Day 4 of the trip started with an absolutely thrilling adventure – a bus ride through the Fife countryside. A bit of a late start after another cracking breakfast in the B&B (this time porridge instead of the Full Scottish, though I was tempted by the offer of a dram of Whisky in said porridge). We were well into the morning by the time we hopped off the X60 (which, by the way, stops in almost every town on the Fife Coastal Path – a fact which would prove useful on Day 5)
This was mostly a pretty easy day to be honest, clocking in at only 11 miles, and to be honest I actually don’t remember all that much of it! Some of that was down to familiarity, this was a stretch of coastline which I spent a lot of time wandering back and forth along during my mapping project. I do remember that Elie to St. Monan’s was a pretty amazing stretch of sandy path along the top of grassy dunes – rather beautiful in the sunshine which poked out from the behind the clouds a lot more regularly than the photos below would seem to suggest.
St. Monan’s proved to be particularly lovely, and the stretch leading up to it was a highlight in Lauren’s quest to meet and pat as many dogs as she possibly could on this trip. It was here in fact that she lost count somewhere around the 50 mark. St. Monan’s, Anstruther and Pittenweem come at you in rapid succession along the path, each being only a mile or two apart, so we decided to have a late lunch in St. Monan’s and an early dinner in one of the other two. This would mean eating a bit more in rapid succession than we normally would, but I wasn’t confident of finding somewhere to eat in Crail and even less confident of finding it open. This led us to a charming little Cafe/Gift Shop/Art Gallery called The Diving Gannet which I would enthusiastically recommend stopping off at, especially if you’re able to transport souvenirs back without having to carry them another 30 or so miles on your back. One cheese scone later and we were back on the road.
We breezed straight through Pittenweem (which is fair, given that there isn’t really much there), pausing only to redress Lauren’s blistered feet and have a brief chill out by the harbour-side. These small fishing villages out on the East Neuk of Fife are truly lovely, and a massive improvement on the comparatively urban and industrial start to the walk. I would definitely recommend walking it in this direction, purely so that it keeps getting better. The guide book agrees with me, but claims it’s a good idea so that the prevailing wind is at your back. I’m not certain whether I really agree that the wind direction is a major concern on a long distance walk, but as a cyclist I feel like I’ll face tempestuous karmic consequences if I suggest otherwise.
This whole section was also by far the busiest of our entire trip, with loads of Sunday walkers out with their dogs (hence Lauren’s lost count) and families. We got a lot of quizzical looks, further confirming to us that backpackers are not the most common of sights on this path.
The centre of Anstruther was packed with day trippers, many of whom were no doubt brought there by promise of the “best fish and chip shop in Scotland”. From my previous visit I can attest that it is pretty good, and that you won’t regret a visit, however the sauce and seaside days of my youth insist that the fish and chips that I’ll forever consider the best can instead be found 100miles drive (or walk, I suppose) to the South in Eyemouth. In any event, though we had fully intended to resample Anstruther’s fish and chip offerings (and introduce Lauren to the concept of “sauce”) when it came down to it neither of us could face another fried meal. We had perhaps overdone it slightly with the fried breakfasts and a somewhat underwhelming fish supper at the chronically overrated Ship Inn in Elie. Instead we found an incongruously placed waterfront restaurant which served possibly the best Wild Mushroom and Spinach Fettucini I’ve ever tasted.
Filled to the brim, with what in retrospect was a little bit too much pasta we walked on for another 4 hours or so, mostly uneventfully. The stretch between Anstruther and Crail feels very remote, walking along a raised beach which is mostly screened from the road inland by a steep slope and fields full of cows. Whilst beautiful in its own remote way we both started to find this part quite hard going, with sore feet and very little to hold our interest. Our goal for the day was to get to Crail, and perhaps a little further, looking for a good spot to camp. The guidebook suggested that there was a campsite just the other side of Crail which looked like quite a good bed.
Unfortunately this wasn’t to be. The campsite was well shut up, with lots of signs at the entrance dissuading anyone arriving after 5pm from even trying to get in touch with the staff to enquire about staying. Furthermore, it looked decidedly unfriendly towards tents – they’d definitely made the transition to a caravan park with glamping pods. We briefly discussed setting up the tarp anyway, pleading ignorance, and offering to pay in the morning, but ultimately decided to move on as the vibe of the place felt very “residents only”. Bit of a let down, when the guidebook suggested it was a viable camp site but I suppose part of that is on us for not planning ahead. I always have trouble with that on these kinds of trips though – how do I know that I’ll end up at a given campsite on night 4? What if I go faster than planned? Slower?
Ah well, we cracked on past the campsite, now getting to the point where we desperately needed to find a good spot and lay down our weary heads. A small section of Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve was tempting as a slightly unethical spot for stealth camping, but ultimately never flattened out enough. Finally, as Lauren pretty much was about to give up in protest we rounded the headland and there it was…
The perfect spot: flat ground with thick grass to cushion us, a good view out onto the ocean past the lighthouse and blooming gorse, and a wall to shelter us. A quick set up of the tarp in storm mode and we were well set up to put our heads down and get some much needed sleep (after all, I had insisted we stay up late the previous night to watch the Eurovision voting – I needed the piece of mind of knowing that Australia didn’t win).
A quick note on the tarp:
My big blue tarp has rapidly become my absolute favourite piece of camping equipment. It’s an old Alpkit Rig 7 in “Fontaineblue”, and though a little pricy for what is essentially a sheet of Nylon it is absolutely bomber. It’s absolutely covered in reinforced tie out points, so you can suspend it up or peg it down in all sorts of configurations. It’s big enough for 2 people and gear, but packs down really small. The only time I’d event think about using a tent now would be somewhere particularly midge infested. For coastal walks I wouldn’t even think about bringing anything else to sleep under.
This one’s seen some miles too – it spent about 3 months protecting my (no longer very waterproof) tent from downpours and sunlight when I lived in the woods and it’s still going strong. Tarps, they’re the future.