Teo to Santiago de Compostella: Portuguese Camino

October 2nd 2019. The final leg of the Portuguese Camino de la Costa or Caminho da Costa from Porto in Portugal to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. 125 kms in total, today was a walk of approximately 15 kms.

St James, patron Saint of the Camino, holding his staff and sitting in a little nook on the side of the Capela do San Martino near the cross, Cruceiro de Rua de Francos, near Teo, Galicia

Retracing my steps from the night before, I left the albergue at Teo at 7.45am and began the last leg of this Portuguese camino. It was misty, cold and the path went steeply up. Thankfully the weather cleared later. I had to take painkillers for my foot for only the second time on this way. It didn’t hurt when I was sitting down – a clear message.

Lugar de la Grela with roof crosses typical of the region, Galicia

Overall, this way into Santiago de Compostella is hilly and it was hard going, however it was lovely countryside. I breathed in the fresh air before entering the city.

We hiked forested paths, up and down hills, crossed rivers and railways, passed shopping centres, went down narrow alleys between houses, climbed a steep hill beside a hospital, and then walked on city streets. Spencer Linwood’s blog of this final day
Capila de Santa Maria Magdalena, Galicia
Stained glass at the Capila de Santa Maria Magdalena, Galicia . She is often depicted with long flowing tresses, a cross in her right and in her left hand she presents an egg (in an eggcup?) to Emperor Tiberius as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. There are some great stories about Mary and her egg

According to tradition, after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the Magdalene…boldly presented herself to the Emperor Tiberius Caesar in Rome to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ, with an egg in hand to illustrate her message. Holding the egg out to him, she exclaimed for the first time what is now the universal Easter proclamation among Christians, “Christ is risen!” The emperor, mocking her, said that Jesus had no more risen than the egg in her hand was red. Immediately, the egg turned red as a sign from God to illustrate the truth of her message. The Emperor then heeded her complaints about Pilate condemning an innocent man to death, and had Pilate removed from Jerusalem under imperial displeasure. Mary Magdalene continued her mission as an evangelizer, contemplative, and mystic in the heart of the Church.

By Grechen Filz (link under photo above)
Autumn squash piled up after harvest, Galicia

At one point there was a cacophony of hunting dogs and two men wandering around looking very guilty, a huge 4×4 a little further on. The hounds seemed to be nosing around for something, but it wasn’t clear what and otherwise the area was deserted. Moving away, up a inclinne, I passed a female backpacker going in the opposite direction, so I repeatedly glanced back. I knew she would be passing the men and wanted to keep an eye out for her in case she needed back-up.

La magia del camino graffiti, underpass of the main AG56 road which goes past Santiago and on to Noia on the west coast

Much to my disappointment, I started to feel some back pain as I traipsed up towards the city centre, searching for signs and arrows to no avail.

Tip: Remember that google maps is all but useless in the Poruguese / Spanish countryside, but great in towns and cities, so at this stage when there is a dearth of directions, you can switch on the GPS.

The outskirts seemed to go on and on and so I took an elevenses pitstop in a city cafe enjoying some green tea and sweet Santiago tart which I remembered well from my first visit in 2016, when my life had already started to change.

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella, Galicia seen from the ground looking up

I arrived in the main square at 12.15. Someone asked whether I was going to lie down. I didn’t know about this, but apparently there is a tradition to prostrate, head towards the towering building and admire it upside down, so I did. Of course.

This was my second time in Santiago despite having walked three caminos. When I walked the Via de la Plata, I initially headed south, towards Seville (1000 kms away). Later I started there, walking northwards until I got back to where I had finished that section the year before. I didn’t do the final stage for a second time, and so didn’t visit Santiago. I didn’t go to the special Mass this October 2019 either, for the same reasons.

View of the cathedral of Santiago de Compostella from the balcony at the Roots and Boots hostel
The garden at the Roots and Boots hostel, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia

I had booked the Roots and Boots hostel in advance and was very happy with it. Very close to the centre, the rooms are small (no extensive dormitories) and mine had a magnificent view of the cathedral. There is a pretty, enclosed garden with tables and chairs by a reasonably priced, hole-in-the-wall, cafe. I sat out there until quite late at night, getting slightly chilly but enjoying the situation, especially given it was October.

I had lunch in a large restaurant, very popular with pilgrims. I was surprisingly tired and the large portions and very quick service suited very well!

Laundromat courtyard out back, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia
Frida Kahlo on tiny tiles in the courtyard of the launderette, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia
Glowing Petunia in the same courtyard

Then I left clothes to be washed at a rather nice launderette (as launderettes go) on Rua das Hortas which had a decorated and flowering courtyard. You can also get washing done at Pilgrim House, a veritable Santiago institution.

I had not planned what I would do next until a few days before, when I came across a post on the Camino forum which set me off on a new trail. I contacted the redoubtable Rebekah Scott at her Peaceable Kingdom to ask if I could stay with her at Moratinos on the Camino Frances, in the name of research. She kindly obliged, but later sent me an email saying that she couldn’t host me after all because she looks after a hostel on the Camino Primitivo and had to go up immediately. Unless, she added, I wanted to go too. More on this adventure later…..

Pavement message in the early morning of the next day: Europe was made on the pilgrim
road to Compostella

Excellent Stingy Nomads guide to the Poruguese Caminos – all the variations and pretty much anything else you want to know.

Parador (hotel) Santiago de Compostella

Footnote: If you have some cash at the end of your camino, you could try the Parador, one of the famous Spanish hotels which offers pilgrims a free lunch, so I am told.

The camino shell necklack I bought in Porto for 5 euros and which I wore as a talisman for the Camino to Santiago de Compostella

Herbon to Teo: Portuguese Camino

Camino Portuguese da Costa – Day 14, October 2nd 2019

It is 25 kms from Padron to Santiago and I was not confident I would manage that with the extra 3.2 kms from Herbón to Padrón, so I decided to break my journey in Teo, making two, admittedly short, days out of one longer one.

I took a last look at the gardens of the monastery of Herbón, Spain and spotted this little critter slinking its way amongst the stones

They played music to wake us up at the Herbón monastery and then there was a return to the large dining room for a shared breakfast. Although we had arrived through countryside, the path out, towards Padrón, was almost immediately into a village and then along a main road.

A typical Galician scene with terracotta rooves, fruit frames and misted mountains in the background, Spain

I was on the Ruta dos Xardins da Camelias, heading towards the home of padrón peppers which we had been told the previous evening didn’t really emanate from Padrón at all. It doesn’t stop them being one of my favourite dishes.

Crossing the River Sar with a wonderful view of the Iglesia de Santiago de Padrón. Still dark enough to merit headlights. Spain

I waited in a bar for the pharmacy to open so I could get some anti-inflammatories for my left foot which was still very painful.

Flattened graves surrounding a traditional Galician church, Padrón, Spain
Perhaps that is Monte Meda (1454 feet) in the distance, half hidden by low cloud cover, the sun trying hard to shine through, Galicia
Approximately half way there and I came across the Santa Maria de Cruces Church with its ornate twin steeples, A Escravitude, Galicia
I heard them before I saw them! Hunting dogs keen to get a look at the pilgrims
One was really determined – squeezing sideways under the fence!

And then I was in the rural landscape I love so much. Grass and sheep, scarlet willows with yellow branches stemming from a single point, just a few green leaves left now as winter approaches – nothing too carefully kept.

It’s when the pine needles turn brown and fall. They catch on branches below and create this chopstick effect
Look carefully and you will spot the yellow arrow on the tree in the centre. Getting close to Santiago de Compostella now – ‘the end of the road’, Galicia
Onto the Ruta Saudable de Teo, the healthy route, where you cannot pick flowers or frogs, but you can hike!
Autumn crocus in hazy sunlight
Capela de San Marino de Ruta de Francos: modest, solid, ancient, Galician

The country roads were lined with almond trees, almost neon in their greenness, and forming a backdrop to lush undergrowth, rough-stalked bracken. I happily trotted along, constantly overtaken by others rushing to the finish line.

The albergue Xunta de Teo (municipal albergue at Teo) is in a beautiful spot, a drop down from an extremely busy main road, but accessed by the walkers from the opposite, safe side. There are cafes both down and uphill, and they are equally idiosyncratic. Shops can be found even further on: the one at a service station is often open, the much smaller village store is shut for hours at lunch time.

The albergue was closed on arrival, only opening much later (4pm) with a queue, and filled up very quickly, so that many were turned away. It is run in a haphazard sort of a way and there are no utensils in the kitchen.

While I waited for it to open, I sat under a plastic awning and wrote and read and ate p. peppers and drank beer and it was expensive, in comparison to other places.

In all I went up and down that road a few times, eventually getting supplies for the evening meal, and then wandered back through the forest, past the church and other very smart looking buildings, several of which were supposed to be a restaurant and up-market accommodation, but both looked uninhabited. It was like a rekkie for the next day (in the opposite direction), very pleasant, and I returned to sleep when it was almost dark.

Sunset through the treest, Teo, Galicia

Vila do Conde to Viana do Castelo: Camino Portuguese

Camino Portuguese da Costa – Days 3 and 4, September 21st – 22nd 2019.

Vila do Conde

20 kms from Porto; 24.95 kms to Esposende

architecture Vila do Conde Portugal
Admiring the Santa Clara Roman aqueduct in Vila do Conde which had 999 arches and, at 4 kms, is the second longest in Portugal

urban landscaping Portugal
Typical cobbled street, Vila do Conde

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Mercat cross Vila do Conde

Slightly dilapidated but charming architectural features, Vila do Conde

web link to Porto blog
Similar blue and white tiles to the ones I saw in Porto, Vila do Conde

stone monument to education Vila do Conde Portugal
I like interesting roundabout sculptures: Monument to Education and teachers, Benguiados Street, Vila do Conde

Portguese street scene
I am not sure what the name is of this pink church, Vila do Conde

Drying seaweed under white cloths on the beach – I could see these huge piles all along the coast as I walked

Idiosyncratic beach bar sign with the Camino shells as decoration

plant identification
Hottentot or Sour Fig (Carpobrotus edulis)

It was so very wet! All the rucksacks in the cafe where I went to shelter, were covered up. Only a few of my things got properly damp

It was in this cafe that I accepted a cap and guide book which belonged to a woman who I had been seeing at hostels along the way. I assumed I would see here agin and so took it with me for her. Guess what? I carried them to Santiago but never did see her.

Esposende/Marinhas

Link to the municipal hostel in Esposende/Marinhas. The Albergue San Miguel is one of the hostels that you have to walk through the town and almost out the other side to reach. The building in front, nearest the main road, is not the hostel but the Red Cross centre (the 2 organisations are connected through the Marinhas council) and the people there are used to exhausted pilgrims trekking through by mistake!

Nearby, and within very easy earshot, was an annual festival venue with bands, demonstrations of rural activities such as threshing, and more food than you might have ever seen in one long hall. People flocked from far and wide to sit around long tables in large family groups and have a good time. It was not possible to sleep, so as they say, when you can’t beat em, join em!

Portuguese folk band instruments
The lively band ‘gieing it laldy’ – heartily playing traditional Portuguese music

folk costume and props Portugal
Women in folk costumes outside preparing for a demonstration of old-fashioned farming methods

I walked through Monte, Lugar de Cima, Outeiro, Barros Sao Fins, Santo Amaro, Estrada,

church Sain Michael Marinhas
Igreja Matriz do Sao Miguel Arcanjo das Marinhas. Leaving the next morning

Sculpture Archangel Michael
The archangel Michael with his sword and a huge phallic snake ie Satan, statue Marinhas

detail passion flower
Passion fruit (Passiflora) flower

Sao Joao church and cross Esposende
Sao Joao (Saint John) do Monte cross and chapel, Esposende area, Portugal

Portuguese landscape
Into the countryside, interior Portugal

lemon tree
Lemon tree, Portugal

Detailed plant information
Pokeweed (Phylotacca americana) also known as pokeberry. It has a poisonous root and mature stalks, although you can eat the young stalks if properly cooked. The berries have a red dye which is used to colour wine, sweets and cloth

Detailed plant information
Castor oil plant, ricinus communis (because it’s red?)

Portuguese landscape
A typical Portuguese dwelling in the distance

detail of plant
Morning Glory (Ipomoea)

working woman with goats Portugal
A woman leading goats to pasture

grapes vines Portugal
The grapes were being harvested all along the way and as many hung over the edges of the fences and supports, I sampled a rich and lucious few!

detailed plant description
African Milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) also known as hairy balls milkweed! If you look closely, you will see that there are small pale, milk-white flowers at the end of the stems. It attracts the Monarch butterfly in Australia and Madeira

I am reliably informed that this plant is one of the food plants for the Monarch Butterfly, in Australia. They prefer this, and another alien, over the native milkweeds.

church cross Portugal
Igreja do Sao Pedro Fins (Peter), Belinho, Portugal

detail church architecture Portugal
Virgin and Son with 3 supplicating little ones at her feet, Igreja do Sao Pedro Fins (Peter), Belinho, Portugal

architecture of Portugal
Capela de Nossa Senora dos Remedios, Estrada,  Braga, Portugal

detail oak tree and acron in Portuguese woods
Into the Oak (Quercus) woods

rural landscpae Portugal
The bracken (ferns) were starting to turn brown, but it smelled fresh and woody

woods Portugal
At some point in these beautiful woods I made a long steep climb behind a man who was walking fast

The way was made up of large boulders and unevenly sized stones, some wet. I went fast to keep up with the man in front which was exhilarating, but I wonder if this is where I twisted my ankle without quite noticing.

Portuguese woods and pool
There were pools of inviting water, so down went the rucksack, off came the clothes and oh! it was so refreshing

pool Portugal
Idyllic setting

Water ways Portugal
Water ways Portugal

And then the heavens opened. Before I could find a place to stop and take my backpack off to cover it and myself (even though I had, minutes earlier, been immersed in cool waters), I was soaked through. It was torrential. And steep, uphill. At the top I sheltered in a bus stop and watched the rain running down in torrents. More and more pilgrims joined me in that tiny space. There was a mobile shop on the Green opposite, but it was a bar – alcohol only, no hot drinks.

church Belinho Portugal
Igreja Sao Pedro (Peter), Belinho

Portuguese landscape and weather
However, the clouds rolled away and I steamed quietly as I walked into a sunnier landscape

monastery Sao
Mosteiro (monastery) de Sao Romao de Neiva, Portugal

detail of fruit and plant
Kiwi fruit (Actinidia deliciosa) hanging from their vines

Despite their appearance, I was assured that they would not be ripe for eating until December at least.

traditional Portuguese church
Igreja Parochial de Chafe, Viana de Castelo, Portugal

pilgrims woods Portugal
A long downhill stretch beside resting pilgrims

The way into Viana do Castelo is across the Limia via a long, metal bridge. The hikers share it with the vehicles, although there is a narrow shaft where we walked. I could see the water’s of the Lima River far below through the grid I walked on, each step clanging loudly. The width of one person, there was no possibility of stopping to rest and, as I was limping by this time I must have slowed because I was aware of a queue of others behind me, all having to go at my pace. I kept doggedly on with no choice.

funicular Viana do Castelo Portugal
Funicular up to the castle, Viana do Castelo, Portugal

I allowed myself to be persuaded to take an extra trip that evening despite my sore feet. What a mistake! Although the sights were inspiring, my physical health suffered and I paid for it for many weeks to come.

Santa Luzia Portugal
Sanctuary of Santa Luzia, Viana do Castelo, Portugal

Designed by Miguel Ventura Terra, this church venerates St. Lucy of Syracuse.

vista Portual Viana do Castelo
View of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the hill, Viana do Castelo, Portugal

vista Portugal Viana do Castelo
Another view, this time of the River Lima and southwards from where I had come to Praia (beach) do Cabadelo, Viana do Castelo, Portugal

stained glass windows santa Luzia Portugal
Inside the Sanctuary Santa Luzia, Viana do Castelo, Portugal

fresco roof detail Santa Luzia Portugal
The stunning dome of the Sanctuary Santa Luzia, Viana do Castelo, Portugal

I am indebted to the people on the houzz.com forum who have an immense wealth of knowledge about plants and are so willing to help.

Previous blog – days 1 and 2 Portuguese Camino Porto to Vila do Conde

Days 5 and 6 Viana do Castelo to La Guarda

If you have also walked the Portuguese Camino, did you stay in the same hostels as I did? Please feel free to share your experiences in a comment below.

Berwickshire Coastal Path: Berwick upon Tweed to Eyemouth

12th January 2019

The second highest cliffs on the east coast of Britain are to be found along this path.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry

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Sunrise as I waited for the bus in Edinburgh

In the middle of winter I headed south on a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed along the coast of East Lothian with the sea on my left. It was just after 9am and I could see brown fields, a slate grey sea, even darker land on the other side of the Firth of Forth and the silhouettes of the trees without their leaves. As it lightened there was more detail: cows in coats; four-by-fours speeding between fields; ruined castles; and low, red-roofed farm buildings. The train was quiet.

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Just a light pack today, including my new flask which Isobel gave me for Xmas

I am hiking part of the Berwickshire Coastal Path (45.5 kms / 28.5 miles in total = a recommended 3 day walk). Berwick upon Tweed is technically in England (although their football team is Scottish!) and my destination is Eyemouth, 17km (11 miles) away.

The fields become green as I travel and on my left is the point of Berwick Law, the only high place in this flat landscape. Combine harvesters are frozen mid field; barrels of wrapped up straw lie waiting; there are borders of louring pines in the distance; and beyond, a complicated sky: wispy dark clouds against a bright blue though pale background and at the same time, little bands of cotton wool balls stretching from east to west.

Found photos of (from top left) Torness Nuclear Power Station, Dunbar Town House, St Abbs Head Lighthouse.

A few golden strips of corn have been left lying in the fields, birds are black shapes in the bright sky, the bare bones of the trees are like hardened and flattened seaweed fans. People were sniffing and blowing their noses all around me.

There were acres of half-built houses as I drew near to Dunbar, birthplace of John Muir, friend to all walkers and nature lovers. A small town with the arrow-head tower of the newly-painted-white, 16th century Town House; Saturday people with pushchairs; glimpsing the sea between buildings.

Then once more rolling by the deep chestnut loam, and a more varied landscape. We were edging further from the sea where the iconic Torness nuclear power station like children’s blocks which have been fitted together wrongly. Sheep grazed in miles of brussel sprouts fields; low, dry stone walls divided; and a solo bird perched, waiting for the morning to come. We skimmed past the St Abbs Lighthouse, where I was planning to walk to today (see below).

I could see the path I was going to be walking at the top of the cliffs as they tumbled down to the rocks and the white waves below. Men in red and blue were playing golf, their trolleys angled beside them, pools of sand dipped in the ocean of green turf.

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Arriving at Berwick-upon-Tweed station

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A detour almost, before I started, through Castlevale Park to the riverside walk, to take a photo of the brick bridge across the River Tweed

As always, it was difficult to find the beginning of the walk, so, here are the directions for you: come out of the station, go up the little slope, turn left and then take the first right.

A man with 2 dogs stopped while I was taking a photograph of the Round Bell Tower , not knowing that I was waiting for him to come into shot so that I could include him! He told me that he used to work for the local newspaper and one April Fool’s Day he took a photo of it leaning, said it was toppling over, and published it with the caption, The Leaning Tower of Berwick. Crowds of people came to watch it, he said!

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The upright Round Bell Tower, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Next to the tower is Lord’s Mount, Henry VIII’s gun tower (completed in 1542). Its massive wall contains six gun positions and a latrine. The artillery included ‘the falconet’ which fired a solid ball 1000 yards (914 m).

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Lord’s Mount, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Before I even got to the sea I lost my pole, which I went back for and luckily found, and a glove which I didn’t.

The Northumberland people I met were lovely and friendly and gave me directions out of the town and onto the path.

Oyster catchers were wading and ridges of diagonal rocks showed dark against the washed yellow sands. I went down the steps to a tiny cove, and along the well-trodden beach full of footprints and seaweed. There was the sound of trickling water as I made my way up at the other end.

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The first bay

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A dead seal was washed up on the shore. A disturbing, though not an unusual sight

Up above were ranks of holiday caravans where shells had been hung between railings.  I could see a red and white lighthouse beacon at the end of the pier in the distance and hear the single, shrill whistle of a bird overhead – just as if he fancied me.

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Looking back to the bay, Berwickshire Coastal Path

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Winter seedheads and kind grass underfoot, the sounds of waves crashing and my Camino shell clinking at the back of me

Immediately I came round to the next bay. It was larger this time with delightfully pig-pink cliffs and tufty tops. The wind was trying to blow the pale, beige stalks seaward. Once again it was just me and another man with his dog. Vestiges of yellow flowered gorse gleamed on the bank opposite.

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Clattering seed heads above and the odd flower low down sheltering from the winds; a nettle, some brambles and litters of rubbish

The squawk of the train reminded me that the railway line matches the path to the left, and I was walking between that and the sea.

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Wind turbines lazily turned despite the knots, and there were rusty metal steps down to the beach

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The path curved round a mixture of natural rock and man-made straight lines with a very enticing cavern underneath

The links (golf course) was on my left; slippy mud down to a little wooden bridge over a trickle of water; the sweet tweet of a leaf shaped bird overhead, its wings fluttering fast. It was a very narrow, windy and uneven part so I was glad that I had found my pole to steady myself – it is definitely not accessible to wheelchairs or baby buggies.

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Marshall Meadows, a lovely name – the first signposted stop, 2.5 miles

The path follows the highly eroded coast line in and out; my nose was running, tickling; and my mind returned to other similar trails: Normandy,  Brittany, and Orkney.

It is an impressive landscape: thin horizontal layers of pink rock, tiny slices but massive boulders. My eyes were getting a welcome break from the computer as I gazed out to sea and admired the hues and cries of this stimulating view and the birds who live here.

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The camera is not doing the colour of the rocks justice. They are almost carnation pink, practically unnatural except that they are all real

The sky was opening up; I could identify the peeps of oyster catchers and see sparks of black ravens; I was scanning the sea for any sign of whales. My forehead was cold as I walked straight into the northerly wind. How I appreciated not heaving the heavy rucksack for once.

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The upstanding and nearly empty sorrel had turned the same deep chestnut brown of the fields

I only stopped for a couple of minutes for a comfort break and to put some chapstick on my lips, but I was already cold afterwards. There were single, brown birds with long curving beaks (curlews, probably), and others in huge crowds sweeping around in the sky above me, sticking together in formation, communicating wordlessly. I was entranced by these murmurations.

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White horses and rolling waves

For a moment I wondered why I do this, especially in winter when it is so chilly. Then I looked out to the horizon and saw the world – so much bigger than me, and down at the rocks and the majestic sea stack – the land simply missing between it and the cliff; and it was good to be reminded how small I am.

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A sea stack – close-up

I saw the people in their cars rushing between Edinburgh and Newcastle on the A1, and the high speed train making its way down south to London. Here I was being blown and buffeted by the wind, breathing the fresh air, listening to the natural sounds around, the brushing of my feet as they passed through the grasses, stumbling and toppling over uneven ground which is good for balancing my brain, and looking ahead. Things were coming into perspective.

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A natural, geological arch

Up a short wooden ladder, over a stone wall and I discovered I was in a caravan park called Marshall Meadows. Much to my disappointment it was not the pastures I had imagined!

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It afforded me a few minutes of shelter away from the sea’s edge and the wind though

Back onto concrete I immediately felt my sore feet and realised I hadn’t been aware of them since the pavements in Berwick.

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Aah a sign! As I pass through the site, I wonder if the people who hire these caravans realise that their windows will look out onto the railway

By this time I was looking for a place to shelter and sit for a cup of tea and a banana to keep my sugar levels up. I didn’t want to lose my sense of proportion, which has happened in the past.

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Crossing the border into Scotland (the sign is written in English and Gaelic)

The Cuddy Trail is here. Cuddy is Scots for a donkey and the ‘beasts of burden’ were used to transport coal and fish from the shore to Lamberton and the Great North Road.

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I hastily put my hood back up over my woolly hat and found myself walking between two rows of barbed wire fence by signs saying to clear up your dog poo (it can be poisonous to farm animals)

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They were scared of me, yet interested. I think they were female sheep because they were multi-tasking: walking, eating and going to the toilet all at the same time!

I had to climb over the gate as the farmer, in his wisdom, had padlocked it shut despite this being a public right of way and well-known footpath.

Then I curved back towards the wild cliff corner and the sound of the crashing water. The wind was causing shadows on the ocean. It had that look about it as if it was rising up to the horizon and down to the beach. It was heaving. The surface colour looked flat and even, until I really paid attention to it. Then I saw the variations of the olive, seaweed and sage green, with slate, business suit, and pewter grays, all edged with white lace and set against a peach sky.

There were lots of helpful signs indicating that badgers, yellow meadow ants and peregrine falcons can be seen here, but not by me. I did get glimpses of the fulmars on the ‘cliffes’, nesting in their flint and white plumage, so far away that all the photos were too blurred to be reproduced.

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I was interested in a ruined bothy on the steep slopes which only the sheep could negotiate, and went to the edge to take a photo. That might have been where I mistook my way

Twenty minutes earlier I had passed two men getting out of a car and preparing to surf, clad in black wetsuits with their white boards. I bet they had a good time in those rollers!

It was then that things started to go wrong.

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A bowl of dark boulders – I shouldn’t have gone down there!

But I did. I thought, ‘really?’ but I couldn’t see anywhere else to walk as the railway came so close to the edge, so I went anyway.

I skirted the steep slope first of all, grabbing handfuls of grass to stop myself slipping and edging my feet into the side, until it became too hard going. Then I dropped down onto the rocks. They didn’t look too bad from a distance, but they were – it was really hard scrambling over them. I could see a way out on the other side and I still assumed that was the right way. I pushed and tore through the brambly undergrowth, I fell down and got myself back up. I persevered. My pole kept collapsing itself and up at the top was a sheep’s face peering over at me. I could see hoof marks where they obviously managed fine, but I sure was struggling. Was there a way? What could I do?

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Go back, that’s what! It was impossible. I was very hot and bothered and there was nothing for it but to retrace my steps, which was easier said than done and something I don’t enjoy. I traversed the rocks closer to the sea which were slippery as well as treacherously uneven.

I had completely lost my cool until I came across such a beautiful sight that I just had to stop and breathe.

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A calm pool between the jet volcanic rocks and the pink cliff profile

It took a lot of time (perhaps three quarters of an hour) and I used up a great deal of my available energy. And it took quite a bit of serious tramping to get over the anger and frustration of the experience. On the back of the BCP map it says: It may seem unnecessary to provide directions other than saying – walk north or south keeping the sea on your right or left!’ Am I the only person to have missed the most straightforward path?

Slowly I realised I had to relax and get back onto the right path. I had to let it go or I couldn’t enjoy the remainder of the walk, so I focused on anything but my feelings and picked up pace.

In my recording I said that I chose not to walk where two others were, around a field when I could clearly see a short-cut straight across the top of it. I saw the trampled down barbed wire and said to myself, I’m not falling into that trap again!

Next was a straight and concrete side road to Homestead, and I spotted a brightly coloured lifeboat chugging along. When I turned round, there was a deer lolloping in the undergrowth very close by with its beacon of a white tail. It seemed to be rather a special sight. The Medicine Cards say that when deer appears, ‘apply gentleness to your situation.

At 1.50pm, my phone battery was already down to 32% and I quickly came across another conundrum. I took a second wrong turn. This time I crossed a field to the left because it looked as if the alternative went over the edge. It was not clear, so I stood and debated and as the gate was open I chose to go through.

Right to the end of that green field I went, past all the sheep who may well have been watching wisely for all I knew! And then I didn’t know where to go but back – it was a dead end. Never again will I walk without an ordnance survey map, I declare to the sheep!

So I went through the other field (not in a straight line), climbed over a stile, and doubled back (presumably the path avoids the farm land).

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Burnmouth – not a sign of life, not a soul

There was the village of Burnmouth below me at last, tucked under the heights. I zigzagged steeply down in the opposite direction from the yellow arrows, behind the gardens and at last found a BCP sign. Amazing how this often happens at a time when there is absolutely no other possible way anyway! For some reason the walk is not as enjoyable if I am not going in the right direction.

Apparently Burnmouth was ‘once a hotbed of smuggling’ (tea, brandy, silks etc) engendering lively stories from 1780. A pretty but secluded village, it is divided into two halves with a harbour inbetween. Candy coloured cottages seemed to be for visitors. The tide was out leaving streaks of low rocks, as if someone had painted on a glassy surface and the paint had separated unevenly.

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Burnmouth from the tops of the cliffs

A man stopped to do up the zip of the woman he was with and my black mood meant I could barely manage to say a friendly hello. My knees hurt going down and my insteps going up. The sign pointed in the direction of two roads, one to the right and the other uphill. I took the path which ran to the right of a dour chapel, curving through woods, over a planked boardwalk, then up a steep hillside with a horrible groaning noise going on – something to do with the fishing in the harbour.

There was a handy bench ‘Dedicated to William Telford, born Burnmouth 1925’ for resting my weary feet and admiring the vista but I was very stiff when I got up. I hadn’t been walking for a month of so and it was showing. I thought I wouldn’t need the chocolate I bought yesterday and wished I hadn’t left it at home.

Blue tits played in the briars, zipping in front of me; silvery green lichen covered the branches. Humbled and cut down, I did not recover quickly. I was reduced to little more than zero miles an hour.

Once up high again and back into the windy onslaught, I needed a hat and two hoods – it was a mere two weeks after the winter solstice.

Then, halleluja! the sun started to show its lovely self. 3.15pm. What a wonderful light.

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The colours deepened, became lucid and my mood eventually mellowed

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Faint and fragile fingers against a mackerel sky

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See how the coastline meanders!

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The sky and sea got bluer and bluer. There were two options and I went over the wall, hoping it was the right decision. I found myself out of the sun’s warmth

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Self-portrait

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A yellow clad fellow walks southwards – that’s the right idea – wind at the back of him!

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I simply loved the contrast between the orange lichen on the wall and the blue and green beyond

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Rock macaroons

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The sun was starting to set. I felt chastened, very quiet inside

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I only got as far as Eyemouth, having lost valuable daylight time going the wrong way and needing to get the bus back

I had to ask for directions from a group of teenagers heading out for some fun, giggling. I wound my way along the jetty and around the end remembering that I was here for my birthday with Lesley in 2016. The wandering geese took no notice. I was aiming for the co-op store at the centre (ye cannae miss the co-op, it’s the biggest building in the toun I was told) and the most helpful girl who checked the bus times on her phone for me – my fingers were too cold to work mine and it was threatening to run out of battery.

I was focused now on getting warm and fed as I always am after a long day’s hike. I had to spend a great deal of time in a Wetherspoons in Berwick until my return train to Edinburgh, but I warmed up and rested my weary limbs.

I didn’t make it to St Abbs so I will have to start next time at Eyemouth and cover that stretch on day 2.

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All’s well that ends well! (one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ from around 1600)

Train: Edinburgh to Berwick upon Tweed (Scotrail £14.60)

St Monans to Kingsbarns

Saturday 19 January 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.