Scotland has opened up its pathways for those wanting to walk, bike or camp. JANELLE ESTREICH savoured a wee bit of stunning Scottish scenery on the Fife coast.
It’s one thing to welcome visitors to come and explore your country, but to create laws in order to allow them to roam freely is pretty much as open as the invitation gets.
And this is exactly what the good people of Scotland did last year, ditching the word trespass and replacing it with ‘reasonable access’, effectively allowing anyone to wander where they please as long as they don’t cause damage or break other laws in the process – and keep their distance from private homes.
Unlike England’s roaming laws which require public paths to be mapped before they can be legally walked, Scotland’s access rights cover almost everywhere without restriction, including inland waters for activities like swimming and canoeing. Apart from legging it, you can also get about on bike or horseback, and camp wild for up to two nights in one place as part of a journey (should the weather permit, of course).
One of the best places to take advantage of this new-found freedom is the Kingdom of Fife, where the tourism gurus have marked out a pathway along the length of their coastline, taking in scenery to rival the Highlands.
Used by locals to traverse the coast for centuries, the Fife Coastal Path links the towns and villages along a 135km section of Scotland’s east coast. Starting at the imposing Forth Rail Bridge at North Queensferry, just above Edinburgh, the track follows the coast north to Tay Road Bridge at Newport (or vice versa depending on where you start).
Opened last year, the path is broken into seven sections, part of which can be covered in a day or the full path over several, staying in cosy B&Bs or camping overnight to break up the journey. The path is serviced by train as far as Kirkcaldy, while buses run the remainder. The terrain ranges from easy to remote and rough, but it’s all well-signed so there’s little excuse for getting lost.
If you’re beginning at the southern end of the path, the Forth Rail Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge offer a stunning starting point. The two bridges sit side-by-side across the Firth of Forth _- the body of water linking North Queensferry to South Queensferry. Opened in 1890, the Forth Rail Bridge was the world’s first major steel bridge, containing some 54,160 tons of the tough stuff. It was a starring location in Alfred Hitchcock’s early version of The Thirty-Nine Steps and has long been favoured by serious photographers and snap happy tourists alike. The nearby Forth Road Bridge, opened in 1964, was at that time the largest suspension bridge in Europe. Its slender and elegant structure stretches for 21.2km.
Lead by Fife Council countryside ranger Stewart Bonar, we leave the bridges behind and make our way north towards Aberdour.
The character of Fife changes as you go – western Fife has a very post-industrial feel to it, while the east is more remote and rural,” says Bonar, stopping regularly to point out birds and edible plants, including Blackthorn, the fruit of which is used for making sloe gin (the locals will likely get to these long before you will).
Some of the nicest features along this stretch are private little bays, including Port Laing, Dalgety Bay and Silver Sands at Aberdour, one of five beaches in Fife to have been awarded a European Blue Flag. After a few hours of walking, The Woodside Hotel at Aberdour is a welcome rest point, serving up bone-warming soups and hearty baked spuds, with an open fire for cold and weary walkers during the cooler months.
With a full belly and, perhaps, a good night’s sleep, you’ll be set to venture onto the seaside town of Kirkcaldy, where Ravenscraig Castle overlooks the sea on the eastern edge of town. Built by James II in the 1450s, the castle’s thick walls and slanting roof were designed to withstand canon attack. Unmaintained and free to enter, the castle retains many structural elements, as well as features of the 14th-17th century castle life. Seafield Tower, also at Kirkcaldy, is the perfect place to see seals up close.
For those keen to pick up the pace a little, head to Kincraig Point, near Earlsferry, where intrepid walkers use chains to hall themselves around the steep, rocky cliff face (wusses and those walking at high tide can take the official path over the top). Regardless of which path you choose, this area offers some of the path’s most stunning scenery.
From Earlsferry, we pass through a golf course to get to West Bay, the white sandy beach beneath Kincraig Point, where strong winds whip the tall grass sideways across the headland. This is a top viewpoint for spotting whales and dolphins.
“All year round this place has its beauty,” says local guide Tim Harvey, who has called Fife home for 25 years. “In winter there are the migratory birds then in summer the headlands are covered in wildflowers.”
With 15 golf courses along the coastal path, you’d be hard-pressed not to stop off for a round, and what better place than the original home of golf? St Andrews Links is comprised of six courses, including the Old Course, but it’s best to book ahead if you want a putt (www.standrews.org.uk). You’re otherwise free to wander along the paths about the grounds or duck into the clubhouse for a bite (they do a hearty and well-priced ploughman’s sandwich).
Heading north from St Andrews, Tentsmuir Forest is an extensive pine forest occupying the sand dunes at the mouth of the River Tay. The forest is chocker with plants and wildlife, and has an interesting architectural heritage, namely the many concrete blocks distributed along the adjacent Kinshaldy Beach, which acted as coastal defence against landing craft during World War II. From here you hit the home straight, taking in Tayport on the way to the path’s finishing point at Tay Road Bridge, which passes over the Firth of Tay to the city of Dundee. Having had a taste of this you may well be tempted to venture on. This is Scotland, after all, you’re pretty much welcome anywhere.