a lift though, and made my way back out into the slightly rainy and dull afternoon (3.15pm) with a cosy tummy and glowing heart.

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From the evocatively named Ruby Bay (pink sand), Fife, Scotland
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Elie Ness Lighthouse Tower, Fife, Scotland
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Lady Janet Anstruther’s Tower, Fife, Scotland

There’s a great story here about Lady Janet’s sea bathing!

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Ruins, Fife Coastal path, Scotland

The last stretch is full of interest : a lighthouse and a palace, two castles (Newark and St Monans), divers ruins and a famous church (but it was too dark for a photo).

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Lady Janet Anstruther’s Tower, Fife, Scotland

With wilder, darkening waves pounding I walked through pinkish bracken and I approached St Monans around the fields, arriving as the day the darkened at 5pm.

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What a pretty village! I was really taken with it.

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Here is the wellie garden, St Monans, Fife
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Typical architecture with outside steps up to pink doorwars, St Monans, Fife
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My camera cannot cope with the dark, but the colours and reflections were worth reproducing here. St Monans, Fife

I am told that the East Pier Smokehouse is well worth a visit, however it is shut between October and June. There is famous parish church and a Heritage Collection. The hotel I saw was also shut in the winter months so it’s a good thing there are air bnb’s nowadays and Margaret’s sounded great when I made enquiries. I was lucky and stayed with J and J whom I had fortuitously met earlier and had a lovely evening and comfy bed.

I travelled back by car with J to Kirkcaldy station across the flat lands as dawn revealed another wintry sky. Then we got the train to Waverley Station in Edinburgh. To get back to Edinburgh from St Monans by bus would cost £10 with a change at Leven and it takes ages.

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Sometimes when I walk I crunch, sometimes my footsteps thud on the grass or whisper on sand. Occasionally there is a rumble of small stones or snap of stick, splinter of ice, even hollow bump into the peat or squelch because of the wetness. These things I notice as I walk the paths of Fife early in the year.