274. Crail to St. Andrews

May 2014

After ending at the pretty fishing village of Crail the previous evening I was looking forward to returning and reaching the town of St Andrews. I know this town is famous for golf and the University but having seen it on the TV before I also know it has a great beach so this promises to be a good walk.

From my hotel in Dundee (the Dundee East Premier Inn) I discovered after getting back last night that there is another bus stop right behind the hotel on the A92 (accessed via an unofficial path through a gap in the hedge!) that I was not aware of. This is much more convenient because the buses from this stop are faster and also take me to the bus station (unlike the National Express Dundee one I used yesterday). They also give change and accept notes (both unlike National Express Dundee) and it means I can buy a day ticket for the same company which saves me money. So I took a bus from here to Dundee bus station, another bus from there to St Andrews and a final bus from there to Crail, where I arrived around 10am.

Crail

I stopped to buy lunch and then from the main road (the A917) I headed back to the harbour.

Crail

Having done so I realised the coast path didn’t continue from the harbour, so I had to head back up the hill! Now I turned right into Castle Street (sadly the castle no longer exists) and then right after I passed the church back down to the coast path. This path then run more or less along the backs of the gardens above the shore where there were some pretty blue bells.

Crail

The Fife Coast Path in Crail

Soon I reached another man-made structure on the foreshore.

The Fife Coast Path near Crail

I suspect this was also related to salt production though I’m not sure, it’s not deep enough to be a swimming pool or harbour (at least, not now). Though the path then headed up what looked like an old slip way (so maybe it was a harbour) and then followed a tarmac path below a childrens play park with the last of the houses of Crail behind.

The Fife Coast Path near Crail

There was a bit of beach below the path, a mixture of sand and rock, but there was no one on it.

The Fife Coast Path near Crail

Before I could leave Crail however the coast path continued through a caravan park. Not very pretty but at least they were mostly green in colour, which blend in a bit better than white.

The Fife Coast Path near Fife Ness

Behind the caravans is the remains of Crail Airfield which was used during World War II and closed in the 1960s. All was quiet today but I found it is sometimes used for motorsport now. Once i reached the end of the caravan park the path ahead was lovely, running along the low grassy cliffs, with only a few very gentle undulations. The path was again lined with pretty blue bells in places.

The Fife Coast Path near Fife Ness

The Fife Coast Path near Fife Ness

The path was now running alongside another feature that is common on this part of the Scottish coast – a golf course, though much of it was out of sight a bit above the coast path.

I was now approaching the most easterly point of Fife, Fife Ness. I’d then be turning the corner and heading for the Firth of Tay. This milestone point was marked by a few colourful cottages and an ugly mast.

The Fife Coast Path near Fife Ness

The coast path goes in front of these structures and at the very end is a lighthouse.

The Fife Coast Path at Fife Ness

I hardly noticed it until I was on top of it because unlike most lighthouses this is not tall and hidden in a rather functional looking concrete building behind a chain-link fence. This place definitely has an air of military about it, too!

The Fife Coast Path at Fife Ness

Beyond this the coast path soon joins the road that serves the buildings at Fife Ness but it is a very minor road and there isn’t any traffic to bother me.

The Fife Coast Path at Fife Ness

I soon pass a sort of shingle beach where the water is a bit deeper.

Remains of Fife Ness Harbour

I didn’t think anything of this until I see a sign that tells me this is the former harbour of Fife Ness. It was first mentioned in 1537 but by 1790 there was only one fishing boat but was also used for shipping stone from Craighead quarry.

There seems little left today but a stone circle cut out into the rock is the remains of something (though I’m not sure what).

Remains of Fife Ness Harbour

Shortly after this I reach the former site of Fife Ness Tide mill. Again little remains but I assume I am seeing the old mill pond ahead.

The old Fife Ness Tide Mill

I then passed a small shingle and sand beach and reach something else of interest. This is Constantine’s Cave where according to local legend is where King Constantine I of Alba was killed. However the information sign I read this on goes on to say that “Accounts of Constantine’s place and date of death do vary” – so no one really knows then I think!

Still I have a quick look in the cave which would not provide much shelter from the wind.

Constantine's Cave, Fife Coast Path

Now back on the coast I have a lovely beach ahead of me, Balcomie Links.

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

Inland is a golf course so I planned to walk along the beach anyway but the official coast path sign informs me “Coastal route follows shore until next post” so I have to go along the beach!

It is nice to walk along the beach with just the sound of waves to my right and I spot a number of cormorants on the low rocks just off shore from the beach.

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

At the far end of the beach the coast path rejoins the land behind the beach but I’m instructed to keep the coastal side of the white posts on the edge of the golf course.

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

This continues right along the shore for another half a mile or so alongside the golf course but then I’m directed back down on the beach again. This time the beach isn’t initially sandy but rocky. The official coast path sign tells me “Please walk on the beach for next 1/2 mile. At high tide wait for the tide to recede. Beware Livestock”. I hadn’t realised this part of the coast path is tidal but fortunately for me the tide is not so high I can’t get past so I don’t have to “wait for the tide to recede” which is good!

This part of the walk turns out to be quite interesting. The rocks to my left have an unusual geology with a lot of horizontal lines visible in the cliffs and some small caves forming at the bottom.

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

At the end of the beach I’m allowed back onto the grass behind the beach this time with the instruction to say on the coastal side of the red posts of another golf course (or is it the same one – I’m not sure).

The Fife Coast Path near Craighead

Old Haiks near Kingsbarns

The path soon joins a track over the golf course and enters some woodland where the Cambo Burn flows to the sea. Oddly the coast path crosses it inland of another bridge which is presumably only for the use of golfers.

Cambo Burn, FIfe

Cambo Burn, FIfe

After leaving the woods the path continues as a wide sandy track just above the beach (Cambo Sands) alongside another golf course (Kingsbarns Links). Part way along the beach this crosses another burn, so small it’s not even named on the map.

Cambo Sands, Fife Coast Path

Cambo Sands, Fife Coast Path

At the end of the golf course I reach a car park for this lovely beach, with some benches and a shelter. It is just after 12:30pm so I decide this will make a good spot for lunch!

The Fife Coast Path near Kingsbarns

After lunch I continued along the path in front of the golf course when I reached another coast path sign with warnings on (they do seem to like them on this part of the coast!). This time it warns me that St Andrews is 7 miles ahead and “Caution – The route beyond this point crosses rough and remote coastal terrain.”. Sounds fun! Well I have pretty much all of the afternoon to cover those 7 miles so I’m sure it won’t be that bad.

The Fife Coast Path near Kingsbarns

Soon the path ends and I’m directed back down onto the beach again, here sadly mostly rocks and pebbles and this time the tide is quite high.

I’ve no idea how far I’ll be walking along the shore since the sign just tells me to follow the shore “until next marker”. Still there is grass right behind the beach and a low fence so if I do end up finding the tide is coming in there is no risk of getting cut off, I can just walk on the grass of the adjacent fields as there is a right to roam in Scotland.

The beach soon improves however and there is then sand I can walk on to reach Babbet Ness.

The Fife Coast Path near Kingsbarns

The Fife Coast Path near Kingsbarns

The path is soon back behind the beach again and continues passing fields and a mixture of rocks and beach to my right until I reach the beach of Salt Lake.

The coast near Babbet Ness

Salt Lake, Fife

This is another lovely remote sandy beach and at the end is the remains of a house, now with no roof and obviously long since abandoned but there is still a little stone sea wall at the back of the beach that was presumably built to protect the house (and has outlasted it!).

The coast path goes right in front of the building where you can see the remains of the roof that has fallen in and some wooden door and window frames still intact, whilst a coast path sign warns “Danger Keep Out”.

Ruined house at Salt Lake

The path continues past this house the coastal side of a dry-stone wall to reach the river of Kenly Water.

Kenly Water

Sadly I can see from the map that the coast path now heads about half a mile inland to cross it, which is a shame. I did consider trying to wade it, but it looked quite deep and I’d be making my own way over the land beyond. So I decided to stick to the official coast path.

I quickly realised it actually wasn’t a shame the path headed inland at all. This is because the path beside this river was lovely.

The Fife Coast Path at Kenly Water

The river had cut a fairly deep wooded valley and the path through it was lovely running alongside the river, surrounded by trees, ferns and moss, it was a beautiful little valley.

Part way along the valley the path passed another derelict house, mostly covered in ivy bearing another “Danger Keep Out” sign.

The Fife Coast Path at Kenly Water

I soon reached the bridge where I could cross the river at Pitmilly Mill, which is still present.

The Fife Coast Path at Kenly Water

The path then briefly continued on the other side of the river with again more beautiful views of this peaceful wooded valley.

The Fife Coast Path at Kenly Water

The Fife Coast Path at Kenly Water

Soon though I left the valley behind and the path onwards followed some fairly dull tracks and field edge paths for a mile or so until I was finally back on the coast.

The Fife Coast Path near Boarhills

It had been quite a pleasant inland diversion but I was glad to now be back on the coast. In my absence, the coast had become a little more rugged with now low grassy cliffs and a few rocks.

The Fife Coast Path near Boarhills

I soon reached the little beach of St Andrews Bay beach and here were some quite incredible rock formations, where areas of rocks were left behind, now above the waves and with caves and holes cut in them.

The Fife Coast Path near Boarhills

The Fife Coast Path near Boarhills

I suspect this is a raised beach where the height of the land here has risen after the ice sheets of the large ice age melted because I’m now walking beside cliffs on my left, even though I’m actually walking on grass not a beach, so it must be a long time since the sea reached these cliffs.

The Fife Coast Path near Boarhills

The coast path now becomes increasingly rugged as the cliffs get higher and I reach the valley of Kittock’s Den.

Kittock's Den, Fife Coast Path

Here there is a shingle beach and the coast path crosses the burn on a bridge (oddly still marked as a ford on the map). Now out of the valley I can now see the town of St Andrews ahead in the distance.

The Fife Coast Path near Kinkell

After a short distance along the foreshore the coast path climbs up to the now quite high cliffs. To my left now is a golf course (Torrance Golf Course) and I can see from the map that the coast is now lined with golf courses all the way to St Andrews.

The Fife Coast Path near Kinkell

The coast path here is lovely passing along the spectacular cliff tops through wild flowers, with gorse, blue bells and some pink flowers (sea pinks, I think).

The Fife Coast Path near Kinkell

The Fife Coast Path near Kinkell

However after half a mile the coast path drops back down to the foreshore again.

The Fife Coast Path near Kinkell

I’m beginning to see what those signs warning of “rough and remote terrain” was talking about  (well, the rough part, anyway). This part is a bit awkward with sections over rocks and shingle as well as beaches and I soon reach another sign “Caution at high tide wait for tide to recede”.

The Fife Coast Path near Kinkell

Thankfully the tide is out far enough (just) that I don’t have to wait, but this is more through luck since I had no idea this part of the Fife coast path is tidal.

The beach at Kinkell

Soon there is a proper path again though and I follow this through little coves and rocky beaches to an unusual rock formation known as the Rock and Spindle, though I’m not quite sure why. I mean I can see the rock part – but not sure about spindle, perhaps it is the swirly bit of rock in the sea behind it.

The Rock and Spindle, Kinkell near St Andrews

The Rock and Spindle, Kinkell near St Andrews

The view ahead is impressive with towers of a church or cathedral visible ahead and what looks like a ruined church (this turns out to be the ruins of St Andrew’s Cathedral).

St Andrews from the Coast Path

After passing the Rock and Spindle the coast path follows the foreshore for a while before returning to the cliff top alongside another golf course. As before the coast path is surrounded by wild flowers, this time a mixture of blue bells and gorse, it makes for a very colourful scene.

St Andrews from the Coast Path

I soon have good views of St Andrews now just ahead too, which looks like another beautiful and interesting town.

Sadly between me and the town is another large caravan park but the coast path does at least go the coastal side of it and then descends down with the cliffs to the fine beach of East Sands, St Andrews.

St Andrews from the coast path

There is now a tarmac path behind the beach and I followed this soon with the Kinness Burn on the left.

East Sands, St Andrews

Kinnessburn, St Andrews

I can see the road bridge that crosses this to my left, but according to the map there is another footbridge ahead, so I don’t need to cross it just yet.

The harbour soon comes into view and it is quite beautiful with the impressive ruined cathedral towering over it to the left, it reminded me a bit of Whitby.

The harbour at St Andrews

Sure enough I soon reach the bridge over the lock at the harbour, though here I’m a bit disappointed to find some ugly boxy flats have been built alongside the harbour.

The harbour at St Andrews

I’ve now reached St Andrew’s and I was keen to explore the large and impressive ruined cathedral just behind the harbour.

St Andrews

It was clearly once a huge cathedral and in fact was the largest church in Scotland. However it fell into disuse and later ruin after Catholic Mass was outlawed during the 16th Century Scottish Reformation. Still even the ruins remaining are impressive.

St Andrews Castle

Sadly you had to pay to go inside and I thought it quite expensive considering you could see all that remained over the low wall! You pay less to go into most cathedrals that are still open!

The impressive ruined cathedral wasn’t all the St Andrew’s had to offer since a short distance along the coast I reached the remains of St Andrew’s Castle.

St Andrews Castle

This is also ruined though much of the tower still stands. Once again you have to pay to go in but this time I decided I wanted to see the castle up close (I love castles) so I bought a ticket, though I only had an hour or so before it closed for the day.

St Andrews Castle

St Andrews Castle

St Andrews Castle

It was pretty interesting actually with lovely views back along the coast from the walls and tower, which I was pleased to find you could go up.

St Andrews Castle

View from St Andrews Castle

View from St Andrews Castle

The castle had something else that came as a complete and welcome surprise. In 1546 there was a siege at the castle and a mine was constructed from outside the castle with the intention of undermining the castle and enter it was begun. However a counter mine was begun from inside the castle and both were cut through the solid rock.

These were re-discovered in 1879 and it is possible to go down inside them.

The Mine, St Andrews Castle

I was impressed to find these were open to the public and with the usual health and safety warnings it was possible to go down inside them. They were narrow and you had to duck to go in, but it was great fun even if having a rucksack with me made it a bit cumbersome!

The Mine, St Andrews Castle

The Mine, St Andrews Castle

The Mine, St Andrews Castle

I really enjoyed my visit to the castle. From the castle I continued on the coast path which now run alongside the impressive buildings of the University of St Andrews.

St Andrews

This is the oldest University in Scotland and counts Prince William among it’s alumni. The building I passed looked a bit like a castle, too (I later found it is one of the halls of residence believe it or not).

St Andrews

St Andrews

I continued along this road passing more grand and beautiful buildings until I reached the famous golf course ahead.

St Andrews

Beyond it my attention was drawn to the lovely sands of the West Beach, but that will be for my next walk.

West Sands, St Andrews

St Andrews

From here I turned inland to explore some of the town before I left. It is an extremely beautiful town. It is also quite a small town and so dominated by golf and the University.

St Andrews

The town centre had something of the feel of a University campus about it and indeed also felt a bit like Oxford or Cambridge.

St Andrews

The streets and cafes were thronged with students some with proud parents being shown around it. It had a lovely atmosphere and gave me a bit of nostalgia for my own time as a student. I was pleased too to find much of the grounds of the University open to the public, so I could have a look around. It definitely had the feel of one of the colleges of Oxford or Cambridge about it.

St Andrews University

St Andrews University

St Andrews University

St Andrews University

By now the sun had come out so I headed back to take some more photos of the ruined cathedral and castle in the sunshine.

St Andrews, Fife

St Andrews Castle

St Andrews Cathedral

St Andrews Cathedral

St Andrews Cathedral

St Andrews Cathedral

Having explored the lovely town of St Andrews it was time to head back into my hotel in Dundee so I headed for the bus station (the rail station having closed in the 1960s, though there is a campaign to re-build the line and stations). The bus was mostly full of students and I quickly found that many of the students choose to live in Dundee and commute to St Andrews. The bus service is very frequent and fairly quick so presumably they do this because it’s cheaper to live in Dundee or perhaps there is more going on there (or a bit of both). Either way once back at Dundee I could change onto another Stagecoach bus for the short distance on back to my hotel where I had dinner.

This had been a really wonderful walk. It had started of easy and gentle but soon become rugged and hilly, something I had not experienced much previously in Fife and this was a pleasant surprise as the scenery was quite spectacular. I also saw it in good conditions with all the blue bells and other wild flowers giving the coast a lovely splash of colour. The highlight however was the beautiful town of St Andrews at the end and I had had a lovely time seeing the sights of the town and wandering it’s streets. It is a town packed with heritage and interest and well worth a visit. I was glad too that I had done this walk when the tide was low enough, as I had no idea parts of the coast path are subject to the tides.

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

Stagecoach bus route 95 : St Andrews – Kingsbarns – Crail – Cellardyke – Anstruther – Waid – Pittenweem – St Monans – Elie – Kilconquhar – Colinsburgh – Upper Largo – Lower Largo – Lundin Links – Letham Glen – Leven. The bus runs hourly seven days a week. It takes around 35 minutes to travel between Crail and St Andrews.

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

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4 Responses to 274. Crail to St. Andrews

  1. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, known a few people that went to St. Andrews Uni, but never visited myself. As a previous golfer looking forward to walking alongside the 18th on the old course.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes walking next to the golf course is exactly what I did (though I dropped down onto the beach after a while). The official coast path sticks to the A91 for some reason but it’s much better to walk around the golf course.

  2. More favourite places! When we visited Fife Ness I wrote “ Fife Ness is the most easterly corner of Fife. Its harbour dates from the sixteenth century and was used for fishing until the end of the eighteenth. It was then converted into a sea beacon construction yard, hence the circular grooves in the stone, and lightships were also built here to guide shipping before the lighthouse was constructed in 1975.” Explains the marks in the rock you weren’t sure about.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes I remember the coast of Fife as much for it’s towns and villages as the coast itself actually. Many pretty towns! Thanks for the information about the sea beacon construction yard and yes it does explain the marks. It might have said something about it on a sign but I didn’t note it down if it did!

      I’m rather fond of light ships so nice to know they were built here too.

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