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Home > Trips&Photos > Trips > The Fife Coastal Path & Isle of May

The Fife Coastal Path & Isle of May / 5 days / 67 miles (108km)

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 → 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 1North Queensferry to Aberdour10 miles (16.1km)
Day 2Silversands Bay to Leven20 miles (32.2km)
Day 3The Chain Walk & Anstruther16 miles (25.8km)
Day 4The Isle of May & Crail8 miles (12.9km)
Day 5Fife Ness to St. Andrews13 miles (20.9km)

Website Notes

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.

Evaluation

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!.

Fife Coastal Path logo

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.

Photos & brief notes

Day 1 - North Queensferry to Aberdour

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.

The Forth road bridge
The Forth road bridge (24 May 2004__10:42:33)
The Forth rail bridge
The Forth rail bridge (24 May 2004__10:51:48)
Aberdour harbour
Aberdour harbour (24 May 2004__14:24:11)
Inchcolm from Hawkcraig Point
Inchcolm from Hawkcraig Point (24 May 2004__18:02:37)

Day 2 - Silversands Bay to Leven

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.

Silversands Bay (black mink)
Silversands Bay (black mink) (25 May 2004__07:33:20)
Kinghorn harbour
Kinghorn harbour (25 May 2004__09:31:55)
Craigfoot
Craigfoot (25 May 2004__10:27:19)
Dysart harbour
Dysart harbour (25 May 2004__13:58:27)

Day 3 - The Chain Walk & Anstruther

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.

Lower Largo harbour
Lower Largo harbour (26 May 2004__07:23:14)
Rocks at Kincraig Point
Rocks at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__09:37:03)
Above first cave inlet at Kincraig Point
Above first cave inlet at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__10:22:22)
First cave inlet at Kincraig Point
First cave inlet at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__10:31:58)
Inlet at Kincraig Point
Inlet at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__10:49:27)
Tidal cleft & cormorants at Kincraig Point
Tidal cleft & cormorants at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__11:09:15)
Rocks at Kincraig Point
Rocks at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__11:13:36)
Rocks at Kincraig Point
Rocks at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__11:17:16)
Fluted cliffs near chain 5
Fluted cliffs near chain 5 (26 May 2004__11:30:41)
Fluted cliffs near chain 5
Fluted cliffs near chain 5 (26 May 2004__11:31:32)
Fluted cliffs near chain 5
Fluted cliffs near chain 5 (26 May 2004__11:33:08)
Arch near chain 5
Arch near chain 5 (26 May 2004__11:43:09)
Rocks at Kincraig Point
Rocks at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__11:45:44)
Rocks at Kincraig Point
Rocks at Kincraig Point (26 May 2004__12:16:10)
Stone & water colours
Stone & water colours (26 May 2004__15:59:08)
Approaching Anstruther harbour
Approaching Anstruther harbour (26 May 2004__17:17:52)
Anstruther harbour
Anstruther harbour (26 May 2004__17:34:23)

Day 4 - The Isle of May & Crail

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.

Early morning reflections and the Isle of May
Early morning reflections and the Isle of May (27 May 2004__06:36:29)
Lobster pots and Anstruther harbour
Lobster pots and Anstruther harbour (27 May 2004__07:33:15)
Backlit rock formation approaching Crail
Backlit rock formation approaching Crail (27 May 2004__18:36:15)
Crail harbour
Crail harbour (27 May 2004__19:06:32)

Day 5 - Fife Ness to St. Andrews

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.

Early morning sun at pitch near Fife Ness
Early morning sun at pitch near Fife Ness (28 May 2004__05:11:57)
Shore near Airbow Point
Shore near Airbow Point (28 May 2004__08:49:37)
Buddo Rock
Buddo Rock (28 May 2004__10:04:58)
The Rock & Spindle at Kinkell Ness
The Rock & Spindle at Kinkell Ness (28 May 2004__11:07:05)
Approaching St. Andrews
Approaching St. Andrews (28 May 2004__11:33:17)