Going Coastal – The continuing saga of one man’s “Blisters or burst” walk along the Fife Coastal Path. This time, I am walking the six miles from Kirkcaldy to East Wemyss.
A quick mental calculation and I reckon that I am a third of the way along the coastal path now. The easy bits are behind me and I now have the more exposed coastal sections to look forward to as I walk around the East Neuk.
It’s the name given to this part of the Kingdom that sticks out into the North Sea.
Fife was once a kingdom, it hasn’t been for years and years. It’s kind of nice that they like to cling onto old names.
Before I launch into the travel-blog, some readers my be interested in the photography process.
My camera is a Fuji X-Pro1, fitted with an 18mm lens, it was bought from the money from my retirement gift and is one of the best little cameras around.
The Fuji, is what’s termed as a “rangefinder” camera. It looks like an old film camera and has been likened to the poor man’s Leica with a small viewfinder at one corner. The camera is small and light enough to be able to hang around ones neck all day without noticing the weight too much.
I started out taking pictures on my coastal path journey by just taking Monochrome simulation JPEG photos, that is photos that have been processed entirely inside the camera, quickly becoming dissatisfied with the results and now use RAW pictures, digital images that I develop for myself.
The next bit is technical. The camera is set to record a square format picture, harking back to the days of the old 120 roll film, look down and through cameras. To further enhance the retro style it records JPEG snapshots in monochrome and in RAW format
The last wee bit, the RAWs are processed in Lightroom using another Fuji film simulation, Pro Neg Standard and sent out to Photoshop where I have a custom Topaz BW Effects preset to get the best out of the final picture. It’s then squeezed and squashed digitally, given a buff up with sharpening, given a white border and saved.
The JPEGs snapshots are only used to jog my memory when writing this blog and are usually deleted.
Your eyes glazed over yet?
Better to get on with the walk then.
Kirkcaldy – the Lang Toon.
The Lang Toon, originally occupied the narrow strip of land at the coast before spreading inland. Fifers are a sentimental lot and still refer to it by its nickname.
For one week of the year, around Easter time, the whole stretch of the esplanade is given over to the Lammas Market, reputed to be the oldest street fair in Europe.
Nothing much is sold nowadays other than having the crap scared out of you on fairground rides and it is just an excuse for the travelling showmen to take over the town but Fifers are a traditional lot.
My starting point was the car park at the western end of the Kirkcaldy Esplanade, I have covered most of it on the previous stage of the Fife Coastal Path, FCP.
“Going coastal” by walking along the beach getting in a few abstract photos as I went along.
I saw this couple walking along the beach and trying very hard to be inconspicuous as I waited for them to walk to a patch of wet sand which complimented an aircraft trail above. It’s very hard to be inconspicuous on a near empty beach, so I stood there taking fictitious pictures of everywhere but the patch of beach in front of me but watching them go by out of the corner of my eye.
I was going to pick up the walk along the Espanade at the point where I left it, however as I looked up towards the spot opposite Esplanade Car Park I got the immediate impression that the car park looked just like one huge windowless, roofless derelict, building and so I just kept on walking along the beach.
I briefly returned to the FCP up a ramp at the end of the Esplanade…
… before falling for the allure of Kirkcaldy Harbour, well it had to be more interesting than just walking along the road and I was right.
I never knew the harbour had a railway swing bridge, there is also a set of lock gates between the inner and outer harbours. They both have fallen into disrepair and are no longer used.
The flour mill is still about the only business that’s operating at the harbour, the whole area has been given over to housing.
Around the harbour and back onto the road and up to the 17th century Sailor’s Walk, a former Customs House and a nice example of an old Scots classic architecture rescued from demolition.
Along the road to the right and you could almost be somewhere else.
A sign of Kirkcaldy’s once proud past. M Nairn, who made and still make linoleum in the town.
The building is just a façade, the new building inside is part of the college.
It was at this point that I made the decision to leave the signposted route, which goes up a hill and take an alternative route through the mill. It was a no brainer for me, as I knew the FCP goes up hill only to come down a short while later.
The path heads towards the mill and then turns left alongside the offloading weighbridge, under a disused railway bridge, towards a water treatment plant then right alongside the harbour breakwater, it then splits, you can follow it straight on along a rough dog walking path to the beach or take the graded path to the left, which leads up to the Pathhead Car Park.
The route gets a little quirky as it leads away from the car park onto the grass heading for the base of the escarpment below the castle. Going coastal I headed for the beach.
The coastal FCP goes along the beach past the foot of Ravenscraig Castle to the doocot perched on a rocky outcrop, then up a set of stairs to the doocot.
If the tide is high then the route is up a set of monumental stairs, around the castle and into Ravenscraig Park.
Going coastal past the Castle…
The sight of one man and his dog made me realise how much I miss not having my own dog around, it’s been 18 months since we put him down. He had a good life, which is what counts.
The way continues up a set of steps past a late 16th century Doocot into Ravencraig Park. This is a pleasant and enjoyable part of the FCP, easy walking through the wood with good views of the Forth to your right.
You pass by a piece of sculpture entitled Stanes. The text in is the Fife dialect, ye ken. “Sayin nocht that I mind…”
Opposite the sculpture is an ornamental look-out tower cum outside toilet, although from here you do get a good view of the beach and castle.
The path is really pleasant in the park as it winds it’s way along the coast to Dysart. You pass through a tunnel cut in the rock made to make the offloading of ballast from coal ships more easier. The harbour has hardly changed over the years and was used recently as a filming location for Outlander.
The FCP goes around the harbour and comes to the Harbour Master’s House and my lunch stop for today, where I had a hearty bowl of Stovies to sustain me for the next stretch. The building has an exhibition on the FCP in the basement and also houses the Fife Coastal and Countryside Trust’s offices, who were responsible for setting up the FCP.
Coming out you see a large pastel coloured piece of sculpture entitled Sea Beams, you can almost imagine the shafts of light piercing the water.
The FCP follows the sea wall past the Pan Ha’ or to translate the Fife, The Pan Handle a descriptive name for a cul de sac if ever there was one.
Another Fife name is the Hie-Gait, or High Gate just beyond.
I just wonder what the purpose of this strange piece of work, a low wall either side of a channel cut into the rock and XX on the rock in the foreground it’s anyone’s guess.
The way ahead is now dominated for a short while by the winding frame of the long gone Frances Colliery with West Wemyss shining in the distance. The path suffers from erosion with a detour.
The names of some of the men who lost their lives at work in the pit 1873 to 1984 are listed at the bottom of the central stone.
The path past the winding frame gets a little rough in places with the occasional “dog-egg” to look out for. The path then starts its descent towards West Wemyss with irregular stone steps.
I felt sorry for this man, he could not go on as the path becomes very rough and irregular and he could not manage it with the way his knees were. I discovered what he meant the large stones were iggegularly spaced, at irregular heights making for very painful walking. My knees were complaining by the time that I got to the bottom. This section is without doubt the worst part of the whole coastal path so far.
The path splits – the way marked route carries straight on while another path goes to the right towards the shore. Take the right path, it is more interesting with a nice view of West Wemyss. They both end up at the same place anyway.
You pass by St. Mary’s Chapel Garden with a large ruin in the garden and an unusual round house beyond.
At the base of the sandstone cliffs before the harbour there are a number of bricked up store rooms, this one had had some mosaic work done on it to make it look like a house. There is a mosaic swan mural beyond this.
The path enters West Wemyss. The building on the hill to your left was until 1952 the villages’ Miners Institute, it then became a hotel in the late 1980s and is now unused. The stone balustrade above the now filled in archways or loggia was apparently saved from the now demolished Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
This must have been a busy port in its day exporting coal to all airts and airts, the harbour was divided into two parts, only the outer part remains, the inner has been mostly filled in.
The way goes along the back of the restored houses along the villages’ Main Street with the rooflines being dominated by the 18th century Tollbooth.
Continuing along between the houses and the shore the FCP comes out at the end of the village and St.Adrian’s Church. There is a memorial here to the five men who died, January 23rd 1941, when a sea mine they were trying to drag away from the village exploded killing all of them.
The path continues along the shore heading towards Wemyss Castle. At one point the path signs direct you to walk along the beach, maybe because of erosion maybe not.
Coming to the end of our journey and I was impressed by the size of these beech trees.
The FCP now continues along the shore past a disused sea wall, which I never bothered photographing. A personal alarm signal as losing interest in things like that is a sure sign that I was becoming tired. The path becomes a muddy track as it makes its way past the site of Michael Pit, sunk in 1895 and closed following a fire in 1967. Quoting from M K Oglethorpe 2006.
“Michael became the largest producer of coal in Scotland, and the Wemyss Coal Company’s showpiece pit, despite continuous problems of gas and spontaneous combustion. Whilst still Scotland’s biggest pit, and after massive investment, a disastrous fire broke out on 9 September 1967, destroying the new reserves. Although 302 men escaped, nine were killed. The disaster highlighted many safety issues, including the dangers of using polyurethane foam in underground workings, and the lack of portable respiratory equipment. A resulting campaign by Scottish National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) leader Michael McGahey resulted in the mandatory issue of self-rescuers (breathing aids) to all personnel working underground, and the installation of new emergency telephone systems.”
I met a former Mine’s Rescue team member, who was here during the rescue and he painted a very vivid picture of the disastrous fire.
Just after the site of the Michael, the path goes off to the left going slightly uphill, I’d suggest taking this route as going straight on leads you past the boat club and a noisy and unpleasant metals recycling yard.
I left the shore and headed inland to get my bus back to Kirkcaldy but there’s one thing for sure…..