The Fife Coastal Path had been on our short list of trail backpacks for over two years, and a forecast week of excellent weather in May was an ideal chance to see the seabirds to best advantage. The two real highlights were the superb Chain Walk and the boat trip to the Isle of May, and we have devoted separate pages to the photos and descriptions for these, as per the links below. The official website has a description of the route and features of interest, together with information on facilities.
|Chain Walk description & photos →|
|Isle of May description & photos →|
|Tourist Outline Map →|
Date: 24 May 2004
Start: North Queensferry. Free car park beneath the Forth rail bridge.
Finish: St. Andrews bus station.
Maps: Explorer 367 Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy & Glenrothes South and Explorer 371 St.Andrews & East Fife.
Official website: The Fife Coastal Path
Tide information: Easytide - UKHO Free tidal prediction service
|Day 1||North Queensferry to Aberdour||10 miles (16.1km)|
|Day 2||Silversands Bay to Leven||20 miles (32.2km)|
|Day 3||The Chain Walk & Anstruther||16 miles (25.8km)|
|Day 4||The Isle of May & Crail||8 miles (12.9km)|
|Day 5||Fife Ness to St. Andrews||13 miles (20.9km)|
The official website still states that the path is closed at Starley Burn - it isn't. There was no problem when we went and the path is exactly as marked on the map.
The website states that the path is closed at East Sands Caravan Park due to a landslip, approaching St. Andrews. In fact, there is a sort of stile provided where you simply walk a few yards away from the 'edge' of the landslip instead, which is only a few strides long anyway. A notice is displayed warning walkers that they enter the park at their own risk, but this is typical of the nanny tone of the path notices in general, and nobody would have noticed if they hadn't mentioned it. To be fair, it's all about disclaiming legal liability.
The section from Crail to St. Andrews is officially 'under development', but the route is waymarked here (somewhat inconsistently with the other sections, often using red arrows) and there is no problem with this part of the path at all. At one point a notice cautions you about 'rough and remote terrain' on the mapped route, but there is nothing rough or remote about it. The only thing to note is that at one point (we can't remember exactly where), there is a very short beach section under a cliff which may be covered at high tide, and a notice advises you to wait for the water to recede, which shouldn't be long if you are unlucky enough to arrive just at highest tide.
A further extension of the route from St. Andrews to the Tay Bridge at Newport on Tay is also under development, but the coast has lost its rugged character here, and we feel that this extension is really a pursuit of a logical concept (Forth Bridge to Tay Bridge) rather than the addition of worthwhile walking.
The route is mapped on the Explorer sheets and well waymarked. There is an occasional small deviation from the mapped line but the waymarks on the ground are up to date. Some of the wordy directions near the golf courses seem obsessed with directing you down onto the beach, probably to keep your head below the line of fire!.
We found this trail backpack to be of very mixed quality, and is basically a north/south split. The northern part from the eastern outskirts of Lower Largo to St. Andrews offers fine walking with good coastal scenery, villages of character and the grand highlight of the Chain Walk, and when combined with a sailing to the Isle of May, is a very satisfying route.
The southern part is a different matter. There are some quite good fragments of walking, though nothing to compare with the northern half, but these are totally overshadowed by long disagreeable sections which suffer from urban industrialisation and a gross excess of tarmac. The huge noisy scrapyard at Inverkeithing and the long tramps on busy roads and through the towns (especially Buckhaven / Methil / Leven which were particularly depressing) stand out in this respect, but even some of the expected 'paths' on the outskirts are actually tarmac roads around houses and other developments. If we visit this area again we will start at Lower Largo and make a shorter backpack of 3 days.
At Silversands Bay, the free toilets are locked overnight, but there are separate automatic toilets operated by a 20p coin. On our visit, the cafe was stripped of fittings and closed, and advertised for lease. The labelled drinking water tap on the outside wall was not connected - no water. We bought water in Aberdour and returned to pitch on the small hill at Hawkcraig Point.
We restocked supplies at Kirkcaldy and bought the last water at a shop in Methil. There is a deviation from the mapped route between Methil and Leven at 379003 - previously it was possible to cross the river by the railway bridge, but now it is necessary to continue NW a short way to the roundabout on the A955, then turn R to cross the river on the road and rejoin the mapped route by the leisure pool complex. We pitched on a good grassy area at Lundin Links around 400020, just below the level of the golf course.
Approaching Shell Bay caravan park just after a pair of large footbridges, the mapped route cuts across the neck of the promontory but the obvious track goes out to the tip of Ruddons Point, which is the line we followed and it is a worthwhile little extension.
At Kincraig Point, the official route goes over the top of the cliffs (missing the main highlight of the whole route) and does not acknowledge the existence of the Chain Walk at all. This section is dependent on the tides. The detail of this can be found on our Chain Walk page.
There are free public toilets in Elie on the route. We restocked supplies and bought water at Gowan Convenience Store on the main street in Pittenweem, which opens late every day. This was very welcome as it was early closing everywhere else (Wednesday) that we had passed through. In Anstruther, the free public toilets now appear to be permanently closed. The toilets on the seafront are closed overnight and need 20p during the day (manned, open at 08:00). We pitched on a flat grassy area by the 'high health' pig farm around 584048, which has a nice little information board on the path about the husbandry of the farm.
Returning to Anstruther for the boat trip to the Isle of May (see separate page), we investigated the shops and found Costcutter, which was a late-opening store where we bought food and water after the trip. We pitched just before Fife Ness, after rounding the corner which took us out of sight of the caravan park at Crail.
The toilets by the car park at Kingsbarns (602126) are now permanently closed. The very short beach walk that is covered at high tide occurs on this section, as does the landslip at East Sands caravan park, neither of which are any problem as noted above.
From St. Andrews bus station, we took the 99 bus (Dundee) to Leuchars rail station, then the Edinburgh train to Kirkcaldy, where a change onto a local train to North Queensferry is necessary. The whole journey took less than 2 hours.