Day 5: Leven to St Monans (13 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 58 Miles
3rd September 2014
This was one of my favourite days of the Fife Coastal Path adventure and I reached a significant milestone as I arrived in the East Neuk of Fife.
The day wasn’t without its challenges. My feet and legs were feeling the effects of walking 45+ miles in the space of a few days. Whilst the weather was perfect for walking, the light was pretty poor for landscape photography. I envisaged the East Neuk in glorious weather – bright white cottages with their pantile roofs glowing in the sunshine with a backdrop of deep blue skies and white puffy clouds. It wasn’t to be! It was extremely hazy. Flat light is perfect for my ‘landscape elements photography’ but pretty dire for landscapes. Injecting a bit of colour into the photographs was a challenge but square and panoramic cropping (to exclude the non-descript skies) combined with a few ‘selfies’ seems to have saved the day! Please vote for your favourite photograph from Day 5 at the end of this post.
The day began with an early start in the Larbert Premier Inn followed by an hour and half’s drive back to Lundin Links. Fortunately I was beginning my walk in Leven, a stone’s throw from the campsite, and so no further driving across Fife was required. I parked up at the esplanade, pulled on my walking boots and braced myself for another 13 miles. Ouch.
I alternated between the dunes and the beach on the walk to Lundin Links; Largo Law a prominent feature on the horizon. I recalled driving from Kincardine to Lundin Links on the first night to check in at the campsite, Woodland Gardens, which sits at the foot of Largo Law. The drive had taken me over an hour and Lundin Links had seemed an impossibly long way away from Kincardine, yet here I was only four days later having made the journey on foot. It was a great feeling to walk into Lower Largo knowing that I was now east of the campsite and on the fringe of Fife’s East Neuk.
Lower Largo’s claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Alexander Selkirk. Born in 1676, the son of a shoemaker and tanner, Selkirk was a mariner who became stranded alone on the Juan Fernandez islands, 420 miles off the coast of Chile, for a period of four years and four months. He was finally rescued and completed a round-the-world voyage. Daniel Defoe was inspired to create the fictional character Robinson Crusoe following Selkirk’s return to Britain. A statue stands outside a house on the site of Selkirk’s birthplace in Lower Largo.
After Lower Largo the path follows the line of East Fife Railway which closed as part of the Beeching cuts of the mid-1960s. The line connected Leven with St Andrews and passed through many of the villages which I encountered on my walk – Lundin Links, Elie, St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther, Crail, Kingsbarns and Boarhills. It had never crossed my mind before but, of course, the viaduct in Lower Largo (see Mile 48 above), a prominent landmark, hasn’t been used in nearly 50 years! It must have been quite something to see steam trains servicing this route back in the day.
I paused for lunch sitting on one of the old anti-tank blocks on the western side of Dumbarnie Links after leaving the remains of the old railway line. The tide was out and so I descended to the beach and had a magical moment watching a grey heron fishing; the sun just catching the waves breaking on the shore.
The pain in my feet was becoming all-consuming and I was acutely aware that I needed to walk a further seven miles to stay on target. I reached the eastern side of the beach and pulled my iPod out of my bag. 99 times out a 100, I want to engage with my surroundings in the outdoors and I devote all five senses to achieving this. However, after 51 miles of walking, I needed to distract myself from my aches and pains. I instantly felt better when Dougie MacLean’s ‘Not Lie Down’ burst into life. I pressed on to Shell Bay.
I passed the Shell Bay caravan site and recalled some happy memories from long ago, then skirted the edge of a barley field and climbed a flight of steps. I reached the top of Kincraig and soaked up the view towards Earlsferry and Elie; undoubtedly one of the best views of the whole 117 miles. The light wasn’t on my side for landscape photography, as was the case for most of the walk, but I smiled to myself as I matched up the features on the cover of my Fife Coastal Path guidebook with the scene before me. I carried the book with me the whole way. It’s looking slightly more dog-eared now, sitting on the table beside me. I’ll feel a bit sad once I’ve finished writing up my 117 Miles, 117 Photos blog and it’s relegated to my bookcase.
I peered over the cliff edge and picked out the line of the Elie Chain Walk. This is a 1.5 mile scramble around Kincraig Point using – as the name suggests – chains for handrails. The origins of the Chain Walk are unknown but it is thought to date from the early twentieth century and was installed by local fishermen. The book advises to allow up to three hours for the Chain Walk – that’s a slow mile and a half! I didn’t have the luxury of time and so I’ll add this to my Fife to-do list.
My feet were killing me by the time I descended to West Bay. I shuffled along Earlsferry High Street at a snail’s pace, wondering how long it would take me to walk the next four miles to St Monans. Just at that moment the track changed on my iPod and Dougie MacLean’s ‘Turning Away’ started to play. I picked up the pace and moments later I found myself marching through Earlsferry! The power of music. I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times over the years and I daresay I’ll hear it again next weekend when I see Dougie MacLean perform with the RSNO (the Royal Scottish National Orchestra) in Perth but I think I’ll forever associate it with this moment on the Fife Coastal Path.
I paused for a quick cup of tea in Elie before tackling the final few miles. The Elie to St Monans stretch takes in a number of historic buildings: Elie Lighthouse, and the remains of Lady’s Tower, Ardross Castle and Newark Castle. In 1760, Lady’s Tower was built as a summerhouse for Lady Janet Anstruther, the wife of the laird of Ardross and Elie. The story goes she had a passion for skinny dipping and sent a bell ringer around the town each time she went for a dip to warn the locals to stay away!
It was a relief to arrive in St Monans and know I only had a short shuffle up the hill to the bus stop. The inhabitants of St Monans used to make a living from fishing but, as with most of the East Neuk villages, tourism is now the main source of income. The village takes its name from Saint Monan who is thought to have lived around the seventh century and it is said that St Monans is the church nearest the sea in the whole of Scotland, being only around 20 metres from the shore.
I nabbed the front seat on the top floor of the double decker bus and relaxed on the journey back to Leven. I was now within touching distance of the half way point on the Fife Coastal Path. I could hardly believe I had to walk the same distance all over again – I felt like I’d been walking forever! Thankfully I was still feeling motivated. At this point I’d raised £375.70 for Cancer Research and I set a new target of £500. You’ll have to keep reading the blog to find out if I reached it! I hopped off the bus at Leven Bus Station to link in with Day 4, then made my way back to the campsite where I bathed my weary feet in a warm shower – bliss!
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Dandelions Loved it and Lady’s Tower caught my attention, otherwise, like the weather, i felt the narrative was also not that enthusiastic one, but it happens, we are on day 5, hope a energized on from day 6 🙂 See you Karen 🙂
Thanks for your feedback, Josh. The dandelions were lovely and I remember wishing I’d had my DSLR with me in order to capture a better photograph, however the extra weight certainly wouldn’t have helped my discomfort! I returned to this part of the Fife coast recently and it was nice to climb up Kincraig in the absence of sore feet. The Elie Chain Walk remains on my to-do list and I still remember striding out through Earlsferry every time I listen to Dougie MacLean’s ‘Turning Away’! See you soon. 🙂
Riveting read! Loved every sentence! We did the Lower Largo to Elie (return) walk earlier this year; what a fantastic walk, breath taking!
I admire your resolve, walking on sore, aching feet, it’s like walking on knives!
Brilliant accomplishment, well done you!
Thank you Maeve and apologies for the slow response! I’m delighted you enjoyed this post. I blogged every day of my Fife Coastal Path trek, so I hope you’ll enjoy the other posts too. I’m glad you had a great day out on the Lower Largo – Elie stretch; it’s such a lovely part of the coast.
I have added a link to this from my own for the same day if that’s OK. Good story about Lady Janet bathing!
Hi Tamsin. Thanks for sharing the link. Yes, this story still makes me smile! I wouldn’t fancy dipping a toe in the Firth of Forth let alone anything else!