St Andrews is fabulous, until it isn’t. The library is oppressive; the delightful Taste loses its flavour by the fourth coffee of the day; the lectures and tutorials you thought you loved become a daily sufferance. You really do love St Andrews, but you need to get out of it: a day trip should suffice. But where to go? How do you break out from the bubble without selling a limb and catching the next flight out from Edinburgh?
In the final weeks of this semester, I decided to visit some of the classical escapes. We journeyed to Dundee and Edinburgh; along with a jaunt down the coastal road (A917), pitting at the fishing villages of the East Neuk. This is far from a comprehensive list and is not solely summer-oriented. On the week in question, the weather forecast resembled that which turned Noah into a doomsday prepper. Many of these locations can be accessed by public transport; however, a twelve-year-old VW Polo, whose engine drinks oil faster than your alcoholic uncle downs anything put in front of him, works even better. Queen’s “Greatest hits” are also a pre-requisite for the miles to tick by in style. Finally, buy a kite; I promise that you have forgotten how much fun they are.
Crail, Anstruther, Pittenweem, St Monans, Elie and Earlsferry
These locations are all accessible by bus, albeit some particularly slowly (e.g. Crail 28 mins on the 95, Anstruther 45 mins on the 95 or 21 mins on the X60, Elie/Earlsferry 54 mins on the X60). By car it is a fun drive with little switchbacks and sweeping views of Fife and the North Sea, just be cautious about the tractors that come out of nowhere on cue.
Crail must be among the greatest gems in Fife. Parking up near the Dovecot after navigating the most ridiculously narrow lane, you can walk down to the waterfront along an idyllic valley before walking along the coast to get to the harbour. The walled garden of the house above resembles the castle that once stood there; the church and tollbooth are among the architectural highlights. However, sitting on the harbour wall, looking back towards the houses which slope to the waterfront is enough to warrant a visit. If you are peckish, head to the tea room just up from the harbour, the scones are worth the journey. Its garden faces out over the sea with a view of the Isle of May and the glistening waters. You may spot a dolphin if you’re lucky.
When we visited Anstruther we were lucky to be there on the same day as the Lifeboat Station open day. Admiring their shiny boats was bizarrely satisfying and made us feel less guilty about passing on the Scottish Fisheries Museum and its steep entry price (a nationwide problem when it comes to museums and sights of cultural heritage). Though I am a fan of a good fish and chips I remain ambivalent about the much endorsed Anstruther Fish Bar, really nothing to write home about. When discussing Anstruther one cannot ignore the Isle of May ferry. The island is host to an array of sea birds, including puffins, while the boat ride may offer views of dolphins, porpoise, and whales. Pittenweem, while having a slightly more commercial feel to its harbour than Anstruther is similarly pretty with a nice little chocolate shop, though probably not an essential stop; St Monans is much the same, quieter even yet, it does however feature Kellie Castle.
Further inland is the ironically sign-posted “Secret Bunker”, I have yet to visit and have heard mixed reviews. Minor background reading reveals that they have “a display of Nazi memorabilia for unclear reasons” (AtlasObscura), a curious place.
Travelling a little further you reach Elie and Earlsferry. There is a small free car park which provides access to the fabulous sea scape. The small Elie Ness lighthouse sits on the rocky promontory. Elie is said to the point where MacDuff crossed the Forth whilst fleeing Macbeth. Further round are a number of beaches and the incongruous Lady’s Tower, for Lady Janet Anstruther, which she used as a changing room when bathing in the sea. The stone tower cuts through the landscape with its arches framing the coastal view. Within Elie and Earlsferry is the Ship Inn, a great pub food wise and a prime lunch spot. Also, if you despise ostentatious and noisy North Americans, you will be delighted to find that the Ship Inn is just full of Fife locals and weekenders from Edinburgh, wonderful!
Go further, I’m sure it’s nice.
Tentsmuir Forest and Beach
For this spot you will need a car and £2, a bit steep I know. The short drive past Leuchars is not the most scenic but before long you plunge into the dark pine forest and past fields of horses. Once parked, it is short walk over the dunes to the beach.
The beach here is stunning and puts West Sands entirely to shame. It is immense and almost always empty. You can walk all the way to Tentsmuir point and see vast numbers of seals (supposedly, if you trust Visit Scotland). Turning back in the heavy weather we made our way back to the car park through the woods. The woodland is not dingy, but instead bright and home to an obscene quantity of wildlife. There is also a crêpe stand, open when I arrived but inevitably closed when I hungered for one.
“Why go to Dundee?” I ask a friend. “The student union.”
Sure that there was more to the fourth largest city in Scotland we headed north of the Tay. For getting there by bus, hop on one numbered 99 and you will hopefully make it (I’m not entirely sure, in complete honesty). After crossing the Tay it is immediately clear how strongly influenced the town was by the industrial revolution of the past. Whilst the jute mills of history are newly gentrified, the apparatus for North Sea Oil Drilling today hug the banks of the river, maintaining the commercial feel.
The V&A in Dundee, designed by Kengo Kuma and costing £80m, is a striking feature. Angular and one with the water it sits like the hull of a ship, appropriately situated next to Scott’s Vessel Discovery. It is certainly not without flaws. When you are close it is clear that concrete can still entertain beauty and the inside is surprisingly well lit by small concealed windows, like portholes, while the wooden interior earths the entire design. The permanent exhibitions are wonderfully concise and full of substantial artefacts.
Unfortunately, the good points end too quickly. The permanent exhibitions, whilst free to enter, are limited in length. Naturally the temporary exhibitions are often hit and miss. The much endorsed architecture is also entirely nonsensical. There is a disconnect between the building and its contents, the main entrance room is a cavern dominated by a small cafe, reception desk and shop; a cathedral to commercialism that consumes so much valuable exhibition space.
The Discovery is possibly worth a visit though the ticket price is considerable; this however is made more reasonable when in combination with Verdant Works. When visiting the The McManus their are a number of free exhibitions and the centre of town is nice. If you are able to venture beyond the immediate waterfront you can head towards Broughty Castle.
I will not go into what to do in Edinburgh. It’s the capital, it’s stunning, visit again and again. Get there by bus or by train (Leuchars), the car is a waste of time in most circumstances. If you need one reason to love Fife, parking for 24 hours at Leuchars costs £1. In comparison, Haddenham and Thame Parkway, 55 minutes from London Marylebone, costs £8.50 in the morning peak. Do you need any more reason to love Scotland?
There are many great day trips so go for it and further afield. It may very well lift you out of a mid-semester trough.