As we step out from the tunnel leading to Burntisland Beach, we are greeted with a dramatic landscape; the mountains lining the horizon are frosted with snow and the pools of water that have formed along the beach shimmer in the early morning light.
It’s 8:30 am on the first Monday of Spring Break, and this is the starting point for our walking holiday from Burntisland to St Andrews. Happy in the knowledge that we have over 50 miles of beautiful coastal scenery to explore, my Mum and I set off along the beach.
Having never walked further than an hour along the coastal path, we had no idea what was waiting for us, but we soon found out that the Fife Coastal Path was more varied than we could have imagined.
Day 1: Burntisland to Leven
The day began with a walk across the pebbly shoreline of Burntisland Beach and Petticur Bay. Despite the fact that it had snowed only the week before, the weather was glorious, and over the course of the morning the sun burnt through the haze of clouds to illuminate the empty beach in front of us.
At the time, I attributed the vacant state of the beach to the fact that it was before 9 am on a Monday. But having completed the walk, I realise that the time of the day had very little to do with the lack of people walking on this stretch of land.
Instead, it had much more to do with the fact that nobody wants to go on a Scottish walking holiday in March. We only saw six other walkers during our entire journey, most of whom were on causal dog walks, and the locals told us that we were either a bit crazy, or very brave to be attempting this walk off-season. I suspect it was a little of both.
After clambering over some grassy mounds to Kinghorn Harbour, we continued along the path to Seafield Tower. Built in the 16th century from local red sandstone, there is little of the original tower left, but it is a dramatic ruin; a dark silhouette jutting out against the clear blue sky.
Later that morning, we were introduced to a completely different landscape, and as we walked through unspoilt woodland, we admired the rugged cliffs and beautiful serpentine stonewalls.
Eventually we reached Dysart’s Harbour, a picturesque spot that is home to an array of vibrantly painted fishing boats. We had lunch at the Harbourmaster’s House, watching the boats bobbing up and down below us, their movement synchronised with the tide.
From here we followed a path that was set a little behind the beach, accompanied by a chorus of birdsong. Further along the path we stopped to admire the beautiful pink rock of West Wemyss – its pink hues bringing the undulating cliff to life.
Later in the walk, we came across Wemyss Caves, which are historically precious due to the carvings that are inscribed on the wall. Not fancying a trip into the dark space of the caves, I saved my geological admiration for the hand-painted Fife Rocks pebbles that had been placed along the path to Leven.
The Fife Rocks group collects stones and decorates them, before hiding them in a public place and leaving clues to their location on the Facebook page. They also encourage members of the local community to create their own hand-decorated pebbles.
After spotting several of these rocks, we climbed another flight of stairs to reach the ruins of Macduff Castle. After this we walked towards Buckhaven’s turbine, a huge structure that dominates the town’s skyline, almost obscuring the view of North Berwich Law that can be just made out across the sea to the right.
The turbine signals the less scenic part of the route, and for the rest of the day we passed sales yards and the derelict Methil dock area until we reached Leven.
It was high tide when we finally arrived out our destination, and we were met with a sea that was so still that it looked like a giant pane of glass, reflecting the pinkish tints of the sky as the day passed into night.
Day 2: Leven to Elie
The next morning the landscape of Leven had changed completely; the tide was out and as far the eye could see, there was a vast expanse of flaxen sand. Other than jumping over the odd stream, our passage across the beach was clear, which allowed us to enjoy the views out to sea, rather than staring at our feet as we had spent much of the previous day doing.
After crossing Lundin Golf Club we joined a road that took us past a statue of Alexander Selkirk, the Scottish privateer and Royal Navy officer who Daniel Defoe modelled Robinson Crusoe on.
A bit further along the path we walked past the track bed of an old railway that used to connect the Fife coastal villages. To the right were incredible views out to sea, and I could just about make out the silhouettes of Bass Rock and North Berwick Law on the horizon.
The highlight of this leg of the walk came when we reached Shell Beach; a vast expanse of sand, coated with shells of all shapes and sizes. We spent extra time here, stooping down to admire the shells, and taking photos of the beautiful patterns that they created along the ground.
After reading the official warnings about the ‘hazardous’ nature of the Elie Chainwalk, we opted for the clifftop route, where we could admire the beautiful wildflowers and the rugged drop below us until we reached Elie.
Day 3: Elie to Crail
The landmarks of day three were by far the most impressive, starting with the Elie Ness lighthouse. Once you get to the lighthouse, you have a panoramic view of the village, and we stopped there for a minute to take in Elie from this perspective; a toy house town nestled in a golden bay.
After admiring the lighthouse, we headed towards Lady’s Tower. As we approached, the sun shone brightly onto the floor of the ruin. Its roof was destroyed long ago, and all that hangs above the tower now is a canopy of bright blue sky.
After admiring the two buildings we rejoined the main route to Ardross farm and Castle, which dates from the mid 14th to 16th centuries. This leg of the walk is filled with historic monuments; after Ardross Castle you pass a 16th century dovecote, Newark Castle, and St Monans Church, a sandstone church that is the closest to the sea in Scotland- only 20 metres from the cliff face.
When we reached Pittenweem, we stopped off at the Cocoa Tree Café for a coffee. The Cocoa tree is a quaint coffee shop that forms part of The Pittenweem Chocolate Company; an independent, artisan and family-run chocolatier. I would fully recommend it for a light lunch or refreshment- and I was surprised by the variety of the menu.
Leaving the idyllic village of Pittenweem behind us, we strode out past the golf course in search of the famous Fish and Chips that are served at Anstruther Fish Bar. When we finally arrived, their fish and chip supper did not disappoint, even if we did have to walk several miles to get there!
After lunch, we made the leisurely walk to Crail – a charming coastal village with cottages tucked away at every corner. When we got there we sat on the beach, enjoying the sound of the waves lapping against the sand of this sheltered stretch of sand.
Day 4: Crail to St Andrews
This final day of walking was challenging, to say the least. It rained all morning, and despite my best efforts, I still managed to fall over in the mud.
After passing through a holiday and caravan park, we entered the Kilminning Coast Wildlife Reserve and carried on until we reached a rough path to Fife Ness- the most easterly point in Fife. Rounding the headland I was taken aback by the panoramic view out to the north shore of the Firth Tay and the hills beyond.
Later in the morning, the route took short detour inland, taking us past the babbling stream of Kenly Water and the lush forest that surrounds it. When we finally return to the shore it became apparent that this final leg of the journey towards St Andrews would be a challenge. The outline of St Andrews sat like a mirage in the distance, separated from us by a ragged stretch of cliffs.
Throughout the rest of the morning, we found ourselves scrambling over rocks, and climbing numerous flights of slippery steps to reach St Andrews. This said, it was worth the trek; as we descended the slope towards the East Sands Leisure Centre, St Andrews lay before us in all its glory. It was at that moment that I realised how lucky I was to live here, and returning to the familiar stretch of East Sands filled me with the contentment of returning home.