Day 74 St Andrews and a walk through the forest

Thursday 18 June 2015

St Andrews to Tayport (the Tay Bridge)
19 miles
Ruth’s house 

I caught the bus to St Andrews and was so early I had the town to myself as I wandered around the streets admiring the beautiful buildings, many of which seem to belong to the University. I stopped at the only cafe that was open early and then wandered down to the golf course, which was a lot busier. St Andrews was gearing up for The Open in a few weeks and the golf course was full of players, staff and many contractors putting up stands and things. I hadn’t realised there were actually 6 courses here on this prime spot of land that pokes out into the River Eden estuary. I could probably have walked down the golf courses right to the estuary, but I couldn’t be bothered with all the golf avoidance so I just crossed the 18th in front of the stands (I think women are allowed here now) and made my way past the big hotel and onto the cycle path to Guardbridge.  

No crowds to welcome me onto the 18th
 The cycle path unfortunately went closer to the main road than the estuary so there was nothing to see until I could cross the river at Guardbridge. 

Crossing the River Eden at Guardbridge, papermill in the distance
  I walked along the road past the rundown old papermill and through Leuchars village, past the old RAF base. From here it was into Tentsmuir Forest, which occupies the corner that comes round into the Firth of Tay. It was a long walk through the trees and there was no one about. Then all of a sudden I was in a clearing and there were picnic tables and a van selling crepes (still no people). Amazing. Naturally I felt obliged to stop for some lunch, which included a Nutella and banana crepe. Yum.  

Long, straight forest tracks
 I did venture it of the forest onto Tentsmuir Sands, but the walking was easier on the forest tracks as it was quite windy. I passed an old ice house that had been used to keep ice for packing fish for transportation.  

An old ice house
 Coming out of the forest at Tayport there were good views across the Tay to Dundee and Broughty Ferry.  

The beach at Tayport looking across the Firth of Tay
 Yet more cycle tracks to reach the Tay Bridge and from there I caught the bus back to Wormit. 

Day 73 East Neuk of Fife (Part 2)

Wednesday 17 June 2015

St Monans to St Andrews
22 miles
Ruth’s house

Two buses back to St Monans and I started with a walk down the hill that the town is built on to the small harbour. St Monans, and all of the towns today, had a tidal swimming pool built into the rocks. It used to be the site of salt pans in the 1600s and these are still visible, along with the windmill above them. 

St Monans tidal pool and salt pans now grassed over
 Unfortunately it seemed that none of these pools were any longer subject to upkeep by the council which is a shame. Anstruther’s pool was at least being used by local school children who were having a kayaking lesson. I chatted to one of the instructors who told me to look out for a 250 million year old fossilised tree on the rocky shoreline but although I searched I couldn’t find it. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack among the millions of rocks. The coastal walk today was mostly on cliff tops between towns and it was a very pleasant and beautiful, but hilly, walk. Pittenweem was the next town and then Anstruther.  

Anstruther art work
  
Anstruther tidal pool being used for school kayaking lessons
The sky was cloudy but at one point there seemed to be a halo of sunshine over the Isle of May, which is just off the coast here and can be visited on a boat trip from Anstruther.  

A halo over the Isle of May (note how rocky the shoreline is – no chance of finding a tree fossil!)
 Crail is the next picturesque little harbour town and I stopped here for a well-earned cream tea.  

Crail harbour
 From Crail I headed past a disused airfield to Fife Ness. Rounding Fife Ness meant finally leaving the Forth behind and looking ahead to the Tay, it felt like I was getting somewhere.  
Approaching the lighthouse at Fife Ness
The scenery was stunning and it helped that the sun was coming out. I had reached another golf course, a posh one where there seemed to be more caddies than players and I definitely heard American accents. It didn’t prevent me from walking along the edge as the path was quite eroded in places. I was moving between beaches and links golf courses.   
Craighead beach with Fife Ness in the background
 It was amazing the different colours of sand on the beaches, some were white, one was grey, and some were yellow. I thought Cambo Sands at Kingsbarns was particularly beautiful.  
Cambo Sands
After walking up the small valley and crossing Kenly Water at Boarhills the path became a lot more rugged for the walk to St Andrews.  

Looking along the cliffs to St Andrews
 There were lots of ups and downs and a few places where the path seemed to have been eroded away and a bit of scrambling was required. It was sweaty walking but fun in the sunshine.  
Hard walking up and down these cliff paths
 

It had been another long day and I arrived at St Andrews just in time to have a quick look around the cathedral ruins before they closed. After that I rewarded myself with an icecream from the gelateria and then had just enough time to shop for some food before the last, and only, bus back to Ruth’s. A lovely day.  

St Rule’s 12th Century church and the cathedral ruins

Day 72 East Neuk of Fife (Part 1)

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Kirkcaldy to St Monans
23 miles
Ruth’s house

I was up early to catch a bus to Leuchars and train to Kirkcaldy, where I promptly bought a coffee to set me on my way. Not much to note about Kirkcaldy, although there were a few plaques dotted about as a reminder that it was here that Robert Nairn designed and manufactured linoleum floor tiles. Not the most exciting claim to fame. I headed through Ravenscraig Park and into Dysart, an old coal mining town with a small harbour once owned by a rich man who built a big wall around his property to keep the peasants out. Nice.  

Dysart coal mining memorial
 The path goes through the tunnel he created in the rock for a rail line to reach the harbour.  
Mind your head through the tunnel to the harbour
 The next stretch involved a few ups and downs as the path alternated between shore and woodland with sandstone cliffs starting to appear. West Wemyss is a pretty town purpose built for workers on the Wemyss Estate. It has some lovely art work on the sandstone cliff.  

West Wemyss modern cliff art
  
And there’s more!
 I walked along the shore, beneath Wemyss Castle, past Coaltown of Wemyss and into East Wemyss. This was also once a mining community and is the site of several caves containing artwork from our distant ancestors. The cave I looked in had lots of danger signs, brick columns propping it up, was full of rubbish and sporting some artwork that looked a lot more recent than the information board had suggested! 
One of the East Wemyss caves with ancient artwork inside
 I reached Buckhaven and immediately walked past a bakery; I felt compelled to try its fare. I can highly recommend Stuart’s Bakery, which is purportedly the world champion scotch pie maker and UK sausage champion! I ate neither, but their rhubarb pie is amazing, so good I had to go back for an apple tart as well. 

Feeling refreshed I headed through the town to Leven and Largo Bay. I had a choice of walking on the beach or the footpath through the dunes by the side of the golf course (the first of many for the next 3 days). I always assumed that a links golf course was just a course by the sea, but I have learned that “links” refers to the type of soil and terrain (coastal sand dunes) that is particularly suited to golf. Well I never. 

Lower Largo is a pretty little town whose cottages reminded me of Robin Hood’s Bay, which is probably why lots of the windows had holiday home signs in them. The walking was fairly easy as Fife council has mostly done a good job signposting the Fife Coastal Path. The views across the Forth were through a haar (mist) so the hills around Edinburgh were a mixture of blues and greys.  

A different sort of artwork on the Lundin Links near Lower Largo
 I arrived at Earlsferry and this was the first town of the area known as East Neuk of Fife that stretches around the corner of Fife to St Andrews. I found these towns to be quite picturesque and quiet; lovely places to live I thought. Earlsferry in particular had some rather large houses backing into the beach and the sea at Chapel Ness looked very inviting for a swim on a muggy day. But there were other people about and I didn’t have my swimming costume with me so I resisted the temptation to strip off and dive in.  
Looking back at the pretty town of Elie
 I walked through Earlsferry, Elie and on to St Monans, where I caught 2 buses back to Ruth’s house.  

 It had been a long day but the sun had come out in the afternoon and the scenery improved as I went along.  

The biggest poppies ever growing near Elie
 

Day 71 Return to Fife

Monday 15 June 2015

Dundee to Wormit (across Tay Bridge)
5 miles
Ruth’s house

I left Shetland on the Sunday evening ferry and, after 12 hours of mostly lying down trying not to let the motion of the boat make me feel sick, I arrived at Aberdeen at 7 am. I caught the train from Aberdeen to Dundee and then walked over the Tay Bridge and back into the Kingdom of Fife. Unusually, pedestrians walk down the middle of the bridge with the traffic lanes either side. Not sure it’s my favourite design!

Walking over the Tay Bridge with Dundee Law behind me
  My friend Ruth had kindly offered me the use of his house so I can hopefully walk “light” for a few days around the Fife coast. 

Although not technically a walking day I still covered 5 miles of coastline and then a further 3 walking to and from the shops. I also managed to get a haircut. And all this while still feeling the motion of the boat; I must have looked drunk as I felt like I was swaying more than walking! 

Looking at the Tay Bridge and Dundee

WEEK 10 – Shetland Islands

  

Week off in Shetland
South Voxter Lodges, Mainland

What a wonderful week in Shetland. It began with the overnight ferry from Aberdeen and I lay down with my eyes closed for 14 hours as the weather was bad and the sea rough. The tactic worked as I did get some sleep and I wasn’t sick. Glad to arrive. 

If you include all the tiny islands with no inhabitants, there are over 100 Shetland Islands (enough reason not to walk around Shetland!). I visited 6 on my trip: Mainland, Yell, Unst, Bressler, Noss and Mousa. 

Shetland reminded me of the Falklands a bit; barren and treeless moorland, small communities, hilly, water everywhere and fantastic views. I didn’t have the best summer weather (I wore all of my clothes all week) but it didn’t matter. Although it was occasionally annoying to hear on the radio that the rest of Britain seemed to be in the grip of a heatwave. Oh well, they didn’t have sea otters!

There were many highlights of the week and these are a few:

1. Visiting the most Northerly point of the the British Isles, Muckle Flugga and Out Stack. I made to the far North of Britain, awesome! 

Muckle Flugga and Out Stack – Britain’s most Northerly point
 

2. Sea kayaking down the Mainland coast on the only sunny day. The sea is so clear and the wildlife abundant. We saw 3 otters and plenty of seals were in attendance.   
  

3. So much wildlife to see, including: seals, otters, gannets, bonxies (great skuas), arctic skuas, black-backed gulls, herring gulls, arctic terns, curlews, shags, cormorants, fulmars, kittiwakes, rock pipits, ringed plovers, sandpipers, storm petrels and, of course, puffins and oyster catchers.   

A puffin nest-building at Sumburgh Head

4. St Ninian’s tombolo beach is possibly the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. Just fantastic. I went for a swim here in the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean.   

St Ninian’s tombolo beach

 

5. Taking a late night boat across to the small island of Mousa to visit the best preserved Broch on Shetland (an ancient building probably built by Vikings but no-one knows what it was used for) to watch the storm petrels returning from feeding at sea. This is a nightly occurrence at dusk (about midnight in June). They nest in the cracks between the Broch’s stones and they swoop all around as you stand there; pretty amazing to watch and hear.   

Mousa Broch at midnight – the sky is full of storm petrels

 

6. The views. Everywhere there were views of the sea and dramatic coastline.  

Scalloway
       
Esha Ness, West Mainland
  
 
Sumburgh Head
 
By the end of the week I felt like I’d seen quite a bit of Shetland and it is a wonderful place. The people are really friendly too and I even went to a Sunday afternoon tea in Cunningsburgh Village Hall. I think the village hall must be the heart of the community because there weren’t really any pubs, nor were there many cafes (and those there were weren’t always very good, like the one that consisted of a microwave and instant coffee in the entrance to the community shop). At times it felt like the tourist trade was 20 years behind the rest of Britain as places were highlighted in brochures but then were difficult to find and nothing made of them. A quirky place. 

WEEK 9 – Dunbar, East Lothian to Kirkcaldy, Fife

  

72 miles
(total 774 miles)

This week has been much easier due to being hosted all week by Ali. I feel like I’ve had a break from the non-stop planning, unpacking and re-packing, finding accommodation, food, plug points and wifi. And on top of that I got to spend time with friends. I also had meals cooked (although I did cook one and I also baked a cake), bike and small rucksack loaned to me, and a wealth of local knowledge passed on. 

I feel like I’ve got to know the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh a little bit this week and I’ve been lucky to have time to do a bit of sightseeing as well. I am convinced golf is the Scots’ national pastime. 

A big thank you to Ali for hosting me this week. 

Day 62 Off to Shetland

Saturday 6 June 2015

Train Edinburgh to Aberdeen then overnight ferry to Lerwick

It was time to pack my rucksack, say goodbye to Ali and set off on my long trip to the Shetland Islands.  

Me and Ali (she’s holding a bag of cous cous I’ve been carrying around as an emergency meal)
 Next week is the first of my 2 planned ‘holidays within a holiday’ as I’m spending the week on Shetland. I really wanted to include the Shetland and Orkney Islands in my trip but can’t possibly walk around everywhere so I picked Shetland and am visiting for a week rather than walking round it. 

I’m hoping for more wildlife and rugged scenery. Heading as far North as possible in Britain is a great way to spend my 40th birthday, away from everyone and any possible parties. Back to walking on Monday 15th June when I will hopefully get back to Kirkcaldy. 

Really pleased that it’s such a windy day here in the North Sea; I hope I’m not seasick!

Day 61 Admin Day

Friday 5 June 2015

Rest Day
Ali’s house

I sat down last night and tried to work out the logistics of a commute to Kirkcaldy and then back from wherever I walked to. In the end I realised I the commuting would take longer than the walking so I decided I’d take a rest day, catch up with my blog and prepare for my trip to the Shetland Islands. It was nice to have an unexpected day off doing little. 

Day 60 Into the Kingdom of Fife

Thursday 4 June 2015

North Queensferry to Kirkcaldy
18 miles
Ali’s house

It was a slightly protracted commute today as I got the bus into Edinburgh centre and then the train out to Fife. I did enjoy the opportunity to go over the proper Forth Bridge this time. I got off the train at North Queensferry and immediately walked through Carlingnose Point wildlife reserve and past the whinstone quarry as I set off on the Fife Coast Path. It’s nice to walk on a way-marked coast path, although sometimes I am slightly perplexed when they veer away from the coast and I can find a more coastal route. This happened a couple of times today but it was all good fun. 

There was a wee bit of a haar today on the Forth (translation: a little bit of fog) so the views were a bit hazy and didn’t make for the best photos. I could still see loads though, all the islands and the Pentland Hills looming behind Edinburgh. 

The Fife hills rising behind Dalgety Bay
 Dalgety Bay and Aberdour had some quite large houses overlooking the Forth and there was a nice pathway weaving along the shore almost until Braefoot Point. There were lots of signs around Dalgety Bay warning of high levels of radiation (no explanation) so don’t eat the shellfish! There wasn’t much wind today and, with the haar and the rocky shoreline, there was an eerie air about the place. Although it was raining for a couple of hours it was so light that I didn’t even need to put on a waterproof as I didn’t really get wet. Very strange.  
Looking out across Dalgety Bay to Braefoot Point and Inchcolm island
Walking from Dalgety Bay to Aberdour was one of those bits where the coast path went inland and I decided to walk along a different path that looked like it would get closer to the coast. I ended up walking through a beautiful wood, down a steep hill to Braefoot Point, along a rocky shore (saying hello to a couple of seals) and then scrambled back up a big hill to get around the Braefoot Bay Gas Terminal.  
beautiful wood at Braefoot
  
Looking back to the bridge from Braefoot- eerie through the haar
 I stopped for a spot of lunch in Aberdour before pressing on to Burntisland, walking alongside the railway line. 

Aberdour beach
 
Aberdour port
 Burntisland seemed a bit more rundown and I had to do the walk to Kinghorn along the main road as the tide was in and so there was no beach. Kinghorn was very pretty, tumbling off a tall cliff.  

Kinghorn
 The last stretch was along a more rugged path sandwiched between the sea and the railway line. It was a chance to watch lots of Eider duck families and scan the Forth for Killer whales (some had been sighted near the Isle of May today but I didn’t see them unfortunately). Kirkcaldy is a large town and not the prettiest. Lots of rubbish on the beach and blowing against the barbed wire fences separating the empty shells of buildings from the beach. Shame. I headed into the town centre to the train station and the commute back to Dalkeith.  

Kirkcaldy

Day 59 Edinburgh and the Bridge over the Forth

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Musselburgh to North Queensferry
55 miles cycling (25 miles of coast covered)
Ali’s house

I have to admit I wasn’t overly excited about walking around the Edinburgh City coastline so when Ali suggested cycling instead I jumped at the chance. What a great idea. I would cover the same coastal route and could fit more in on a bike. 

I set off through Dalkeith Country Park to the coast at Musselburgh. The first section was mostly on promenades through Joppa and Portobello; which seemed like quite an upmarket seaside town with some upmarket cafes.  

Portobello
 After that it’s around the corner, negotiating the Port of Leith. There is a sewage works and some industrial buildings to get around first and the walk/bike signs sent me down a dead end into Leith industrial estate so I was glad not to be walking. I popped around the back of the Ocean Terminal shopping centre to get a glimpse of the Royal Yacht Britannia that is permanently moored here and you can pay to visit.  

Royal Yacht Britannia
The route along the North coast of Edinburgh was quite dull until I reached Silverknowles and zipped along the promenade towards Crammond Island.  

The Crammond Fish with Crammond Island in the background
The tide was coming in and, despite all the sand in the photo, I didn’t have time to cross to the island and back. From here I had to take a 1.5 mile detour inland in order to cross the River Almond. I followed a footpath and had to carry the bike up and down a few steps. Not too hard though.  

The River Crammond
 It was easy cycling through the park land surrounding Dalmeny House.  
Dalmeny House
 As I cycled out of Dalmeny Park suddenly it was there, right in front of me, the Forth rail bridge. What a magnificent sight.  

Forth bridges
 I stopped in South Queensferry to admire the view. This little town maintains a cobbled street and some quaint, old shops and taverns, and it is the disembarkation point for people arriving on huge liners to visit Edinburgh. Fortunately none were docked in the Forth today and it was rather quiet.  

Cycling to the road bridge
 The cycle over the bridge was great as the views were amazing. I can’t believe I didn’t know a 2nd road bridge is being built; a sign I’m from the South I suppose.  

It’s not just Paris that has padlocks on bridges!
 Once off the bridge I cycled up the Ferry Hills overlooking a large quarry and then down a very steep hill into North Queensferry. I admired the old pier and the light tower that enabled the boats that provided the Queensferry passage in the 1800s, before the rail bridge was built in 1890. 

It was time to head back across the bridge and I was lucky that the number 1 cycle route goes from the Forth Road Bridge, through Edinburgh city centre, all the way to Dalkeith. (Actually it goes from Dover to Shetland.) Brilliant. I followed it all the way back and only got lost once when the signs disappeared as I exited Meadow Park near the university. What a bonus; all the city sights as well as the coast path. What a great day. I was tired and had a sore backside by the end though! 

cycling up the hill past Edinburgh Castle