276. Leuchars to Dundee

May 2014

This was another milestone walk as I completed the Fife Coast Path and the coast of Fife itself as I crossed the Firth of Tay into Dundee and crossed into the next county, modern day Angus (formerly Forfarshire). It was also the last day of this 4-day trip so I’d need to reach Dundee station in time for my planned train home.

So it was important I left on-time in order that I’d make it to Dundee on time. The hotel I was staying at, the Dundee East Premier Inn (like most) does not provide any sort of alarm. So I’d set the alarm on my phone to wake me up in time to have breakfast and check out of the hotel in time for the bus I planned to catch into the centre of Dundee and on to Leuchars. What could possibly go wrong?

Well what went wrong is that during the night my phone decided to freeze up. Stuck at 4:37am and not responsive to the screen or any buttons. So the alarm never went off, which meant I over-slept. I couldn’t even switch it off and being a “modern”phone the battery is no longer removable nor is there a reset button. So the only way to get it to work again was to wait until the battery drained entirely so it would reset and come back to life when I then plugged it in to charge. Fortunately another advantage of modern phones is the batteries don’t last long, so it was back to life the next morning. That didn’t help me today though. I had woken up 15 minutes before the bus I planned to catch rather than an hour before. I had a quick shower, skipped breakfast shoved everything in the room that was mine into my rucksack, ran downstairs and checked out and got to the bus stop 30 seconds before the bus I planned to catch was due – which, fortunately for me, was a minute or so late anyway. This got me into Dundee city centre in time to switch buses for another bus into Leuchars. It also gave me (just) enough time to get a couple of pastries and a bottle of fruit juice from “The Coffee Station” at Dundee bus station to serve as my breakfast, which I ate on the bus on the way to Leuchars (I must have missed the signs telling you not to eat on the bus…). I also bought a sandwich and a few other bits for lunch later.

So at least I had made it to Leuchars at the planned time even if the morning so far had not gone according to plan!

I got off the bus at Leuchars station, since that is where I had got to last time. I retraced my steps along Station Road and Toll Road back down to the A919. Neither of these roads had a pavement but there was a grass verge and not much traffic so it wasn’t a problem. The A919 on the other hand did have a pavement so I follow it to the roundabout ahead where I’d fork right off the main road (the A919) onto Main Street (which isn’t the A919), but presumably once was. This too had a (narrow) pavement and I followed it north towards the centre of Leuchars.

Soon I was approaching the first houses of the town. It didn’t look especially appealing because the houses were all behind high fences topped with barbed wire. Now to my right was the edge of Leuchars Airfield, used by the RAF. I presume the houses on the other side were also part of the air field complex (though not the airfield itself) and lived in by the families that served in the RAF. Either way it didn’t look a very friendly or pleasant place to live. It also didn’t look like the sort of place that would welcome you taking photos – so I obliged by taking a photo.

RAF Leuchars

I stuck with Main Road even though some of the roads on the right were now not behind fences (but were a dead-end I believe). I soon came to a junction with a large church ahead.

Church in Leuchars

Here checking the map I realised I was supposed to have taken the previous road on the right (Wessex Avenue). However if I turned right here instead the official route soon joined the road I was on anyway so it didn’t matter. The official route just cut a slight corner that I had already gone around.

Soon the houses on my right ended and then just after on the left, so I now had fields on both sides. It hadn’t taken long to walk through Leuchars, but it seemed a funny sort of place, with seemingly mostly private military housing and an airfield.

Now I was beside fields one of which was bright yellow with rape seed oil flower, which was very pretty.

Near Leuchars

However the airport was soon making it’s presence known as one of those super high speed jets came screaming low overheard, making a very loud noise.

RAF Leuchars

Beyond this I passed the entrance to Earlshall Castle. The castle dates from the 16th Century and is in private ownership but I believe the grounds and castle are occasionally open to the public. Today was not one of those occasions however, so all I could see was the still quite grand gate house.

Earlshall Castle near Leuchars

I continued along the road which soon ended back alongside the RAF base at Leuchars Airfield alongside an encouragingly titled “Crash Gate” at which a big red notice told you to keep clear. Encouraging! I continued with the coast path here alongside the fence of the airfield but soon the official route of the coast path veers off to the left and enters Tentsmuir Forest where it then follows the road back to the coast.

This wasn’t very satisfactory to me because it misses out a section of coast and the woodland of Tentsmuir Forest is all marked on the map as open access land (which of course is the case in Scotland anyway now) so why route the path along a road when there are many tracks through the forest?

In addition a check of the map showed that nearer the coast was Reres Wood, which borders the airfield to the south. This is also open-access Forestry commission woodland. So clearly it was possible for the public to get there and walk through the woodland and it then bordered the coast at it’s eastern end.

So I decided when the track the official coast path followed turned off to the left I’d continue ahead on the track that goes around the edge of the airfield. As I hoped I could follow the track around the edge of the air field which soon turned right to enter the edge of Reres Wood.

Reres Wood near Leuchars

I then followed the main track as it veered left away from the edge of the airfield and back east towards the coast. This briefly emerged again beside the fence of the air field and another “crash gate” but then headed back into the woodland. I followed it until it came to a T-junction with no track ahead.

Near Leuchars

Here I opted to turn right and as I hoped this soon bought me out onto the beach just near the edge of the airfield.

The path headed out past old “tank traps” to the beach. This is still the edge of the Eden Estuary with the beach being soft sand and shells at the back but still a bit muddy rather than sand near the shore, so I stuck near the back of the beach. To my right landing lights for the airfield were placed on the beach.

The coast near Leuchars

Now I could turn left and follow the beach all the way north along Tentsmuir Sands. Although a couple of streams were marked on the map the largest had a footbridge marked just inland in the woodland so I hoped I’d have no problem following this beach all the way to the mouth of the Firth of Tay ahead.

It was a glorious walk and soon the slightly muddy and shell covered beach turned into proper sand. It felt quite remote. There was no one else visible, no other footprints in the sand and just this beautiful sandy beached backed by woodland. It was lovely, helped by the fine sunny weather.

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

The beach was beautiful and I headed down to walk near the waves on what I hoped would be firmer sand. In fact, there were quite a lot of soft patches, but I didn’t mind as it was such a nice walk.

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

As I hoped the couple of streams proved no difficultly to get over on the beach (I took my shoes off for one since it was nice to walk on the sand anyway).

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

After a mile of so of having the beach to myself I soon began to see other people again, though it was hardly crowded. This is because there is a car park in the woodland just behind the beach providing easy access.

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

Still there were few people and I soon ended up walking in the edge of the sea, which was very refreshing and makes the walking feel much less tiring on my feet I find.

Looking south it was a lovely clear sunny day, but cloud was building ahead of me. Light grey cloud initially, but it was soon getting darker. Yet behind me it was still clear blue sky and mostly sunny.

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

Fortunately this heavy looking shower blew across the beach a bit ahead of me, but the rain never reached me and soon I was back to sunshine.

Having crossed another stream ahead I was irritated to find a rather broken fence now ran along most of the beach ahead. I had hoped to be able to continue ahead on the beach though the official coast path (which I was now close by to again) ran in the edge of the woodland 100 or so metres back from the coast. Perhaps this is why and I’d have to rejoin it to get passed the fence.

Thankfully as I got closer I saw there was a gate through the fence near the landward end and a sign welcoming me to Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. The sign suggested keeping to the official paths if with dogs as seals were commonly seen ahead. However I didn’t have a dog so could keep to the beach instead. It also said that the beach to the north and south of here is growing rapidly, but this mid section is actually eroding. The coast is always changing, it seems.

So, pleased to find I could continue along the beach and now that shower had passed I decided to stop for lunch at the back of the beach.

Having had lunch I continued on the now narrowing beach as I approached Tentsmuir Point at the south eastern corner of the Firth of Tay.

As I did so I spotted a heron fishing in the edge of the sea which I was surprised by (I always associated them with fresh water but perhaps they do fish in the sea too). Behind this was a sandbank on which were many seals. I was pleased to see these, but I kept my distance, keeping to the back of the beach not wanting to disturb them (look carefully at the photo below where the waves are breaking further out – this is where the seals are).

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

This was a lovely sight to see and I soon had a good view ahead too. I could now clearly see the Firth of Tay and the coast of Angus ahead. As I saw the sand bar at the tip of the point the sky ahead was getting very dark ahead again.

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

I continued ahead as the sky continued to darken. Soon there was a flash of lighting and a rumble of thunder less than a second later, which took me by surpise.

This did worry me. Showers had been forecast, but there was no mention of thunder. Now normally a thunderstorm isn’t a big problem in a built up area where there are taller buildings all around. Here though out on the beach I was conscious I was about the highest thing about. Using an umbrella would be a bad idea but even with a coat I was still concerned that out on the beach I was higher than the surrounding land. I was also about to get very wet.

So the obvious thing to do was to head into the woodland just behind. But I also remember being told as a child never to shelter under a tree in a thunderstorm because if the lighting strikes the trees it will pass down through it.

I was too far to get to any sort of road or shelter. In fact I was over a mile from the nearest road or building. So I had nowhere to get shelter and was worried about getting struck by lighting. In the end I decided it would be best to head into the woodland. I was much less exposed here and the trees around me were all taller than me. I’d be pretty unlucky if the lighting happened to strike the one tree out of the many thousands in the wood I was next to.

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

I soon reached a track in the woodland just as drizzle began. Some cyclists soon passed me (this is a permissive cycle path too) and in some ways felt glad to see I wasn’t the only person out here, after all!

Tentsmuir Forest

The rain now started, drizzle at first but it soon got hard. The track was boring and I couldn’t even see the sea from it so I decided to head through the trees back towards the coast. The trees were conifers but were denser away from the paths providing more shelter from the increasingly heavy rain. If I stuck in the edge of the trees I could still be along the coast but under what I hoped would be the protection of the trees.

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

As I continued north there was another information sign this time telling me how this area got it’s name. It was at the time more or less unchartered territory. In 1780 a Danish fleet was ship wrecked on the coast here. Some of the survivors from this ship wreck settled in the woods here living in tents on the moor which is how it got the name of Tents Moor (later Tentsmuir). So at least this sign confirmed I was still on some sort of proper path and there were the remains of another fence stretching out over the beach ahead, but I could continue in the edge of the woodland.

I had now rounded the corner and was now following the southern edge of the Firth of Tay.

The coast at Tentsmuir Forest

It still had a very remote feeling with the dense woodland heading for miles off to my left and the thunderstorm rendering the other bank of the Firth of Tay temporarily invisible.

Soon the ran began to ease and I felt happier about emerging from the woodland. Now the coast had a few concrete structures dotted about (remains from World War II I assumed) but the beach was very narrow, just a couple of metres fro the edge of the woodland as the tide was now coming in (in fact I think it was about high tide).

The Firth of Tay at Tentsmuir Forest

Just as I thought the storm had passed there was a final sting in the tale! A brief but very heavy shower of hail stones! This was painful so I soon headed back to the relative shelter of the trees until it had passed. When it did pass almost immediately blue sky and sunshine returned. I hadn’t expected to find hail in mid May!

The Firth of Tay at Tentsmuir Forest

However pockets of hail stones had collected in the grass at the edge of the shore whilst the path was become a bit more marshy.

The Firth of Tay at Tentsmuir Forest

I could soon follow a reasonable path over the grass and slightly marshy areas behind the Firth of Tay, though in places the recent heavy rain meant the path was slightly flooded too.

Soon I came across a scene I never expected to see by the coast in Britain in the middle of May – ice lining the beach and grass from the recent hail shower. It looked like I was suddenly in the middle of winter, especially as I reached a picnic area.

Tentsmuir Forest

Tentsmuir Forest

Hard to believe this was the middle of May but a sign of how far north I am now I suppose.

The coast east of Tayport

A short distance ahead I reached end of the Tentsmuir nature reserve but the coast path continued right along the shore (I was now back on the official route) on a track that soon reached the first houses of Tayport, at Lundin Bridge.

The path passed along a residential road passes these houses and then north through a caravan park and then briefly followed a promenade before returning to residential roads again.

The coast east of Tayport

This was Harbour Road and it soon took me to the thing it was named after, the harbour.

Tayport Harbour

The sky ahead suggested another heavy shower or storm might be approaching. I was also conscious of the time. I’d taken a slightly longer route at Leuchars to get to the coast than originally planned (as I decided to try and find, successfully, a more coastal route than the coastal path). Also stopping to shelter in the woodland during the thunderstorm had cost me a bit more time and I was worried if I’d get to Dundee in time for my train home.

There was a bus from Tayport that I could catch to make sure I got to Dundee in time. I checked the times and the map and did a quick calculation. The path head to the Tay bridge looked to follow a track along the shore that looked like an old railway line (later confirmed – it close in 1967). So I hoped it would be fairly flat and well surfaced. This soon reached the Tay road bridge that I knew it was possible to walk across and would of course be all tarmac and fairly flat so an easy walk.

With this in mind I calculated that I should be able to keep a reasonably brisk pace ahead given there was a proper path that looked to be pretty easy and flat. If I was able to do that I would be able to walk to Dundee in time to catch my train. So that is what I decided to do.

So I rounded the harbour, enjoying the view of the boats and one particularly caught my eye, a beautiful old sailing boat.

Tayport Harbour

I didn’t know anything about it and didn’t have time to stop and chat but I quick search for the boats registration and name when I got home gave me some information about the boat. It was as I found out over 100 years old, being built in 1902 and now owned and preserved by the Scottish Fisheries Museum and is I believe normally based in Anstruther Harbour but kept in sea going condition as I could see given it had travelled north around the coast to end up here in Tayport.

It was a nice sight. Looking over the Firth of Tay I could now see the suburbs of Dundee across the firth.

Dundee and the Firth of Tay from Tayport

Ahead the path took me past a house with an old lighthouse in it’s garden!

Tayport

A short distance ahead I passed another much taller lighthouse behind a row of cottages (probably originally the lighthouse keepers cottages).

Tayport

The path now turned back slightly inland back to the old railway line (which I’d briefly left) passed woodland and then soon ending up alongside the B946. Thankfully the old railway line had been surfaced and so provided a parallel but traffic free-route to the B-road (B-roads can often be more hazardous to walk on than A-roads in my experience).

I now had fine views to Dundee ahead, though parts of the coast looked rather industrial.

The Firth of Tay near Tayport

I’d be walking through that on my next walk and wasn’t particularly looking forward to walking through industrial suburbs of a city again. Still the views of the Tay Bridge ahead were more impressive.

The Firth of Tay at Newport-on-Tay

The cycle path I had been following beside the B946 soon entered a layby with some parking spaces presumably to enjoy the fine view of the Tay bridge ahead. When the layby ended, the cycle path resumed beside (but separated from) the B946. The path ahead now alternated between a separate path split by a fence and the pavement but at least it always kept me off the road itself.

Soon I reached a junction where another part of the B946 heads up to the junction for the Tay Road bridge.

Here I followed the coast path up steps to a sort of services area with a small takeway hut, car parking and toilets. The path onwards continued through the car park to end up under the Tay Bridge. Here steps or a lift provided pedestrian access to the bridge itself. I headed up the steps.

I was pleased to know you can walk over the Tay Bridge (I had checked this out first) as not all major bridges like this carrying dual carriageways have pedestrian bridges (the new crossing of the Firth of Forth doesn’t, for example). Unusually here though the pedestrian part of the path wasn’t along one side of the bridge but in the middle between with two lanes of traffic on either side, albeit it separated by railings.

Crossing the Tay Bridge

Crossing the Tay Bridge

This was a bit of a disappointment because it meant that I couldn’t get good views of the Firth of Tay as either side of me was two lanes of rushing traffic. A shame as I was hoping for good views from here.

To my left was the rather small and fragile looking Tay Rail bridge.

The Tay Bridge from the Tay Road Bridge

The first Tay Rail bridge collapsed in 1879 as a train passed over it in high winds. The bridge I’m looking at now was the replacement and has been carrying trains safely over the Firth of Tay since 1887. So clearly this second bridge has stood the test of time.

As I was approaching Dundee another heavy shower was approaching. I was hoping to make it to the station before the rains started!

Crossing the Tay Road Bridge

I must admit too as I approached the city of Dundee it did not look at all appealing with lots of 1960s buildings and tower blocks being the main features I could see, along with some more modern and very bland flats right along the river front (or “luxury apartments”, as they seem to be called these days).

The Firth of Tay, Dundee

I made it to the other end of the walkway just as the heavens opened. The path at the other end dropped me back down onto the river front in Dundee and I took shelter under the bridge as the worst of the rain passed. Thankfully this time it wasn’t a thunderstorm.

The Firth of Tay, Dundee

As the rain eased I managed to get a few photos of the bridge but now time was pressing.

The Tay Road Bridge, Dundee

The Firth of Tay at Dundee

I needed to get to the station for my train which I could see from the map was a short walk away (but made longer because the whole area around the station seemed to be a building site).

Dundee station

I made it to the station with 6 minutes before my train! (I believe the station has largely been re-built since I walked this part of the coast). I just had enough time to get my ticket from my bag (since the station has ticket barriers) and get down to the platform before the train arrived. I was booked on the 16:07 train which run all the way down to London, one of the few direct trains from Dundee to London (and the last of the day). Though it is a long journey for me now – the train took over 6 hours to reach London (and another 90 minutes or so to get home from there). Still I had used the train because my ticket to London had cost me £0. I don’t think you can get much better value than that!

This is because at the time the rail operator on this route “East Coast” operated a loyalty scheme. Once you had booked £250 worth of train tickets on their website (even if not on their trains) you earned enough points for a free single ticket anywhere on their network. That included the direct trains right up to Dundee. So that is what I had done. I had dinner from the buffet car on the way home. Once at London Kings Cross I took two tube trains to get to London Waterloo and a train home from there. I got home just after 11:30pm so it had been a long day (perhaps it was just as well I had slept in longer than planned at the start of the day!), as I had to get up for work in the morning.

Overall I had really enjoyed this walk. Leuchars at the start and the walk around the airfield was a bit grotty but after that I had had a really enjoyable walk along that near-deserted beach for miles and miles, just backed by pine woodlands. I’d also been lucky enough to see seals (and a heron). I could have done without the thunderstorm and hail shower on that part of the coast, but at least it added a sense of adventure. The last part was enjoyable too as I headed through Tayport and left the county of Fife to enter Dundee.

Fife had been a very enjoyable county to walk through too. I had really enjoyed it, with it’s lovely sandy beaches, very pretty towns and villages and a proper coast path. Sadly things would not be quite so simple now I had crossed into Angus.

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

Stagecoach route 99/99A/99B/99C/99D : St Andrews – Guardbridge – Leuchars (Station) – Dundee (rail station) – Dundee (bus station). Every 7-8 minutes Monday – Saturday and every 15 minutes on Sundays. It takes around 20 minutes to travel between Leuchars and Dundee. The A/B/C/D suffix of the bus route does not matter, this is just because the bus runs around St Andrews first (via different routes) but all take the same route from St Andrews Bus station onto Dundee so the suffix is only relevant to local journeys within St Andrews.

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

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4 Responses to 276. Leuchars to Dundee

  1. Tentsmuir looks absolutely beautiful! It’s been on my list of places to go for ages – even more so now.

  2. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, I once got stuck on a Munro, Gulvain about 18 years ago during a thunderstorm. It was’nt raining where I was ,but the lightning was very close. I got off the top and contoured around the lower slopes….very scary. Looking forward to these sections you are writing up. Although, with the inclement weather up north I may have to continue walking arond the Thames.

    • jcombe says:

      Yes certainly worse to be on the top of a mountain during a storm and I can imagine how scary that is. I see you made your trip to the Thames in the end too.

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