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Fife Coastal Path - a little bit at a time

Fife Coastal Path - a little bit at a time

Postby Scougs » Tue Nov 14, 2017 5:08 pm

Route description: Fife Coastal Path

Date walked: 01/05/2017

Time taken: 10 days

Distance: 183 km

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Trip Report – Fife Coastal Path in one and two day trips from Edinburgh by public transport

I’ve finally finished the complete Fife Coastal Path after starting it some time ago. I did it in one and two day trips from Edinburgh, all by public transport. I used the TravelineScotland website extensively in the planning, and can’t recommend it highly enough. I didn’t do the walk in order, but I’ve put the trip report in order to make it easier to read. I haven’t provided extreme details of each stretch – this website has those – but a few tips, especially for those trying to do this the same way. All mileages are from MapMyWalk, and I suspect they are generous.

Section 1 – Kincardine to Limekilns

12 miles, 4 hours

Transport to Kincardine from Edinburgh – bus to Dunfermline bus station, then bus to Kincardine

Return transport to Edinburgh from Limekilns – bus to Dunfermline station, train to Edinburgh (bus does not run on Sundays)

A very easy walk, mostly on tarmac. The initial section passing by Longannet Power Station is not exactly picturesque, but things get better as you pass through Culross and Torryburn. Plenty of spots with benches for a picnic stop. I finished up at The Ship Inn in Limekilns, well ahead of my bus, so had time to sit and have a couple of pints at the very pleasant and friendly bar.

Longannet Power Station

Section 2 – Limekilns to Inverkeithing

9.4 miles, 3 hours, 20 minutes

Transport to Limekilns from Edinburgh – train to Dunfermline, bus to Limekilns (bus does not run on Sundays)
Return transport from Inverkeithing to Edinburgh – train

I bought a cheap day return to Dunfermline, and even though the train I boarded at Inverkeithing hadn’t passed through Dunfermline, the guard didn’t bother.


This section was actually a lot better than it looks on paper – I’d expected a lot of tarmac and industrial wasteland. But it wasn’t too bad. The short stretch along the A985 soon gives way to leafy suburbia and an unexpectedly nice path down by Rosyth Castle.

Queensferry Crossing.jpg
Queensferry Crossing

The route is currently diverted as you approach the Queensferry Crossing works, and follows the B981 rather than a footpath – interesting in its own right as it goes under the two road bridges. I found the signage in South Queensferry confusing, as there is a car park which is signposted for the Fife Coastal Path but it a detour off the route – you have to look carefully for the small sign which used to be the start of the path before it was extended to Kincardine.

Forth Bridge.jpg
Under the Forth Bridge

Original Start Queensferry.jpg
The sign indicating the original start of the path - easy to miss

I found the walk round from North Queensferry into Inverkeithing interesting, as I’ve travelled on that trainline many, many times and it was nice to out walking there. Plenty options for a pint and a rest on heading into Inverkeithing, but the trains are so frequent I just headed home.

Section 3 – Inverkeithing to Burntisland

10 miles, 3 hours, 20 minutes

Transport – train both ways, cheap day return from Edinburgh to Burntisland

A lovely, varied and easy coastal walk. A couple of good options for breaks – Silversands Park, and there’s a bench on the path that skirts Aberdour Golf Course. There’s a quite a climb out of Aberdour – a series of rock steps. Warning – you might suffer serious house envy on this walk! It skirts a couple of residential parts where lovely houses have fantastic views of the Forth and the Forth islands.

Edinburgh Skyline.jpg
View over to the Edinburgh Skyline

Incholm Abbey.jpg
Incholm Abbey

Section 4 – Burntisland to East Wemyss

13.8 miles, 5 hours

Transport – train from Edinburgh to Burntisland. Bus from East Wemyss to Leven for overnight stay.

This was the only stretch that I did in mostly pouring rain. A lot of it is through towns – the initial walk through Burntisland, down into Kinghorn, and of course, right along Kirkcaldy promenade. There’s a large supermarket as you come into Kirkcaldy, which I used to pick up a picnic lunch which I enjoyed on a bench on Kirkcaldy promenade despite the rain – the benches have shelters above them. I'd been dreading the long walk along the promenade, but it was actually quite enjoyable.

I saw seals basking on the rocks on two occasions – on the approach to Kirkcaldy, and on the approach to West Wemyss, which was pretty cool.

2 Seals approaching West Wemyss.jpg
Seals approaching West Wemyss

I also called in to the visitor centre for the Fife Coastal Path at Dysart, which has a café, toilets and lots of information about the path.

I chose to end today’s walk at East Wemyss, from where it was a short walk up to the A955 for the bus into Leven, which seemed the best option for overnight accommodation.

Section 5 – East Wemyss to Elie

14.6 miles, 6 hours 20 minutes

I based myself at a hotel in Leven and got the bus to the start and from the finish.

Walks don’t come much more varied than this. The slog through Buckhaven, Methil and Leven weren’t as bad as they look, and there were quite a few surprising ups and downs on wooded paths. After Leven the weather turned glorious and there was a stretch of tiring beach walking past a caravan site. There was a very tempting pub in Lower Largo. I tend not to stop at pubs in case I don’t get going again!

The path got a bit confusing leaving Lower Largo – there was a stile over to a disused railway. After this, the stretch to Shell Bay is punishing. Very undulating, narrow path through sand dunes. Progress was slow.

1 Looking back to Lower Largo.jpg
Looking back to Lower Largo

Once at Shell Bay caravan park you think you’re nearly there, but the path diverts steeply up Kincraig Hill. Stunning views made it worthwhile, though, especially when you get the first views down to Earlsferry and Elie.

3 View to Elie and Earlsferry.jpg
Earlsferry and Elie from Kincraig Hill

The drop down into Earlsferry was not good for someone with a fear of heights – I teetered slowly along the narrow path with a sheer drop to one side, much to the amusement of other walkers. Excellent pub in Elie provided a great place to wait for my bus back to Leven.

(Note: the next day I actually got the bus to St Andrews to pick up the walk where I’d left off before – I did the Elie to St Andrews stretch over a weekend first, when I had no intention of trying the whole thing).

Section 6 – Elie to Crail

13 miles, 5 hours

Direct bus from Edinburgh to Elie, overnight in Crail

Quite simply, the best bit of the Fife Coastal Path. Stunning views, lovely path, passes through St Monan’s, Pittenweem and Anstruther.

St Monans and Pittenweem.jpg
St Monans and Pittenweem

St Monans Castle.jpg
St Monan's Castle

St Monans.jpg
St Monan's

Note that where the path passes through St Monan’s and Pittenweem it is pretty dead – lovely cottages, but no shops, pubs or cafés. Don't assume you can pick up a picnic here! I was making good time on this walk so I did stop for a refreshment in a pub on Anstruther front.

The first view of Crail is quite simply breathtaking.

Crail Harbour.jpg
Crail Harbour

Section 7 – Crail with the intention of going to St Andrews, had to turn back just before the Rock and Spindle

Something like 13/14 miles, well over six hours

Started from B&B in Crail, had to get taxi into St Andrews then bus to Leuchars for train to Edinburgh

Today was a bit of a disaster, and consider your fitness carefully before attempting this walk alone. I read plenty of warnings about it being remote and challenging, but nothing specifically about a rock face that you have to scramble up which I just could not do on my own.

The first half of the walk was enjoyable to Kingsbarns, but after that there was a punishing stretch on very soft sand which made for slow progress and tiring walking.

Beach stretch before Kingsbarns.jpg
Approaching Kingsbarns - a little more "Coastal" and a little less "Path"

Tiring stretch after Kingsbarns.jpg
After Kingsbarns - really, really tiring walking on this soft sand

After the Fairmont Hotel, the path drops down to the coast and there is a bit of boulder hopping before I met the bit I just couldn't do. The rock you had to stand on to pull yourself up was covered in wet seaweed, I couldn’t see any way I could get a handhold or a foothold (despite the helpful yellow arrows painted on the rock) and eventually had to make the decision to turn back. I have since heard that if the tide is out you can walk on the sand further out and avoid this rock.

The easy scramble.jpg
The scramble which I just couldn't do

I backtracked around two miles to the Fairmont, which is a very upmarket hotel and golf resort, but they were very helpful. Gave me a bottle of water, sat me down, and phoned me a taxi – they even said I could have used their guest shuttle into St Andrews if I’d been five minutes earlier.

This is one of the problems with the fact that all the other long distance paths in Scotland are underused compared to the West Highland Way – on the WHW there will be someone along in a minute to give you a hand, but I hadn’t seen another human being for miles and knew I was hopelessly stuck.

Section 8 – St Andrews to Rock and Spindle to St Andrews to Leuchars

10.2 miles, 4 hours 15 minutes

After my disastrous attempt at Crail to St Andrews, I went back to finish the job by walking from St Andrews to the point where I’d had to give up, and then return to St Andrews and onwards to Leuchars. I actually started this morning in Leven, as I was tacking this stretch onto two days of walking from Burntisland to Elie, based from a wee hotel in Leven. It was nice to get the bus all the way round the coast taking in the villages.

So I started from the East Sands and headed back along past the Rock and Spindle to meet my nemesis, then turned and headed back all the way through St Andrews and onwards to Leuchars. The stretch between the Rock and Spindle and the East Sands is tough going with lots of ascents and descents and steps. I lost the waymarkers in the town, so I’m not sure I followed the official route until I picked it back up while taking the obligatory photo of the Swilken bridge.

Rock and Spindle to Leuchars.jpg
Had to be done

From there to Leuchars is, quite frankly, dull as ditchwater. Tarmac cycle track alongside a busy road for the most part. To make things worse, my train was cancelled, so I had to kill two hours in a pub in Leuchars which meant an even further walk (and lots of funny looks when I walked into the pub!).

Section 9 – Leuchars to Balmerino Abbey

19 miles, 7 hours

Train from Edinburgh to Leuchars, taxi from Balmerino to Drumoig Golf Hotel for overnight

I struggled with the logistics of how to do the last two sections, and eventually settled ongoing as far as either Newport, Wormit or Balmerino Abbey and getting a cab to accommodation. Part of the decision was driven by the lack of facilities in Newport – no pubs to wait for buses or taxis. I got a good deal at the Drumoig Golf hotel, which was an odd little place but met my needs.

This walk has a perfectly timed picnic spot in Tentsmuir Forest – picnic tables and even a snack bar, and it was busy with cyclists and walkers. At this point I struggled to pick up the path again, as there was a party of walkers heading off towards the beach which was the wrong direction. The stretch from here to Tayport should have been enjoyable, but it was just unrelenting gravel track through thick woods and I found it a bit dull. It was great when it suddenly opened up and you were on the beach with lovely views over the Tay, which had been obscured for the whole stretch through the forest.


The next stretch is either through towns or along a busy road, but it’s interesting going under the bridges and there are nice views. There’s a wee Co-op right on the path where I picked up supplies for my hotel room.

Tay road bridge.jpg
Under the Tay Road Bridge

Tay Bridge.jpg
Tay Bridge

As you leave Wormit, there’s an interesting memorial to the Tay Bridge disaster, and then the path to Balmerino is wooded and undulating. I called a minicab with an estimated time to meet me at Balmerino abbey, but the signage was inconsistent about the remaining distance and it took a bit longer than I thought, and MapMyWalk clocked the total distance walked today at 19.5 miles.

Section 10 – Balmerino Abbey to Newburgh

14.4 miles, 6.5 hours

Minicab from accommodation to start, bus from Newburgh to Ladybank, train from Ladybank to Edinburgh

As I’d read, this last section feels very different to the rest of the walk, mostly due to not being very “coastal” at all. I’ve done all of the Borders Abbeys Way, and it felt much more like that as it headed through lots of farmland.

1 Setting off from Balmerino.jpg
Setting off from Balmerino

2 Wooded stretch near Balmerino.jpg
Lovely woodland walking

After a short stretch of beach walking, there’s a lovely forest stretch before a long climb, a meander on some minor roads, then another climb until you’re in Ayton forest, which must be the highest point on the path. The occasional glimpses through the trees down to the Tay provided a lovely view and a reminder of how much climbing there has been.

3 Ayton Forest - highest point.jpg
Ayton Forest - highest point on the path?

This was a pretty lonely walk and I must have seen about three other people all day, and there were no obvious picnic spots or benches. The climb up round Glenduckie hill was really muddy and rutted and made for slow progress, but eventually you emerge onto a good farm track for the descent.

4 Descent to Newburgh.jpg
Descent towards Newburgh

Unfortunately, on this stretch I suddenly had a pain that felt like I’d stood on a shard of glass or a nail that had gone right through my boot. No – it turns out a blister had formed on the ball of my foot which had burst. This meant slow, painful going for the final stretch. The path reaches the road, where you could just turn left and go straight into Newburgh, but the official path carries on to the coast and heads along the shore front before emerging in a park at the far western end of Newburgh. I was sorely tempted to head straight to the bus stop rather than taking the final coastal detour, but it seemed such a waste to miss the last mile, so I gritted my teeth and carried on. The last uphill stretch through a park really felt they were taking the mickey, but I reached the end.

There it was, the arch that marks the end of the walk.

I walked back down the main street through Newburgh where there is a Co-op before the bus stop, which allowed me to purchase a much needed refreshment for the train from Ladybank to Edinburgh.

In conclusion, the whole route is very varied, but a lot of it is a bit dull. Burntisland to Inverkeithing makes a great day trip walk from Edinburgh, with a train station at either end. Leven to Crail has fantastic walking and is head and shoulders above the rest of the route.
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