Fife Coastal Path, Pt. 1

FCP path after Elie

At the very top of my hiking goals list for Scotland, the Fife Coastal Path provided a dream challenge for me. It stretches for 117 miles of coastline around the Kingdom of Fife (north of Edinburgh), from Kincardine to Newburgh, and since it links coastal towns, each section is generally manageable for the average day walker.

For me, though, as someone who has consistently worked to build up my strength and stamina on shorter trails, this was a big challenge. Granted, I don’t have time to hike the entire FCP, and the section I chose — stretching from Elie east and north to Crail — covers only 11 to 12 miles. But planning for a hike of that length was daunting to me.

By a stroke of good luck, though — or perhaps a stroke of great travel planning — I arrived in St Andrews late morning and dropped my bags at my hotel before hopping the next bus to Elie. We drove through rain for a large portion of the route, but it had scaled back to a fine mist by the time I reached my stop. And after a delicious lunch and superb cake, I felt prepared to tackle the trail.

I had prepared for the hike by buying a book that laid out the FCP in sections, with helpful maps and narratives to guide the walker. Unfortunately, its directions are not always clear. Some towns have maps that guide you to the right area, and of course the path has signs posted. But when the streets twist and turn — or you’re not looking in the right direction! — you can miss things completely.

FCP Elie lighthouse BW

Happily, it was not too difficult to get started in Elie, and the public loo was even on the way (handy for hikers needing a break)! So I wandered down to the harbor and found my way around to a small peninsula, with a secondary path leading out to the lighthouse.

FCP elie lady tower shore

That wasn’t my destination, though. The book guided me to the right path, heading up and over the grassy dunes until I spotted the Lady’s Tower. Build in the 1770s for Lady Janet Anstruther, who wanted a private place to disrobe before swimming in the bay, the tower is now a ruin, open to the elements with stunning views over the bay to the Isle of May and to Bass Rock.

Eventually, I turned back to the path, following it along the rocks and beaches and hillsides until I came to a side path leading under the old railway bridge to the main road. The signpost indicated this was the turn for Ardross Farm Shop, a local-foods farm store I’ve followed on Instagram, so of course I had to take this side excursion to indulge my love of local food!

A while later, I returned from that detour with a canvas bag partially full of provisions for a picnic on the path the next day. Yeah, I couldn’t resist. And though the bag was awkward, it wasn’t too heavy to carry on my hike.

ardross castle ruins

On the back side of the farm, I found the ruins of Ardross Castle. I explored around the stones for a bit, but as the castle apparently had a fairly small footprint, it didn’t take long, and I was back on the path within minutes.

FCP Newark Castle ruins

Another mile or two down the path, I found the ruins of Newark Castle perched high on an outcropping of stone. The steps up to it were closed off (with good reason, given their precarious state), and the FCP led up the hill behind it and then around to where a beehive-shaped dovecote (doocot) stood nearby.

FCP St Monans church

From this viewpoint, I could finally see the fishing village of St Monans not too far away. The local parish church, the first building on my approach, dates from the 1360s and stands just meters from a stone wall and sheer drop to the water. The path navigated along that wall and the stone steps built into it, leading me up to the town. I followed the harbor to the other side of town, where an old stone windmill stood on a hill overlooking the remnants of the salt pans once used to produce sea salt for food preservation.

FCP Pittenweem

Since I still had plenty of daylight and wanted to reach an approximate halfway point for this section of the FCP, I pressed on another mile to reach Pittenweem. Like the other villages, it has a charming harbor fronted by old whitewashed cottages that gleam in the sunlight. I wandered up the hill, past the town center to the main road, and waited for my bus back to St Andrews.

My total mileage for the day was just over 5.5 miles, though by the time I finished, it felt much longer. Many sections of the path are somewhat level, but I climbed several hills and had to watch my footing on uneven, narrow sections frequently, so I definitely ached in hips, legs, feet, and back. After a good night’s rest, though, I plan to finish my chosen section!

 

 

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