273. Elie to Crail

May 2014

This was actually the 2nd day of a 4-day trip to walk more of the Fife Coast Path. I had spent the night at the Premier Inn Dundee East which had only cost me £93 in total for a 3 night stay which I thought was excellent. After making the most of the “All You Can Eat” breakfast buffet (for which I had to pay extra) I was ready for the days walking.

Yesterday I’d travelled to the hotel by taking the train to Balmossie (which I later discovered was the only train that runs from Dundee to Balmossie each day) and walking the rest of the way. So this morning as there was no train I had to negotiate the buses. I relied on Traveline to direct me to the nearest bus stop where I took a rather slow bus into the centre of Dundee. Of course, in typical British fashion of not integrating public transport the “city” buses I’d just take from the suburbs of Dundee don’t go to the bus station (from where my next bus left) but stopped on a road in the city centre. So I had to find my own way through the city centre streets to the bus station from where my next bus onwards was to St Andrews. It had just been raining but thankfully just stopped and the streets were deserted at this time on a Sunday.

Dundee

Dundee

The bus on to St Andrews was quicker and is well used by students of the University there many of whom seem to live in Dundee and commute by bus. I then took my 3rd bus on to Elie, though this one was actually a coach which was far more comfortable. After all this riding around on buses it was almost 11am by the time I had arrived at Elie!

Elie

Still the journey back would be faster because by then I’d be nearer to Dundee!

I alighted at the same bus stop where I got off the bus at the start of my previous walk from Elie and made my way back down to the sea once more. The rain from earlier in the day had now cleared and there was the odd bit of sun breaking through which I was pleased about.

Elie

The coast at Elie

The tide was further in than on my previous visit and there were still sizeable pools of water at the back of the beach but sand banks in front of it.

Elie

I re-traced my steps from the last walk down to the beach and then the little harbour.

The coast at Elie

Elie is a rather pretty village located roughly opposite North Berwick on the other side of the Firth of Forth. The route onwards was good along the neatly mown  grassy path at the back of the very low cliffs.

The coast at Elie

I made my way along this around the back of the first little sandy beach, Wood Haven. This is a pleasant little beach backed by grassy cliffs and with views back to the village centre.

On the next headland, Elie Ness stands the little lighthouse of Elie Ness though oddly the official coast path misses this out.

The coast at Elie

The coast at Elie

Lighthouse near Elie

I didn’t though, even though I had also been here at the start of my last walk.

Elie

However onwards from here I was now on coast I hadn’t been to before and continued to the small ruined castle (or so I thought) I had seen last time (but not up close).

Lady Janet Anstruther's Tower, Elie

In truth there is very little left, just the base of an old round stone built tower, though the doorway is still present. It turned out once I got there it wasn’t a castle at all! It is Lady’s Tower which was built for Lady Janet Anstruther to use for changing here for her daily swim. It has since fallen into ruin.

Lady Janet Anstruther's Tower, Elie

From the tower I continued on the path around the little headland to rejoin the official coast path which now rounded the back of a pleasant sandy and rocky beach, Lady’s Tower beach, presumably because this is the beach in which Lady Janet Anstruther used to swim after changing in her tower.

The coast near Elie

The coast near Elie

The coast at Elie

Out to sea I could soon sea Bass Rock with the hills behind it.

The Firth of Forth from Elie

Further to the left I could also see a much lower smaller island which I think is the Isle of May.

The isle of May viewed from near Elie

It is possible to visit this island but unusually I hadn’t done so this time (though I do intend to come back and go to it). In fact I think this is the first island I had passed on the coast it is possible to visit and I have NOT done so. The reason is that I was coming to the conclusion that there were so many islands in Scotland (especially compared with England and Wales) that if I stopped to visit all of them that I passed I might never finish walking the mainland coast. So I decided to focus a bit more on the mainland and when I (hopefully) finish that, I will come back and walk the coast of as many islands as possible.

The walking here was easy and pleasant along the path at the back of the low grassy cliffs just behind the various small beaches and bays, which are a mixture of sand and rock.

The coast near Elie

In fact in places the path was almost on the beach as it had been repaired with rocks enclosed in wire cages in places.

 

The coast near Elie

The path was soon running alongside the old railway line which was once part of the Fife Coast Railway which ran around the coast to St Andrews and on to Dundee. It would have been very useful to me this morning to get to Elie if only it hadn’t closed in the 1960s! However here the bridge that once allowed access under the railway line was still in place even though the line had long since closed.

The old railway line near Elie

The remains of Ardross Castle, near Elie

A short distance beyond this I came across the remains of another castle. This time it actually was a castle, Ardross Castle.

The remains of Ardross Castle, near Elie

This one dates from the 14th Century though very little of it remains. Really just the stone base of the walls. I had a quick look around but there wasn’t much to see to be honest!

The remains of Ardross Castle, near Elie

The remains of Ardross Castle, near Elie

However the castle is built right onto the cliff top so the path has to divert the landward side of it as the land behind is too steeply sloping to walk on. Once round the castle I was back on the cliff top once more passing another pleasant sand and rock beach.

The coast near Elie

The coast path ran along the back of the beach again a concrete sea wall had been built along part of the cliffs, but was now decaying with a big whole through it!

The coast near Elie

I wondered how recent this was, it was almost a sink hole where the material under the wall had washed away and caused the sea wall to collapse. I wondered if it was about to take the coast path with it – I didn’t linger!

Broken sea wall near Elie

Climbing around the low rocky headland I soon rounded the corner into the next little bay where I had a wonderful site of (another) ruined castle ahead.

The coast near Elie

This one though was rather impressive, being rather more complete than Ardross Castle and looking as if there might also be part of a ruined church in it, too (the church was actually separate, and not ruined but I couldn’t see that from here). Behind it too I could see the next settlement along the coast, the village of St Monans.

Out to sea too the sandy beach had become rather more rocky, with several large rocks just off the shore, presumably harder parts of rocks where the softer land around them had eroded away.

The coast near Elie

The path was lovely passing along the base of the cliffs now with a few blue bells providing an occasional flash of colour beside the path. The path was becoming more rocky now with various undulations, though the cliffs were never that high.

The coast near Elie

The coast near Elie

I was soon nearing the rather more impressive ruined castle I had seen from a distance earlier, Newark Castle.

Newark Castle near St Monans

The current castle dates from the 15th Century but has become a ruin, despite there being plans to restore it at one time. It’s not to be confused with the rather better known Newark Castle in the town of the same name in land-locked Nottinghamshire!

The coast near St Monans

The castle is in a state of ruin and unfortunately that seems to be getting worse, since the structure was partly fenced off with temporary metal fences to keep people out presumably as it is at risk of further collapse. Signs warned of unstable masonry and deep excavations. I hope it is prevented from further collapse, it is a lovely landmark on this part of the coast.

Newark Castle near St Monans

Newark Castle near St Monans

Now rounding the castle I was a little puzzled to be presented the option of an inland “high tide” route as well as a coastal route. The reason is the coast path continues right along the cliff top. Surely the sea doesn’t come over these cliffs? Perhaps it is just for when it is stormy as it certainly didn’t seem the sea would wash over the path at most high tides, it certainly would not be grassy if it did.

Newark Castle near St Monans

I passed another stone tower, presumably something to do with the castle and then followed the path along the coast down to the beach beyond.

I was now approaching the village of St Monans and the church that earlier looked to be inside or part of the castle I could now see was quite separate and rather beautiful in this spectacular cliff-top location. Indeed the wall of the graveyard also doubles as the sea wall! Behind it too the village of St Monans also looked very pretty.

Approaching St Monans

St Monans

The path then went through the church yard of this large church, down some steps and crossed a small burn (Inverie Burn) via a stone bridge. Ahead the gardens of the houses came right down to the shore so I had to turn inland along the road, but this was no hardship as like most places I’ve encountered in Fife, the village was very pretty.

St Monans

Church in St Monans

Many of the buildings have bright red tiled roofs and are painted white, but with colour around the windows. It is a very pleasing effect which makes it all look so pretty.

St Monans

I followed the road of Burnside then Braehead and then West End back down to the shore at the harbour, which was quite large in comparison with the size of the village.

St Monans

Some of the larger boats were still out of the water on the harbour walls, presumably undergoing maintenance. There weren’t that many boats in the harbour now but an old slipway, still with rail tracks set into the slop suggested this was once a far busier harbour.

St Monans

It was especially pretty down on the harbour with the colourful painted buildings providing a nice backdrop to the harbour and sea.

St Monans

St Monans

At the end of the harbour I made a mistake continuing along the shore into the road of East Shore. Although signed as a dead-end I assumed this only applied to vehicles. It didn’t. So I had to re-trace my steps and follow one road back, Forth Street and then Rose Street where I could then continue on the official coast path back to the shore.

I had enjoyed St Monans very much so I was looking forward to seeing what was ahead. Soon the village ended (though not without a few caravans at the far end) and soon I was passing an odd structure to my right. To start with I thought this was some sort of tidal swimming pool.

Old Salt pan, St Monans

However it isn’t a swimming pool. It turns out this was once part of a large salt making factory that once stood here and sea water was collected in this pool and then heated to the boil, to leave behind the salt which was then extracted. It was clearly once quite a big industry with salt pans also on the grass behind the beach but it was all abandoned in 1823 after competition with Spain, who could produce salt with sun evaporation rather than needing coal as was used here to boil away the water.

Just behind the salt pans is another unexpected sight – a windmill! This has been restored and signs suggested it is open to the public sometimes, but today was not one of those days so I was unable to look inside.

Windmill near St Monans

Old Salt Pans near St Monans

I continued past the remains of the Salt Pans below the windmill now approaching the next village, Pittenweem, which I begun to see ahead.

The coast near Pittenweem

The coast path again ran below the cliffs and just above the beach and I passed some more areas of bluebells beside the path.

The coast near Pittenweem

I soon had a fine view of Pittenweem ahead which again, as I had suspected, turned out to be another beautiful village.

Approaching Pittenweem

I have been so impressed with how pretty all the villages are along the Fife Coast and this is another lovely place.

Pittenweem

Many of the houses are built right back of the beach protected only by a rather a stone sea wall. It must be lovely in summer but I’m not sure I could sleep soundly in such a house during a storm.

The coast at Pittenweem

Still the path soon became the track (it was too narrow to be a road) that ran in front of these house on top of the sea wall. The track did however soon widen enough to become a road (in fact a very wide road) and then reached the harbour.

Pittenweem

The harbour in Pittenweem was smaller than in St Monans but had many more boats within it. Fishing is clearly still a big industry here, even if it is diminished compared with the recent past.

Pittenweem harbour

Again the village was a real delight with beautiful and well kept stone houses along the shore and roads behind.

Pittenweem harbour

Pittenweem

Pittenweem

Pittenweem

When planning doing this walk many of the places I see marked on the map I will be passing through I haven’t even heard of, so know nothing of what they will be like when I get there. So it is such a pleasant surprise to find so many beautiful villages on this part of the coast.

At the eastern side of the harbour I follow the road which climbs steeply, as there are now quite high cliffs to the east of the harbour.

The coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem

The road is called Abbey Wall Road so presumably there was once an Abbey here though I don’t think it has survived.

The coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem

The coast path now runs along the grass in front of some houses and then descends again to follow the coastal side of a golf course. This of course reminds me that this is actually the first golf course I have encountered today.

The coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem

The coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem

Once again the golf course was in use too so I had to keep a bit of an eye out for any stray golf balls (but there weren’t any).

The coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem

Up on the hills behind the golf course is another tower whose purpose I don’t know.

The coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem

I continue and soon the path becomes tarmac as I approach the town of Anstruther which seems to go by 3 names on the map (Anstrurther Wester, Cellardyke and Anstruther Easter), but seem to be just referred to as Anstruther by everyone locally. Presumably once separate places that have now merged.

To my right there is a pleasant sandy beach, a surprise because it is not marked on the map.

The coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem

Once again Ansruther look to be very pretty with lots more brightly painted houses with red roofs.

Anstruther

I followed the access road from the golf course to the road, crossed it and continue ahead in Shore Street. Again the gardens of the houses came right down to the beach so I had to follow the road. At the end of the road I turned left into Crichton Street and then right along the A917. Here I came across this very unusual but interesting building which seems to be half a house and half a (former) church, with it’s tower.

Anstruther

Another house had a wall made up of shells embedded into the wall made into attractive patterns (the house to the right in the photo below).

Anstruther

I continued ahead here which again turned out to be a mistake as it was a dead-end leading out to a small car park. Still this gave me a nice view of the little beach at the mouth of the Dreel Burn ahead.

Anstruther

Anstruther

I also had views of the graveyard behind that unusual looking (former?) church.

Anstruther

So I re-traced my steps back to the A917 to cross the burn via the road bridge and back around the shore to reach the harbour.

Dreel burn, Anstruther

Once again this was a lovely village with the shore backed by very attractive buildings.

Anstruther

Anstruther

It was quite a busy little town. The harbour was lined with attractive stone paving dotted with seats and the harbour itself was more a marina now rather than a working harbour, the boats all being leisure craft rather than fishing boats.

Anstruther

Anstruther

Anstruther harbour

At the end of the harbour again the houses were built right into the cliff – in fact they were almost an integral part of the cliffs!

Anstruther

This meant following the road again but I didn’t mind as the buildings continued to be very attractive.

Anstruther

Anstruther

In about half a mile I reached a second smaller harbour. This is Cellarydyke harbour but known locally as Skinfast Haven.

Skinfast Haven, Anstruther

It seems to be entirely disused now (there were no boats in it) but a sign did say that one of the pier was restored after damage in 2002 so it is still maintained. In fact it was so quiet someone had even hung their washing out to dry on a little washing line at the back of the harbour (you can see it above).

I continued along the road behind the harbour to soon reach the end of the town of Anstruther but not before I reached a caravan site. This overlooked a rather rocky beach.

The beach at Anstruther

Presumably this was poor for swimming so one of those tidal swimming pools had been created, but a sign warned it was no longer maintained and so not advised to be used.

Once the caravan park ended the path crossed the Kilrenny Burn on a bridge and now ran right along the top of the low grassy fields again with fields to the left. I soon reached the large red-roofed farm at Caiplie and beyond it the geology became extremely interesting.

Areas of presumably soft sand stone jutted out from the fields but being a soft rock the exposure to the wind, rain and sea had eroded it into some quite amazing shapes, with a small cave between and many colours visible in the stone. It was quite unexpected and beyond it there were some more larger caves in the rock.

Rock formations on the coast east of Caves on the coast near Anstruther

Caves on the coast near Anstruther

I stopped to take some close up colours and abstract photos of these usual and colourful rocks.

Caves on the coast near Anstruther

Caves on the coast near Anstruther

Beyond the caves I briefly had the company of some sheep and then continued past a couple of ruined old cottages, presumably once those of farm workers.

Sheep on the Fife coast path near Anstruther

Ruined cottage on the coast between Anstruther and Crail

Ruined cottage on the coast between Anstruther and Crail

Sadly much of the coast here was littered with fishing debris, whether left here or washed up by the sea, I’m not sure. The path passed through some rocky areas but was mostly on grass below the low cliffs, sometimes with some small sandy beaches too.

The coast between Anstruther and Crail

Sadly here there started to be some drizzle but it did not last for long (I still hoped it might brighten up, but it never did).

Soon I was approaching the village of Crail and once again it was another beautiful village.

Approaching Crail

In fact these villages reminded me a bit of some of the villages on the North Yorkshire coast (particularly Robin Hoods Bay), except without the tourists.

The harbour at Crail

The path soon joined a road at the west of the village and followed this down towards the harbour and beach.

Crail

I had made good time, it was only a little after 4pm. There is nowhere of much size beyond Crail until you reach St Andrews so it made sense to end the walk here in Crail. As it was fairly early still and I had some time to wait for a bus back to Dundee I had some time to explore and wander around this lovely village. It is so pretty with steep cobbled streets, a little fishing harbour and many attractive buildings. I very much enjoyed wandering around the village and it was nice to find it pleasingly free of other visitors.

The beach at Crail

Crail Harbour

Crail Harbour

I did wonder about the seat outside this house – surely you’d end up slipping off it, it was on such a slope!

Crail

Crail Harbour

Crail Harbour

Having completed my explore of the village it was time to head for the bus stop (which was on the A917) for a bus back to St Andrews, where I made a connection onto another bus back to Dundee. In Dundee I managed to make a mistake and got on the right numbered bus that should go back to my hotel, except I got on it going the wrong direction! Once I had realised I had to wait for another bus – this time going the right way.

This had been a really lovely walk. The walk itself was not demanding, being mostly fairly flat and along a good coast path or roads and tracks but still very pretty with numerous little beaches to pass. However the stand out feature was actually the urban areas as each of the villages and small towns I passed through were incredibly pretty and well looked after and each had their own distinct character and charm. There had also been some fascinating geology along the coast and some interesting history, too, with ruined castles, windmills and even salt pans. Overall this was a great walk and a varied one which had turned out to be far more scenic than I had expected.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

Stagecoach Fife bus 95 : St Andrews – Kingsbarns – Crail – Cellardyke – Anstruther – Waid – PittenweemSt Monans – Elie – Kilconquhar – Colinsburgh – Upper Largo – Lower Largo – Lundin Links – Letham Glen – Leven. The bus runs hourly, seven days a week and takes a little over 35 minutes to travel between Elie and Crail. Note that the bus maybe shown as going only to Anstruther but it does run through.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk  : Main Link.

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4 Responses to 273. Elie to Crail

  1. I know all of this well! I’ve been in that windmill, quite an interesting little display. When you took the pictures from the small car park beyond the shell house in Anstruther you were standing outside the home of one of John’s cousins.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I’d have liked to go in the windmill. It even had a sign telling you to switch off the light when you leave (implying it’s always open) but the door was locked. Still I have been in another windmill before. Anstruther is lovely and it’s nice to hear you have family connections there. It had a lot of character too. I remember seeing a few houses covered in shells in various places on family holidays as a child (I known Bournemouth was one such place) but they seem to have mostly disappeared now.

  2. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, I’ve been over an awful lot of Scotland, but have barely visited The Kingdom of Fife, so I am looking forward to walking in this area.
    Off to the far NE of Scotland tomorrow for three days of walking. I’ll be based in the Wetherspoons hotel in Fraserburgh, which will be a first for me. Hope to reach just north of Peterhead at the end of this trip.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes Fife is very enjoyable – and with the luxury of a proper coast path and regular buses too! Hope you get on well in the north of Scotland. I have seen a few Whetherspoon hotels but not actually stayed in one. I remember there was even a Wimpy in Fraserburgh – not seen one of those for years (though I didn’t go in!)

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