May of this year was a little bit special. I took my first real holiday in 5 years (and technically that was an academic conference which I tacked on some tourism to, so it’s probably longer). I’ve been wanting to do a decent long distance hike for a while, having bailed on a couple of attempts over the last few years due to blisters and weather.
So all that was left to do was to pick a route!
- Somewhere between 1-2 weeks maximum (Lauren had a maximum of two weeks off left).
- Somewhere reasonably flat (Lauren hates hills)
- Somewhere we could be reasonably confident of good weather (Bob hates rain)
- Somewhere with decent geology to look at (I didn’t tell Lauren this one in advance)
- Somewhere we could camp easily, and resupply easily (these latter two proved trickier than you would expect)
After having a look around at walks in the 80-150 mile length I settled on the Fife Coastal Path. I’ve done parts of it before, given that it was my undergraduate mapping area and that I’d returned as part of an industry facing PhD field trip that I’d been on (which I, as a climate researcher gleefully crashed). It’s also variable and interesting enough to be an exciting trip with lots to see and do.
So first things first, I bought the guidebook. The Rucksack Reader guidebook for the Fife Coastal Path is pretty decent, it’s a sturdy, laminated book with clear routefinding and relatively comprehensive background information. I definitely recommend it if you’re planning a long walk through Fife. That said, don’t rely on it uncritically. The nature of any walk is that it is constantly changing, and we found a couple of places where we actually weren’t able to camp or resupply despite claims to the contrary.
The other decision we made very early on was that we were going to make some changes to the route. Firstly, we had no interest in starting the walk in Kincardine. I’m sure it’s a nice enough town, but the sheer amount of tarmac walking past oil refineries, power stations and post-industrial brownfield wasteland was a little much. So instead we started looking for an alternative start point. The original route began in North Queensferry, which was tempting, but it seemed a little rude not to take the opportunity to start the walk with a walk across the old Forth Road Bridge. So that’s what we did.
Following my commitments described elsewhere to minimising my use of personal vehicular transport and high carbon travel (I’ve not taken a flight in 5 years) we stuck to public transport. So the obvious place to start the walk was Dalmeny Station, easily reachable from Edinburgh Waverley (and hence the rest of the country).
This post isn’t going to be a turn by turn guide to walking the path, but instead I want to share some of the more exciting parts of the walk and highlight some of the major pitfalls which walkers might face. Day 1 ended up being about 12 miles, which was our average day goal to complete the walk on schedule. I aspired to a few longer days here and there, but generally this was the plan.
We could not have asked for nicer weather to start the walk, with clear blue skies giving us perfect views over the Firth of Forth. This was the first time I’ve been able to see the completed new bridge, and it did not disappoint.
Here’s Lauren half a kilometre or so into crossing the bridge. At this point we were still absolutely loving the views – although this soon got old when we realised we were only about a fifth of the way along. It quickly got a bit boring, and I soon began slathering on the suncream.
The path after the bridge got a bit tricky, there isn’t a simple way to drop down into North Queensferry, so instead we kept straight on beside the main roads and into Inverkeithing. This meant skipping the “real” old start to the walk, but we considered it a fair trade off for the views from the bridge. Instead we joined the official route somewhere outside a lovely little café in Inverkeithing town centre, where the first of many lovely local business owners gave us excellent service and allowed us to refill our water bottles.
The rail bridge at this point was still an exciting sight on the horizon as we started exploring the beautiful retirement communities and mansions of what can only be described as North Edinburgh. The area just before reaching Dalgety Bay in particular… wow. Confusingly this is then immediately followed by Dalgety Bay itself, a bay massively contaminated by radioactive debris from the Radium dials of WW2 aircraft. Fife proved to be absolutely full of these contradictions – incredible wealth, followed by destitute post-industrial poverty located practically right next to each other.
As we approached Burntisland we started looking for a place to camp. This is always a bit of a fraught activity on my walks, as I tend to spend quite a long time looking for an optimal campsite – and sometimes this leads to me walking 5 miles further than planned. In this case, after a bit of a wander through Burntisland we actually decided to backtrack on ourselves a little bit and set up the tarp at the edge of down in a grassy paddock beside the railway line. One of the absolute joys of Scotland, and a wonder in the modern world where the concept of the commons has been abused and monetised, is the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Being able to wild camp almost anywhere legally is such a joy and privilege that I didn’t truly appreciate until moving down to England.
On this trip we decided to stick with sleeping under just my beloved Alpkit tarp, partly to save weight and partly for the sheer joy of it. I wasn’t worried about midges in this part of Scotland, and after a season spent working for the company which does bushcraft we were both perfectly happy sleeping out in the open…
…although it did lead to a few awkward looks from dog walkers in the mornings.