117 Miles, 117 Photos: The Fife Coastal Path – One Year On

DSCN1497 Mile 17 Start Edited Re-Sized

In March, six months after completing the Fife Coastal Path, I took a day off work so that I could climb up to the Fyrish Monument at the crack of dawn and watch a 96% solar eclipse over the Black Isle. I parked up behind Evanton and began the hour long ascent at 7:30am. Every step was worth the effort for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The memories will be etched in my mind for years to come: getting blasted with icy cold, tripod-toppling winds; standing in the shade while the surrounding sunlit summits enjoyed views of the spectacle; an eerie darkness descending over Ross and Cromarty; then finally the clouds parting to reveal the partial eclipse. Long after the twenty strong crowd had dispersed from the hill summit, I sat on a peat hag with my solar glasses, watching the Moon inching off the face of the Sun. When I descended Cnoc Fyrish in late morning bright sunshine, I overtook a couple who hadn’t made it to the top of the hill, despite looking capable. The woman commented, “This is my first and last walk ever. This is mental!” Just like the eclipse, this remark will stay in my mind.

I can barely get through a day without going for a walk. When I get into bed each night, I feel a slight sense of failure if I haven’t achieved my target number of steps for the day. I got a Fitbit Charge HR for my birthday last week to help motivate me to achieve my daily goals. I like to keep an eye on my fitness levels and it’s always a good feeling to stretch my legs and get some fresh air in my lungs, whatever the weather. But every time I go for a walk, it’s my mind that’s stimulated the most. The best days of my life are invariably the days when my pedometer readings go through the roof, I engage with my surroundings in the outdoors and my brain buzzes with thoughts and ideas as a result.

Kincardine - the start of the Fife Coastal Path
Kincardine – the start of the Fife Coastal Path

Walking the Fife Coastal Path was hard going at times – trekking solo with only myself to spur me on when the going got tough, and initially feeling like I’d bitten off more than I could chew under the added pressure of raising money for charity (at the time of writing, I have raised £517 for Cancer Research UK). I so enjoyed my long distance walk although I was relieved when it was all over and I could put my feet up. Looking back, it was one of the most memorable experiences of the last few years. This adventure has given me a real sense of achievement and a connection with Fife which no-one can ever take away from me.

Walking 117 miles (101 miles solo) over the course of eleven days gave me a lot of time to think. How do you measure personal success in life? Procreation? Wealth? Climbing the career ladder? My views might change as I get older but, for now, for me, it’s about being happy, making the most of every day and fulfilling my ambitions, most of which are inspired by the great outdoors. When I sit down each Hogmanay and have a moment of quiet reflection before ‘the bells’, I want to feel like I got the most out of the year. As the years slip by, I want to look back and feel like I got the most out of my life. I can hardly believe a whole year has already gone by since my Fife Coastal Path adventure.

I want to live to be a ripe old age, so long as I’m healthy and happy. Time has already run out for three of my four beloved grandparents. I lost both my grandfathers to cancer, hence why Cancer Research UK became my chosen charity for my fundraising trek around the Fife coast. My grandpa died of cancer of the gullet in December 2006, and my grandad died in January this year following cancer spreading from a tumour on his face. This disease is brutal. My grandpa loved his food yet he wasted away on nutrient shakes in the last months of his life. My grandad always took a pride in his appearance and the cancer destroyed one side of his face.

My Grandpa, Jim Cameron, and my Grandad, Bob Thorburn
My Grandpa, Jim Cameron, and my Grandad, Bob Thorburn, Edinburgh, April 2005

I don’t want this hellish disease and I don’t want to watch any more of my loved ones suffer from it, yet the odds are against us. The Cancer Research UK website informs me that half of all people born in the UK after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. However, the experts estimate that more than four out of every ten cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes. We can’t do anything about our genes – we’re stuck with those – but we do have some control over how we live our lives. The Cancer Research UK website provides advice on cancer prevention under the following headings: not smoking; keeping a healthy body weight; cutting back on alcohol; eating a healthy, balanced diet; keeping active; avoiding infections; enjoying the sun safely; and avoiding cancer risks in the workplace. You never know what life’s going to throw at you but you can certainly stack the odds in your favour. Many of these thoughts were bouncing around my head when I took up the Fife Coastal Path challenge and are still on my mind a year later. Since the start of 2015, I’ve dropped down two dress sizes, I’ve been thinking more carefully about the food that I eat and I’m now beginning to admit to being more or less teetotal… but life is still fun!

Moving on to a lighter note…

Journey's End
Newburgh – Journey’s End

I wrote eleven blog posts (one for each day of my Fife Coastal Path adventure), posted 117 photographs (one for each mile of the path) and asked you to vote for your favourite pictures. You’ll find the winning images by scrolling down! I’m a committed landscape photographer (you can check out my website at http://karenthorburn.com/) but ‘117 Miles, 117 Photos’ was about having an adventure with a lightweight backpack and compact camera, and leaving my SLR, tripod and other paraphernalia in the boot of my car. Inevitably I wasn’t going to capture 117 stunning images. I expect I won’t win any awards with these photographs but they’re not bad snapshots and they certainly bring back memories for me and will hopefully inspire you to get out and explore the Fife Coastal Path or the great outdoors wherever you live.

Mile 6 - Valleyfield at the end of Day 1. Sponsored by Sam and Emily Hesling.
Mile 6 – Valleyfield at the end of Day 1 (Kincardine to Valleyfield).
Mile 17 - The magnificent Forth Bridge at North Queensferry, my destination for Day 2. Sponsored by Jonathan Hill, Roy Ferguson, Nicola Mortimer and Neil Faulder.
Mile 17 – The magnificent Forth Bridge at North Queensferry; my destination for Day 2 (Valleyfield to North Queensferry).
Mile 26 - Aberdour. Sponsored by Colin Williams, Jonathan Hill, Roy Ferguson, John Gaskell and Dennis Garry.
Mile 26 – Aberdour on Day 3 (North Queensferry to Kinghorn).
Mile 32 - Kinghorn. Sponsored by Mark McIntyre, Heather and Tim Kieniewicz, James Campbell, John Gaskell, Dennis Garry and Colin Williams.
Mile 32 – Kinghorn at the start of Day 4, my 29th birthday (Kinghorn to Leven).
Mile 50 - Dumbarnie Links Picnic. Sponsored by Dennis Garry, Norma and Gordon Dunbar, Steve Lavelle, Colin Aimers, John Gaskell, Stina and Robert MacDonald and Ross Thorburn.
Mile 50 – Dumbarnie Links Picnic on Day 5 (Leven to St Monans).
Mile 62 - Shell House, Anstruther. Sponsored by Dawn Carson, Kathleen and Robert Thorburn, Lorna and Ken Wilson, Colin Aimers, John Gaskell and Stina and Robert MacDonald.
Mile 62 – Shell House, Anstruther on Day 6 (St Monans to Kingsbarns).
Tentsmuir Forest
Mile 94 – Tentsmuir Forest on a rather soggy Day 7 (Guardbridge to Tayport).
Mile 83 - Fields of Gold. Sponsored by Janice and Gordon Thorburn, Sheila Orr, Richard Barker and James Lyons.
Mile 83 – Fields of Gold between St Andrews and Guardbridge on Day 8 (St Andrews to Guardbridge).
Mile 74 - Ruin, Salt Lake. Sponsored by Richard Fisher, Fraser Bell, Richard Barker, Colin Aimers, and Stina and Robert MacDonald.
Mile 74 – Ruin, Salt Lake on Day 9 (Kingsbarns to St Andrews).
Mile 101 - Tay Bridge. Sponsored by Anna Vachon, Stephanie Kiel and Jim Hampson.
Mile 101 – The Tay Bridge on Day 10 (Tayport to Balmerino).
Mile 108 - Brambles and Nettles, Brunton (sponsored by Sophie Nioche, Sarah Dooley and Dave Fletcher)
Mile 108 – Brambles and Nettles at Brunton on Day 11 (Balmerino to Newburgh).

Thank you for following ‘117 Miles, 117 Photos’. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Have you walked the Fife Coastal Path or another of Scotland’s Great Trails? Has ‘117 Miles, 117 Photos’ inspired you to get out and explore? Please leave a comment below – I would love to hear from you! Also, it’s not too late to make a donation to Cancer Research UK via my JustGiving page.

To keep track of my future adventures around Scotland with my camera, enter your email address under ‘follow this blog’ at the top of the column to the right of this text (you may need to scroll and select ‘visit full site’ if using a mobile device).

I look forward to you joining me on my next adventure in Scotland’s great outdoors!

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15 thoughts

  1. Lovely post! I have not walked the Fife Coastal path but have some of the others – West Highland Way, Rob Roy Way and the epic but unofficial trail, Cape Wrath Trail, as well as some of the smaller long distance paths. Scotland has so much in the way of diverse landscapes and outdoor access – it is a walker’s paradise (when we get the weather)!

  2. Thank you Rowena – I’m glad you enjoyed it! I would certainly recommend the Fife Coastal Path (as you might have guessed!) – very straightforward walking, lots of diversity and so rewarding. It’s certainly given me a taste for the other long distance trails – official and unofficial. I’m considering tackling one a year from now on, meaning I’ll get through them all eventually! Congratulations on completing the Cape Wrath Trail – that must have been an incredible experience. I was at Cape Wrath last month and Sandwood Bay looked oh so tempting in the distance! The weather is a lottery but when the sun shines in Scotland, it’s the best place in the world to be!

  3. Karen, Massive Respect! This is really touching and here in India cancer victims most of them are kids.. imagine the pain one goes the viticm and the relatively are equally devastated. For some questions we don’t have answers, but like you said we can prepare and try to shield from the attack. You’re doing a noble work may you get more energy to make things better for the lives you going to touch through the mission. I am feeling so proud to follow the blog and through it am able to see the world in a different perspective. Really proud of you Karen. *Happy Tears*


    1. Thanks very much Josh! It’s so sad when a loved one of any age passes away but it must be a terrible tragedy to lose a child. There is always going to be an element of luck involved in the fight against cancer but we can certainly stack the odds in our favour by living a healthy lifestyle but still having fun. It’s so important to enjoy every single day as you never know what tomorrow will bring. Walking the Fife Coastal Path was a brilliant experience and raising funds for Cancer Research was an added bonus. I’m currently planning another long distance fundraising walk and will post details on my blog in due course, so I hope you enjoy reading about that when the time comes!

  4. I finished in Newburgh yesterday g an incredibly hard slog (also solo female though mid fifties!) I will have a look at your blog now, but enjoyed reading the above and congratulations on raising money for a good cause

    1. Congratulations Tamsin! I feel your pain! It is a long slog but now I just remember all the highlights and not the sore feet. I look forward to checking out your blog.

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