Day 6: St Monans to Kingsbarns (14 Miles)
Total Distance Walked: 72 Miles
4th September 2014
I’m writing this in mid-November. Somehow over two months have passed since my Fife Coastal Path adventure. I’m kicking myself for not having completed this blog before now but the demands of day-to-day life and various mini adventures have gotten in the way of the write-up. Anyway, time to delve back into the memories and re-visit Day 6!
I parked at the shore in St Monans, pulled on my walking boots and grabbed a walking pole out of the car boot. I was heading into more remote territory and I needed to be prepared. Within a couple of minutes of leaving the car, I arrived at the St Monans Windmill which stands on the halfway point on the Fife Coastal Path. Beyond the windmill, I would be closer to Newburgh than to Kincardine!
Salt production was once a major industry along the Fife coastline. Coal fires were burned under metal pans full of seawater which evaporated, leaving only salt. Salt was a valuable commodity, used as a food preservative and serving industries such as glass and pottery manufacture. Coal was mined on land to the north of the St Monans Windmill and the saltpans were housed in buildings on the raised beach below. The windmill was used to provide the energy needed to pump seawater into the saltpans. The windmill was operational between the 1770s and the 1820s, at which time the industry declined as it became more economical to source rock salt from south of the border. The remains of the windmill survived and it was restored in the late 1980s.
A mile later I arrived in Pittenweem, another picturesque fishing village. I recalled visiting the Pittenweem Arts Festival a few years ago. The village is home to around 30 artists and many more reside in other small fishing villages scattered around the East Neuk. Every August numerous galleries open their doors to visitors who enjoy a wide variety of exhibitions, workshops, performances, talks and children’s events. I reached the eastern side of the village and got chatting to an elderly local chap out walking his dog – the first of a few friendly encounters in the East Neuk.
The next port of call was Anstruther, originally called Kinstrother meaning ‘end of the marsh’. The town comprises three Royal Burghs each with its own harbour – Anstruther Wester, Anstruther Easter and Cellardyke. I passed the main harbour (Anstruther Easter) and the legendary fish and chip shop, and resisted the temptation of a poke of chips!
I walked by the Isle of May ferry with mixed emotions. I had planned to visit the Isle of May a few days later on the East Fife Doors Open Day when the lighthouse would be open to the public. I’ve visited over 40 Scottish islands but have never made the effort to land on the Isle of May. This will prey on mind for a while longer as I sacrificed my Isle of May boat trip in order to get home to the Black Isle for some family time and a wee break from walking. Anyway, it’s on the Bucket List, meaning I’ll get round to it another time.
I paused for lunch at Cellardyke harbour and closed my eyes for a few minutes, sitting in the sunshine (idyllic) before tackling the three mile stretch to Crail. I passed an outdoor pig farm and crossed open pasture on the approach to Caiplie Caves, known locally as The Coves. The small sandstone caves were originally a sea cliff but now stand on a raised beach. The strong colours offer great potential for my ‘elements’ photography and I’ll need to re-visit them with my Nikon D300 next time I’m in this neck of the woods.
I arrived in Crail. The view looking east to the beach and the harbour is one of the most memorable in the East Neuk but sadly on this occasion it was completely spoiled by haze (hence the lack of a photograph). Crail is yet another traditional fishing village on this stretch of coast and its harbour dates from 1655. Crail holds happy memories for me. I spent a couple of long weekends at Sauchope Caravan Park in the mid-1990s with my parents and brother. I recalled sunny days, tipsy cake from the bakers shop, buying stacks of old Bunty annuals at the car boot sale on the disused airfield and, indeed, walks along the Fife coast.
I paused for another tea break to give me a boost before tackling the next six miles. As with the previous day, I was struggling a little and I loaded up my iPod. ELO lifted my spirits on the next two miles out to Fife Ness. As I approached the lighthouse, I removed my earphones and chatted to an older couple who were walking in the opposite direction. They knew the Fife Coastal Path well and seemed impressed by my progress! They warned me of the ‘knee-bending’, ‘ankle-twisting’ terrain ahead and advised me to skirt around the edge of the golf course where possible. Good advice.
I felt a real sense of achievement when I arrived at Fife Ness, having walked some 68 miles and having completed the whole of the southern section of the Fife coastline. When I’d started walking five days earlier, I had begun at Kincardine with views across the Forth to Grangemouth and Bo’ness. Now I’d reached the most geographically significant point on the whole walk and looked out across the expansive estuary where, on a clear day, I would have had views to the Isle of May, the Bass Rock and East Lothian.
The Fife Coastal Path official map shows the route in three colours. Green denotes ‘easy, made-up path with mostly flat terrain’; blue indicates sections which include ‘unmade path or rough terrain’; and red warns of ‘tidal, remote and rough terrain.’ I was aware that I was now embarking on the toughest section of the path. The map warned me that ‘the path between Crail and St Andrews is very challenging in places’ and that some sections of the route would be impassable at high tide. Gulp.
I’d factored the tides into my plans and continued to Kingsbarns. The path between Fife Ness and Cambo (miles 68 to 71) is pretty rough in places. I followed the advice I’d been given and hugged the edge of the golf course but dropped onto stony beaches where there was no other option. Still, it wasn’t that bad and it passed the ‘could my mum do this?’ test. The warnings are clearly there to put off couch potatoes and to make you think carefully about the tides as well as your equipment and footwear before setting off. Nevertheless, my feet were killing me by the time I got to Cambo, but this was more down to my mileage rather than the terrain. On another day, a wander through Cambo Den would have been very appealing. The woodland is renowned for its wonderful display of snowdrops in early spring.
I re-folded my map to reveal section six of the path (Cambo Sands to Leuchars) and shuffled along to Kingsbarns on much improved terrain but with increasingly sore feet. I arrived in the car park and nodded a greeting to a family who I’d seen at the St Monans Windmill at the start of the day, 13.5 miles ago. I made my way up the hill and arrived at the bus stop, relieved to find that a bus was due in 15 minutes. I hopped off the bus in St Monans at the stop where I caught the bus to Leven the previous evening – great continuity!
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