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Fife Coastal Path section 5 - St Andrews to Newburgh

Fife Coastal Path section 5 - St Andrews to Newburgh

Postby nigheandonn » Mon Apr 09, 2018 10:26 pm

Route description: Fife Coastal Path

Date walked: 17/03/2018

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Section 1 - Kincardine to Ferry Toll
Section 2 - Ferry Toll to Kinghorn
Section 3 - Kinghorn to Elie
Section 4 - Elie to St Andrews

Saturday 17th March 2018

I had an ambitious plan to catch the 7:40 bus from Barnton, which didn't quite work - it was sitting at the stop making up time as usual, until it saw me coming and drove off. So that led to a bit of bus hopping - onto the slow St Andrews bus as far as Ferrytoll while I worked out what I should do, change to the Dundee bus as far as Halbeath, and then onto a bus coming from Glasgow which got me to St Andrews only about 20 minutes later than I would have been, instead of an hour later on the slow coastal bus.

(One of the stars of this whole show, I have to say, has been the Fife dayrider plus bus ticket - from Edinburgh to anywhere in Fife and even over to Dundee for £10.70!)

I was on a pretty strict deadline - 18 miles to Newport by 16:54 to be back in Edinburgh by 7ish - but it all looked fairly flat and fairly easy and fairly unexciting - nothing much to slow me down or distract me.

I'd left off in St Andrews at the closest point to the bus station, just as the golf courses started, so I didn't have far to go to be back on my track, by a monument to something or other golf related.

Golf monument

It was a cold bleak morning, with the faintest hint of snow in the air, and the courses looked bare and bleak, with what must once have been a nice old house at the far side utterly dwarfed by the enormous and ugly modern hotel towering over it.

The golf courses grew steadily less impressive and were eventually left behind, but this first section of the route was not particularly inspiring - a long stretch of straight flat cycle path, running parallel to the road. The path turns a good way inland to skirt the head of the Eden estuary, and after a while the far shore was visible across the river.

First sight of the Eden estuary

The first houses of Guardbridge, a little detour from the main road, were a welcome sight, and then the inn and the nice old bridge, which the path crosses.

Old bridge, Guardbridge

After so long on an empty road I was looking forward to walking through the village and looking at the different houses, but the path had other ideas, suddenly darting off into a cluster of modern houses and through a gap onto a cycle path which led along the back of the houses. It was pleasant enough, with a view of fields and trees in a brief glimpse of sun, but still a disappointment!

The track briefly met the road again by the old paper mill, then dodged back behind to cross another old bridge, and come back out on the road by the junction at Leuchars, with the army base on one side and the station visible over the fields on the other.

I seemed to be walking through army base for quite a long time after that - quite ordinary houses at first, except that they were kept behind a fence, and then various bigger buildings - one that looked like a bit a church and another one that said it was a church - and then eventually some ordinary houses and the old village church on a little hill.

Leuchars church

I made a detour along the main street of Leuchars proper, more or less at right angles to the army part, which there was more of than I realised - some nice old houses, and a post office and tearoom and a couple of other shops as well as the spar shop I was heading for. It was quite tempting to stop for a cup of tea to warm up, but I wasn't sure I had time.

The path was cutting off another great corner of the coast again, this time to avoid the airfield, but from Leuchars I was heading at least vaguely towards the sea - down a minor road which became a farm track which became a little gated path between fences, and then a path across open ground and over some lengths of board walk.

Fenced path

There were far more angles and changes to the path than I had expected from the map, and even when I came into the trees it wasn't the forest track I was expecting, just another path - but eventually I did hit another fairly good road, down to the Tentsmuir car park, where there were toilets and picnic tables, as well as quite a lot of cars, and I ate a very cold lunch.

I was very close to the sea, but not quite in sight of it - the focus here all seemed to be on the forest, so that you had to make a special effort to get to the shore.

Forest tracks

So the path turns north instead onto one of the forest roads, which were pleasant enough walking - broad and flat and dry underfoot - but like the cycle path earlier, not very inspiring - on and on in a straight line, with nothing much to look at except trees.

The old stone icehouse made a welcome landmark - built to store fish catches, it's now well back from the shoreline as the dunes have extended.

Old icehouse

Not far beyond that is an old boundary stone, marking the border between two different areas of fishing rights, and beyond that I finally got tired of being so near the sea and not seeing it, and wandered off into a path along the dunes - not that there was very much more to see, because the sea was still quite a distance away.

I was intrigued by the point and the endless sands marked on the map, but with the tide well in and everything very flat there wasn't a lot to see. It was still quite exciting to be suddenly looking over to the other side of the Tay - it didn't seem all that long since I'd been looking at the other side of the Forth.

Tentsmuir Point and the Tay

The official path still ran along a track a bit inland, but I was on a decent path near the shore, so just stuck to it - a much prettier route, with the sand and the edge of the trees. I'd been reading about David Douglas in the north west of America, so this tiny pine-lined bay seemed like very suitable scenery, although I'm sure that America is a bit more dramatic!

Wooded bay

With the coast wiggling about ahead it wasn't always easy to tell what was on one side of the river and what was on the other, but Dundee was definitely marked out by some odd things like framework pillars, apparently higher than the hills.

My path eventually came out to join the main track at the edge of a piece of wasteland, and the path then led on round a park and through a caravan park to a little promenade, where the tide was so far in - helped by the wind - that the waves were crashing over the top of the sea wall and throwing spray onto the path.

Overexuberant sea

The path just skirts the edge of Tayport, past some fairly new houses and along by the harbour, where I was very jealous of one house built with its lower storey actually in the sea.

Tayport harbour

The path then turned from the water's edge to lead onto another cycle path - this one obviously an old railway line, and with much better views - over the firth, and down to two little lighthouses, presumably built as leading lights, and both apparently just sitting in someone's garden.

Leading lights

A last push up to meet the road brought me past farmland for the first time since Leuchars, a great ploughed expanse, as well as giving a good view of the Tay road bridge ahead.

Approaching the Tay road bridge

The path stops being marked on the map at the bridge, where it originally ran out, and I expected it to continue along the road underneath, but instead it took a detour up to the carpark and the entrance to the pedestrian walkway, through a little tunnel under the bridge, and then back down to the road leading into Newport, past a real mix of houses and a brightly painted memorial fountain to the little row of shops.

I had about 15 minutes to wait for the bus, but although I knew I was supposed to catch it somewhere on Cupar Road, which ran up from the shore road past the church, I could only find a bus stop going the other way, and ended up retracing my steps to the last bus stop I had passed, where I knew it would come.

Saturday 31st March 2018

I was determined to be finished the Fife Coastal Path by the end of March, but having run off to Newcastle with a friend the weekend before I was gambling everything on one last throw - another 18 miles to go on the last day of the month.

So I had to be out, come rain or shine, and the forecast was not great, although it could have been worse - light rain all day, which if it turns out to be drizzle is perfectly bearable.

I failed to make the 7:40 St Andrews bus again - or at least I might have made it except that I suddenly realised I didn't have enough money to buy my ticket, and had to go on to the cash machine at Barnton junction. But I knew that the Dundee bus just after 8 would also take me to Cupar, where I had to change, so that was fine - even if the wonderful day ticket turned out to have suddenly gone up to £11.20, which somehow doesn't sound nearly such a bargain although it's only 50p more!

The little centre of Newport is quite attractive - and quite useful, because it has a co-op which not only provided me with lunch, but with a roll and sausage for a second breakfast, when the smell made me unreasonably hungry!

The old Newport Inn building at the top of the harbour hill is now a gallery, but still very nice to look at.

Old Newport Inn

At the bottom of the hill is a Telford pier, built around the time the first steam ferries were introduced, and a very dilapidated Victorian ferry terminal, and then the route leads on along the road for another couple of miles.

Most of Newport is a kind of place I didn't think existed on the east coast, but very familiar from the Firth of Clyde - the big solid villas of successful Victorians, living outside the city and commuting over by boat. At some point Newport turned into Wormit, without any obvious break, and somewhere in Wormit the path left the main road for the road which runs under the rail bridge - another impressive sight.

Tay rail bridge(s)

(I didn't realise until I was looking at the photos how visible the piers of the old bridge still are - at the time I was looking at the shapes of the bridge, not at the water.)

Just past the bridge is a monument to the first bridge, with a list of the names of the known passengers - a few sets of possible brothers and likely fathers and sons, and one father travelling with a four year old daughter.

Beyond the bridge the road runs out and a path runs up onto the hillside and then into the woods - a very muddy path in places, although with the first signs of spring on the woods in the form of buds and dangling catkins. Up until now it had been dry but dull, or vice versa, but in the woods it did start to rain a bit for the first time - it was never heavy and never lasted long, so it was still better than the forecast

The path - and the wood - are not in the same place on the ground as on the map, so just as I was thinking that I didn't seem to be getting anywhere I came out into the open with the houses of Kirkton on the hill above me, and the path turned down to pass some very impressive black and white houses by the shore.

Black and white houses at Kirkton

Balmerino was a very nice looking place - solid attractive old houses which looked like they had gone on being used because they were useful, without too much conscious effort to pretty them up. I made the short detour up to the abbey, which has some impressive arches, and a tree so old it's doing its best to sit down on the ground, but is in a fairly battered condition.

Balmerino Abbey

After a brief walk along the beach it was back into the woods, and so it continued for the next mile or two - a wood full of the leaves of wild garlic, although it hadn't really started to smell, and brightened by beech leaves and a rare glimpse of the sun.

Spring woods

Eventually the path stopped running parallel to the shore and turned up towards the road - I had marked the route on my map as well as I could, circling the right choice in pencil at every junction, but where the route ran along paths which didn't even exist on the map, as here, it was more confusing and I could only draw an arrow pointing in vaguely the right direction!

From this point the route seemed to have got tired of being a coastal path, and wandered off to be a farmland and small hills path instead, although there was a minor road much closer to the coast it could presumably have followed if the real coast was too difficult.

I stopped to eat my lunch at the crossroads at Hazelton Walls - I like a landmark to stop at! - and then followed a tiny road on, down to the junction at Creich where some lucky person had a castle in their garden.

Creich Castle

This was a nice landscape of little hills and little villages - as well as its castle Creich had a ruined church and tiny graveyard, while Brunton seemed to have turned its back on the road and simply chosen its spot and stuck to it.

Past Pittachope the path left the road and turned onto a track leading up toward Norman Law, where two ladies coming down were the only walkers I met all day expect a couple of dog walkers just beyond Wormit and on the beach at Balmerino.

Norman's Law track

A sign at the start of the track said that the summit of Norman Law was only a short detour from the path, but if there was any way to make that detour expect by climbing up a steep bank and over a barbed wire fence I couldn't find it.

Once over, however, it was an easy climb - the fence at the far side of the field was more easily crossed, with stones from an old wall forming a kind of stile, and a twisting path led up the end of the hill to the summit, which had a trig point and a big cairn and a view indicator, and must be a wonderful viewpoint on a clearer day.

Norman's Law summit

The easier way into the field turned out to be well past the end of the hill if you were coming from the east - not very obvious. From here it was back onto forest roads, although not nearly as flat as at Tentsmuir - steeply down to a gate, and then down to a sharp bend at Glascairn and three cottages - two quiet and made of stone, and one wooden and playing loud music.

Another sharp turn brought me onto a flat track where I seemed to be surrounded by small hills on every side, almost as if I was in a crater.

Surrounded by hills

Just when I thought I might be getting somewhere the path turned back on itself again, round the back of Glenduckie Hill through more forestry, and out onto farmland as it began to snow. On the map it looked like I was going to join a good track, but the start of it was really just a worn line along the edge of a field - beyond that a very muddy lane ran down between fences, where sheep with young lambs didn't have the sense to led me get past them and kept running on ahead - I was so relieved to get out of the gate at the other end that I only realised too late that it was the wrong gate, and I was now in a field below rather than on a path through pines up above, so that I had to climb over another fence.

The upside to this section, however, was the wonderful views ahead - Newburgh and Mugdrum Island and sandbanks in the river, so that suddenly the end was in sight and everything seemed better.

Descent to Newburgh

My trials weren't over, however - given a choice between a track down by a building into a field with a horse, which looked a bit private, and a path on into a wood, I saw the FCP sign attached to the fence by the path, and so followed it. But this was somehow wrong, because the path simply ran out halfway through the wood, and going on only brought me into a field with more horses, and that only brought me back into a new part of the wood with ruined buildings, and that brought me to the edge of a ploughed field which took me down to Denmylne - more people lucky enough to have a castle in their garden, this time with lovely stonework still around the windows and roof, but not really where I wanted to be.

So I followed the road down, and turned onto a track which brought me back where I should have been, at the bottom of the track leading down from the house with the horses - but how I was supposed to get there I don't know, as it definitely wasn't signed that way.

Even at the edge of Newburgh the path was very reluctant to end, so instead of entering the town it led down past an old mill and through reedbeds to the water's edge, and on past some lovely old stone piers and edges, and buildings old and new.

Newburgh river banks

Eventually the path seemed to be leading up towards the main road, and then changed its mind again to dodge off and skirt the edge of a park, and finally meet an arch the twin of the one at Kincardine - and in about as glamorous a setting!

The end of the path

But Newburgh was not a very inspiring ending - attractive enough, in the solid self-sufficient way of a place that has grown up as its own focus, but no pub doing food (I had checked, but apparently it had decided that from 31st March it would only do lunches), no public toilets, and the other pub was full of people playing bingo, and then after all my wandering about I didn't really have time to go to the chip shop, and made do with the co-op.

I had to change at Kettlebridge to get home, which seemed to confuse the bus drivers - I had seen a bus waiting when I first got up to the road, and gone to check with the driver that there was still a later one, although I was sure there was.
"You want to go to Edinburgh?" he said. "From here?!"
But it worked - I think it's just coincidence that the wander down the back roads bus from Newburgh and the express buses to Edinburgh both run along the same bit of road for a mile or two, but it was only about a 10 minute wait, although a very cold one.

And so I'm done with the Fife Coastal Path - and feeling like I've run out of long distance walks which can be done in day trips, which isn't really true at all. Maybe the last big project, though - or maybe not.
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