Going Coastal along the 116 miles of the Fife Coastal Path from Kincardine to Newburgh. This section covers the six miles from Elie to Anstruther AKA Ainster… ye ken.
I came home from a heavy weekend night-shoot with 2,500 photos and got peeved off at grading and editing them so I decided to go for a walk instead. Indeed most of those photos are still outstanding but I’d rather do this than face those photos.
Knowing the lie of the land, I parked my car up at a car park just outside Elie, not too far from the harbour and the lighthouse with the intention of walking the 11 miles to Crail and getting the bus back to Elie then catching up on the “missing bit” of the Fife Coastal Path (FCP) on the way to the car.
The car park overlooks the little bay of Wood Haven, there are some WW2 anti-tank “Cubes” in a couple of places here, one has been tipped over and split, possibly indicating that the concrete was done in two pours some time apart. There are a line of cubes along the escarpment although I wonder how easy it would have been to get a tank up this slope in the first place.
The FCP leaves the car park to cut across the headland, going straight for the coast. It’s an injustice to miss the nice wee lighthouse on the point, it was commissioned in 1908 under the engineering supervision of David A Stevenson grandson of Robert Stevenson, of Bell Rock Lighthouse fame and a cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson and is still in use today albeit with electric light rather than acetylene lamps.
Follow the path around the headland coming to the Lady’s Tower, there is a small vaulted chamber above the shore line before you come to the tower, which is said to be a bathing house. The Tower itself was probably built to improve the view, which it certainly does and it had been photographed to death over the years… including some by myself.
From here, you can get a view of the way ahead up the coast past St. Monans to Pittenweem, with Anstruther around the headland in the distance.
The path now follows the coast between a fence and the shore all the way up to Ardross.
The going is good, reasonably well surfaced in a choice of compacted earth or sand, interspersed in places by the odd step.
I had a fascinating chat with a dog walker about the history of the place, and how Earlsferry lost its dominance to Elie when its harbour was destroyed by a storm.
The next point of interest is the ruins of the 15th Century Ardross Castle there’s not that much to see, the crumbling 6″ thick walls are impressive as is the ruin of a roofless vaulted cellar. I did find another “swarm” of snails, all sleeping their heads off in a hole in a wall.
A little farther on is an impressive railway bridge with a wall of brambles nestling underneath, natures barbed wire.
The view ahead is dominated by another castle, this time it is 16 / 17th Century Newark Castle much of which is in a ruined state although it must have been a grand place in its day.
There is a wooden post sunk into the stones before the castle on the shore. This is an important marker for the way ahead because if the tide has reached this point then the high tide diversion route into St. Monans has to be taken.
The path climbs up a set of irregular steps to the castle, which is partially fenced off, then carries around to another headland and the 16th century castle doocot. Fresh meat was important but of equal importance was the desire to keep the noise and smell of the pigeons at arms length from the folk in the castle.
A little farther on and you’ll come to St.Monans, the path then drops down to the shoreline, which is the reason for the high tide marker post mentioned previously. A high tide renders this route is impassable as it skirts the base of the church wall before traversing an embankment, by way of foot holds in the stonework to the front of the kirk.
The high tide route joins the FCP on the other side of the church and then goes up a narrow set of steps between two houses, emerging onto a street, turns right and descends to the sea again. There is a nice view of the church from a promontory here although I gather there is a building plan in action to put a house here.
The FCP goes along a narrow street, with a few tell tale signs that the houses are rented holiday homes – combination key-safes on the doors.
The road emerges at the slipway of James N Millar and Sons, boat builders, whose business dated back to 1747 and is alas no more. The slipway with it’s impressive rails is now the site of the Welly Boot Garden, a part of the villages’ entry to the Beautiful Fife Competition. I have forgotten the name of the artist who made the triptych entitled “Fifty? Shades of Grey.”
Going by the road sign, the council still seems to think that this is an operational slipway.
There’s a beautiful stair house along the way, another rented property, with the key-safe mounted high on the ground floor door and a barrier across the top of the stairs, as that door is no longer used.
The FCP continues past the harbour, the entrance was blocked by a dredger, always a good sign of an active harbour, up to a smoke house, which was also part of James N Millar and Sons boat-yard. The route now goes up hill for a short distance turning right onto a narrow street before emerging back out at the shore at a car park. The view ahead is dominated by a 18th century windmill, used for pumping sea water to the salt works on the shore.
The old municipal outdoor swimming pool is on the right, a sign of long past holidays by the seaside in the days before foreign holidays.
The salt was extracted from the sea water by evapouration, the water being heated by burning coal mined from a nearby site. The ground water from the mine still spills forth a little way beyond, staining the watercourse brown as it goes.
There are public information boards here at the Salt Pans, unfortunately they are weathered and hard to read.
You can see coal deposits in between the rock layers on the coast.
I watched two men strip the asbestos roof off a house at the nearby Pathhead Nursery above the path, Both were wearing white dust suits,(tick) but only one, the one doing the work on the roof was wearing a dust mask and not the guy stacking the broken sheets (half a tick) while the breeze carried any dust generated, away from them towards Pittenweem (no tick.) It only takes just one fiber of asbestos in the lung to start an incurable health problem, a problem which will only show up years later. You have got to die of something right?
The path approaches and goes up a hill towards a play park but I carried on for a short distance to visit the old Pittenweem municipal outdoor pool
You may have guessed by now that I have a soft spot for these signs of faded grandeur.
The FCP goes around a shelter and down towards Pittenweem with a lovely view of the houses along the West Shore. The open space to your left was the site of the town’s gas works.
There’s a No Cycling sign by sea wall but by some kind of irony there are four old bicycles which have been turned into artworks, lying against the houses. Transgressors will be turned into artworks, so be warned!
The route then follows the road past the busy harbour and fish market then heads up hill. Before it does there is a grand house at the end of the harbour which is worth mentioning.
The Gyles, according to the blue plaque on the wall, “The Gyles built in 1626 for Captain James Cook. Cook married a Horsburgh (woman) and the house stayed in the Horsburgh family for 300 years. Sadly, the claim that it was Cook’s ship that carried Charles II to France after his defeat at the 1651 Battle of Worcester is a 19th century hoax. John Jenry Lorimer, portrait painter restored the house in 1930, hence the initials JHM and numerals on the gate. Hew Lorimer, sculptor lived here in the 1930s and 1940s.”
The FCP climbs up a steady incline to a sharp bend in the road, where it carries on by way of a path in front of some houses perched on top of an escarpment. It continues along the escarpment before descending to the shore. There is a curious structure on the rocks, which is thought to be a firing platform for a rifle range dating from the early 1900s.
I just wonder how many folk actually speak Gaelic in Pittenweem. Ah well it’s the thought that counts.
The path now clings to the shoreline, sandwiched between the golf course and the sea.. There appears to be an old coastguard look out tower perched on an escarpment, the front bricked up and in use by the golf club.
The path then continues along the coast before coming to… surprise, surprise…. another outdoor swimming pool and one that I had never known about! It is very much unrecognisible now, only the concrete steps give it away.
There is a very patriotic Saltire out on a rock on a promontory making a brave effort to resist the wind of change. Saltire? It’s the proper name for the Scottish flag, based on the cross of St.Andrew.
The path then joins a road which makes its way past the golf clubhouse and follows a street, with nothing of any interest to a T-junction, turns left and goes uphill to the main road and turn right. The building at the top used to be the old Crichton Street, Surgery, and proudly proclaims it name in Gaelic. Ah well it impresses the tourists. I’m sensing a bit of a Gaelic sub culture here,
This is a busy road with few pleasures along the way, an old shop, long shut, so incredibly dated with net curtains in the window and tall double split doors coated with fading paint and road grime.
The Dreel Tavern is on the left hand side of the road. Dreel being the Scots word for a furrow, which applies to the burn flowing behind the tavern. A plaque on the wall proclaims, “James V 1513-1542 travelled incognito through Fife as the ‘Guid man o’Ballengeich,’ coming to the Dreel Burn and fearful of wetting his hose, he was carried across at this point by a stout gaberlunzie woman, who was rewarded with the king’s purse.” A gaberlunzie is the Scots word for a licensed beggar. So Kingy Jimmy was feart o’ getting his stockings wet, so a woman carried him over a burn and was rewarded. And who says the age of chivalry is dead?
The road takes a sharp bend, the bane of many a heavy goods driver and on the wall of a house on the bend is a plaque to “Captain John Keay, 1828-1918, Born in East Green, Anstruther. Lived in this house for many years master of many clipper ships including the famous ‘Aerial,'”
The Buckie House on the corner has one of its walls is decorated with sea shells. I have always been too busy trying to get around this corner to notice this.
The Old Tollbooth and Wester Anstruther Town Hall is also on this corner along with St.Adrian’s Church with three large stones engraved with the story of Anstruther.
The bridge beyond over the Dreel Burn, bears stones dated 1630, “Rebuilt by subscription (they passed the hat around local worthies) 1795” and marks the boundary between Wester Anstruther and Anstruther, or as the locals call it “Ainster.”
The gable end of wall the house beyond the bridge is decorated by sea shells and has seen better days.
Opposite is another old and long closed shop with empty, road grime encrusted bay windows looking out onto the busy road.
Opposite the shop is the now closed Smugglers Inn, dating back the the 16th century with 18th and 19th century additions and is on the buildings at risk register. The road forks just beyond, take the right hand fork and follow a narrow lane on the right all the way to the bottom, turning left along the shore.
I took the opportunity to have a fish supper here, at the first chip chop I came to, there are three here and wished that I had gone to the second. It was OK but I think the second one is better. The one at the end if the harbour is the one that got all the awards a number of years ago. It has been sold on since then and still attracts the customers.
It was while I was eating my fish supper by the harbour, studying the route ahead that I came to the decision to call it quits for today instead of walking to Crail.
One is committed to the next six miles with no jumping off points.Time was pressing and I thought my phone battery was flat, being my only time piece and source of a bus timetable, I quit when I was ahead and got the X60 bus back to Elie, covering the bit that I had missed in the morning.
So there we go, another bit done and at the 61 mile mark just under half way along the Fife Coastal Path…. but there’s one thing for sure….