Fife Coastal Path
For 117 miles (188km), the Fife Coastal Path leads the way round the coastal edge of the Kingdom of Fife, from the Firth of Tay to the Firth of Forth. Despite being officially opened some time ago, I hadn’t really heard much about it, but when my brother suggested we do a section of it on my most recent trip back to Scotland in September last year, I was happy to take the suggestion. With both brothers living in the southern suburbs of Glasgow, we set off early, leaving the dark clouds of the west coast behind for the not quite 2hr drive across to the east coast. We planned on sticking to the Forth estuary side, walking west from Crail to Elie, and with a bus to catch, we were eager to get the distance behind us. We made it to Elie and found a park with a brief bit of time ahead of the bus that took us through the various villages before we got off at Crail.
A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I used to date a guy who had a pilot’s licence and his own plane. I remember flying over the patchwork of inland Fife and the coastal villages and it was a perspective of the coastline that most people won’t see with their own eyes. I was excited to see the coast from ground level and it had been so long since I’d explored Fife at all. Crail’s main street was compact with narrow side streets and the buildings had the village vibe going on with their brick look. Passing the distinctive Golf Hotel, we cut down Kirkwynd to find the coast and the starting point for our walk. The tide was out, displaying the sloping slabs and boulders of the coastline.
Just before the harbour, we cut up to the elevated path under the wall of the Watch House and this gave a great view onto Crail’s harbour, which would have looked prettier had the tide been in. As we entered the harbour proper, I was amused by a sign stating not to feed the gulls that had a big splat of bird poo on it, as if the gulls had taken vengeance. Cutting up to the road to skirt the back of the small beach, I spotted the Isle of May off the coast, an island which I’d visited many moons ago with my dad, and which is great for lovers of sea birds. The views over Crail were also spectacular as we cut round the corner and left the streets behind to rejoin the path.
The path remained low and gently undulating as we made progress along this long uninterrupted section. About halfway to the next village we found ourselves at Caiplie Caves, a tall red sandstone structure that had been shaped by the pounding waves after the retreat of the glaciers. More a series of inter-linking arches than true caves, they were fun to weave through and the colour of the red sandstone was divine. We’d pretty much been under a blue sky and warm sun up to now but as we continued west, the sky grew more hazy: the leading edge of the weather system that we’d left behind on the west coast that morning. Flat agricultural fields spread out to our right, and the gently lapping waves accompanied us to our left.
After this long rural section, we reached the relative sprawl of Cellardyke. After leaving the caravan park behind, the path became the road that lead down to the harbour and then through a maze of narrow streets lined by tightly knit brick buildings. At one point, in a gap between the buildings we spied a puffin sculpture that had been carved out of a tree stump. It’s not overly clear where Cellardyke ends and Anstruther begins, as the two appear to merge seamlessly into one another, but Anstruther is the hub of this coastline with the largest harbour of all that we would visit that day, and a tourist draw, making it a pretty busy place to be. After our solitude for the past few hours, it was a bit of a shock to be amongst the relative hustle and bustle of this harbour town.
Anstruther is famous for its fish and chips, being made with fresh catch of the day, and with the crowd, all of the eateries at the waterfront were busy. We were pretty hungry by this stage, but eventually settled for a sandwich out of a tiny little cafe at the far end of the harbour front. We ate them on the pier, staring out at the boats moored up and making the most of the warm day. On the opposite side of the pier was the view of the route ahead: the little beach framed by a small church and more quaint little buildings. I was enjoying walking through the village streets as much as I was the coastal views because the narrow streets felt historic and there were so many pretty and cute little cottages and inns, such as the Dreel Tavern on the way out of Anstruther.
We finally found ourselves back at another beach where the path resumed, taking us next to the local golf course. There were plenty of people on this part of the path as well as plenty of people out on the golf course next to us and I secretly wondered if anyone had ever been hit by a stray golf ball. At the far end of the golf course was the next fishing village, Pittenweem where we popped into a local shop for some local ice cream to fuel ourselves for the final few hours of the walk. The tide had remained quite a way out for our walk so far, which had made some sections look a little less picturesque, but past the main harbour, the lower water level had allowed for some pretty cool reflections of the nearby cottages in the water. The final section of Pittenweem took us past a row of pretty cottages which faced out to the sea, several of them with benches outside to enjoy the view from.
It was another long uninterrupted section that eventually brought us to a busier part of the walk by the St Monans windmill and salt works. Being a short distance from St Monans, there were a lot of locals out for a stroll here. We managed to get the windmill to ourselves for a bit before some of the other walkers arrived, but by this stage my eldest brother was getting a little antsy to be finished. The clouds had thickened up and the hours had ticked by and so we pushed on. Past yet another fishing harbour, and through more village streets we came face to face with the pretty and dominating Auld Kirk of St Monans. The first church on this spot dates from the 13th century and it commands the coastline with its little cemetery around it. Here there is a brief diversion with a high tide route and a low tide route, but we were able to stick to the lower route, skirting below the church and continuing onwards to a slightly more dramatic stretch of coastline.
With a few small cliffs along this next section, it was much more undulating, and a few historic ruins dotted the way. A round structure sits at a bend in the path and beyond here, the ruins of Newark Castle stand resolutely above a small cliff. Past the other side, the track cut down to sea level again meaning the ruins seemed to dominate the now grey skyline. Further along, the path cut through the middle of another ruin, this time the 15th century Ardross Castle, and past here we could finally see the structure that marked the end of our walk, Lady Janet Anstruther’s tower on a headland at the end of a long stretch of beach.
When we finally reached the end of the beach, the coastal path curved inland a little, and whilst I would have liked to have gone down to the tower, my brother was keen to get home and so I looked at it from afar before we cut across to Ruby Bay and then the large expanse of Elie harbour. It was the last chance to see the sea before the road cut up into the streets of the village and we found ourselves back at the church where we’d caught the bus, and back to our waiting car and the long drive home. Although the clouds had gradually moved in, the weather had remained overall pleasant and it had been a great chance to catch up with my brothers properly as well as a great introduction to this beautiful coastline. Goodness knows if I’ll ever get round to doing the other sections, but I’m sure they’ll be just as stunning.