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Issue 101 - The Fife Coastal Path

Scotland Magazine Issue 101
November 2018

 

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The Fife Coastal Path

Once the playground of Scottish royals, Fife is replete with natural and historic treasures

There is something wonderful about a long-distance walk along the coast. The salty air, the crashing waves, the far-reaching views and the vast array of wildlife all combine to provide the perfect way to blow away the spiritual cobwebs. The Fife Coastal Path has all of the above and more, including some fascinating architecture and an absorbing history. It is a stunning slice of Scotland to explore.

In the main, the paths are excellent (if a little muddy at points) and well waymarked. Although it is 184 kilometres (114 miles) long, the Fife Coastal Path is relatively straightforward, allowing the walker to take in everything it has to offer.

Running west to east, this fabulous route was created in 2002 when it went from North Queensferry to Tayport. It was then extended in 2011 and 2012 to include Kincardine to North Queensferry, then Tayport to Newburgh - where today the journey ends. Dotted along the route are a number of attractive and welcoming towns and villages, such as Aberdour, Kirkaldy, St Andrews and Tayport, which allow the route to be broken up into manageable walking chunks. It is a walk that can be tackled comfortably in 8-12 days.

The diversity of landscape that the Fife Coastal Path passes through is highlighted immediately on leaving Kincardine, where the view extends across the early stages of the Firth of Forth to the conspicuous Grangemouth Refinery, before passing the former site of the coal-fired Longannet Power Station. It is then on to the gorgeous village of Culross, which developed through coal mining and then salt panning. Today the whole settlement is cared for by the National Trust for Scotland due to the significance of the many unique and historic buildings lining the streets. This includes the impressive Culross Palace and the striking Townhouse.

Beyond Culross is Torry Bay Nature Reserve, where a range of habitats means the birdlife is magnificent. Shelduck, wigeon, curlew, redshank, dunlin and ringed plover are a few species that may be spotted at different times of year. There are many opportunities to spot wildlife right along the Fife Coastal Path and the abundance of animal life is one of the great joys of walking the route.

Settlements such as Limekilns and Rosyth offer fine places for a break before the path reaches North Queensferry and its magnificent bridges. The Forth Railway Bridge is one of the finest examples of engineering in the world and the statistics of its construction are astonishing.

Opening in 1890 it took 4,000 men seven years to build it at a cost for £3.2 million, using over 54,000 tons of steel and 6.5 million rivets. When the Forth Road Bridge opened in 1964 it was the longest suspension bridge in Europe and effectively ended the ferry service that had crossed the Forth for centuries. These bridges have recently been joined by the strikingly contemporary Queensferry Crossing, which has already gained iconic status.

North Queensferry is named after Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland, (c.1045-1093) who established a church at Dunfermline and paid for a ferry service to transport pilgrims across the Forth Estuary. The Fife Coastal Path continues its journey from the village then heads around Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay all the way to Aberdour. At its centre stands Aberdour Castle, parts of which date from the 1100s and thus put it in the running for the title of Scotland’s oldest standing castle.

Next up is Burntisland and its lovely sandy beach, after which the path heads northeast through Kirkcaldy, the largest settlement along this section. Its promenade extends for some time, leading along the edge of town into Dysart, home to the Harbourmaster’s House and a number of fine buildings. The village grew, like Culross, around coal mining and salt panning, and much of the production was exported to the Low and Baltic Countries. The remnants of heavy industry are visible as the Fife Coastal Path heads through the likes of Buckhaven and Methil, although this contrasts sharply with some beautiful stretches of coastline, including the Wemyss Caves, which contain carvings thought to be around 5,000 years old.

The next 45 kilometres (28 miles), between Lower Largo and St Andrews, can easily be walked in two days. With a fascinating history, a necklace of beautiful beaches and breathtaking scenery, this sliver of coastline is an exceptional part of Scotland. Better known as the East Neuk of Fife, a number of celebrated links golf courses, including The Old Course at St Andrews, punctuate the landscape.

There has been a harbour at Lower Largo since the 1500s. Coal was exported and a small herring fleet operated from here during the 19th century. There are still some busy working harbours, particularly at Crail, Anstruther and Pittenweem, but the scale of operations is incomparable to the thriving sea economy of the past. It is said that 50 years ago a person could walk from one side of Anstruther’s wide harbour to the other simply by stepping from fishing boat to fishing boat. Elie’s award-winning beach is a wonderful spot to relax while the East Neuk is renowned for its delicious fish suppers. The walking, for the most part, is superb with the views extending across the Firth of Forth to the Lothians.

St Andrews is very much worth exploration as its streets are packed full of history. There are several magnificent buildings, including the castle and cathedral. Heading away from the town, a combination of pavement, field paths and forestry tracks lead all the way to the incredible Tentsmuir Forest.

This is one of Scotland’s most vibrant landscapes, not just in the stunning array of wildlife that resides here, but also in the ever-changing aspect of the coastline - the currents and tides have shifted the dunes and sand over two miles east in the last 10,000 years. Over the course of history, the Romans, Picts and Vikings all lived here, while roe deer, red squirrels, grey and common seals, stonechats, common terns and ospreys are just a small selection of the wildlife that thrive in the area today.

The final stage of the Fife Coastal Path undulates along the Firth of Tay and through farmland from Tayport to Newburgh. The scenery along this section is exemplary and one of the most interesting buildings en-route is Balermino Abbey. Dating from the 13th century, it was established by Queen Ermengarde, who invited the Cistercians at Melrose Abbey to set up a daughter-house here.

It is then another few miles to reach Newburgh and the end of the walk. Newburgh dates back to around the 12th century when David, 1st Earl of Huntingdon, established the Tironensian Lindores Abbey. Almost immediately, the monks began making whisky (a 1494 commission from King James IV to the friar of Lindores Abbey is the earliest written record of Scotch whisky) and growing fruit. Recently, a new Lindores Abbey Distillery was established adjacent to the historic site and began distilling in early 2018. It is open to visitors and well worth a look.

Today, many of the gardens within Newburgh have orchards containing trees dating from the abbey’s original plantings. Out on the River Tay, there are reedbeds where water rail, bearded tits, sedge and reed buntings, marsh harriers, migrant swallows, sand martins and over 10,000 species of insects reside. An autumn roost of up to 25,000 birds is not uncommon.

TOP 5 PLACES TO VISIT

Culross: This historic village is home to a number of unique buildings and today is cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

The Harbourmaster’s House, Dysart: The Harbourmaster's House is home to Fife Coast and Countryside Trust. It offers information on what to see and do along the route.

Scottish Fisheries Museum, Anstruther: This fantastic museum details the history of the Scottish fishing industry and its people from earliest times to the present day.

St Andrews Castle, St Andrews: Dating from the 13th century, St Andrews Castle was once the main residence of Scotland’s bishops and archbishops.

Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve, Tayport: Due to a combination of dunes, forest and coastline, Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve is one of the best places in Scotland to see wildlife.

 

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