On yet another wet morning we left Shell Bay and continued on the coast road. Passing the ruins of Ardross and Newark castles, we reached the east end of St Monans where the Auld Kirk stands.
St Monans (or Monance, Monanus, Monan: spelling variants have been in use over the centuries) was an Irish missionary who came to Fife in around 832. He is said to have been the first to preach the gospel on the Isle of May but was killed by Vikings in 875. The church was founded in 1265-7 on the site of the Saint’s shrine. Before 1477 the building was granted to the Dominican Friars whose priory stood on what is now the graveyard. It was burned down by English invaders in 1544 but by 1646 had been rebuilt and was the Parish Church. Various changes have been made over the years since then (some resulting from the Reformation) to how it stands today. It is open to visitors. We then walked around the town and harbour (where there were some eider ducks), stopping for coffee and enjoying the Welly Garden.
East of the town, by the coastal path stands a windmill. The Newark Coal and Salt Company was set up here in 1771, the windmill being used to power the heating of the salt pans to evaporate the water and the nearby Coal Farm is where low grade coal was mined.
Afterwards, we diverted inland slightly to Kellie Castle and Gardens. The castle dates from 1360 but was rescued and renovated by Professor James Lorimer in the 19th century. It is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. In addition to the castle, there is a walled garden and woodland walks.
As we left, passing fields of llamas or alpacas (I am not sure which) we saw a sign announcing a lost African Grey Parrot but sadly did not spot it. Back on the coast, the sun had come out and I donned my sunglasses for the first time this trip. We parked at the west end of Pittenweem by the crazy golf course and walked via the coastal path towards harbour and into town. The old seawater swimming pool lies at the foot of the cliffs but there is a sign warning swimmers that it is no longer maintained by the council and that they swim at their own risk.
It is a busy fishing port
but we also spotted a link with our recent Australian trip:
Our campsite was on the western side of Anstruther, by the coast so the following morning we walked into town in cold sunshine. Anstruther and Cellardykes are contiguous. We first came to Cellardyke Harbour which has been in existence since 1452. Over the centuries it has been destroyed by storms and rebuilt, most recently in 2002 after a 1996 storm. It was low tide when we passed by so there were no boats but it is a handy place to dry your washing.
The East Harbour in Anstruther has a small lighthouse and the waves were crashing against the end of the pier.
The main harbour was full of boats. From here you can take a boat trip to the Isle of May which we have never visited but as high winds were forecast for the afternoon (I am not a good sailor in small boats) and we needed some downtime before driving home in the morning, we decided to defer that to another time. One thing we had to do was to have lunch at the award-winning Fish Restaurant, said to be the best in Scotland and the UK. The batter on their fried haddock is made to a secret recipe. It was certainly tasty and we got a table before the big rush.
We will be saying goodbye to Fife in the morning but returning to continue our journey in May. This leg was a total of 91 miles driven and quite a few walked.
The overnight rain had cleared so before we left the campsite, we had a walk in the woodland opposite. Keil’s Den is a narrow deciduous wood on the slopes of the Keil Burn. It is managed by the Woodland Trust and there are various walks. We did the 5km circuit.
Bluebell foliage was emerging and Dogs’ Mercury, but the primroses were blooming.
It reminded me very much of the woodland I spent many hours in when I lived in Menstrie at the foot of the Ochil Hills in the early 1970s. Afterwards we picked up supplies in Lundin Links and then drove down to the sea front in Lower Largo. Alexander Selkirk was born here and became a sailor. Unfortunately, he had a disagreement with his captain who then abandoned him on the island of Juan Fernandez, in the Pacific Ocean. Selkirk lived there alone for four years until he was rescued by a passing ship. He became a celebrity when he returned to British shores, and his adventures were fictionalised by Defoe as Robinson Crusoe. The house on Main Street where Selkirk was born no longer stands, but the building on the site is now decorated by a statue of him, looking out to sea.
There is a sign outside the Crusoe Hotel indicating the distance to Juan Fernandez which Lower Largo is twinned with.
The railway here was the victim of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s but there remains a very impressive viaduct in the village.
We got talking to one of the locals who said that as in many towns and cities around the world, houses were being bought and let out via Airbnb making the prices too expensive for local young people who were then being forced to move elsewhere. The mobile Post Office now only comes here for 2 hours every week and one of the local shops had recently shut down.
After looking at the beach, we moved on towards Elie, passing through Upper Largo and Drumeldrie before officially entering the East Neuk. As the weather forecast for the following day was not promising, we had a walk on the East Links; out to the lighthouse at Elie Ness
and the Lady’s Tower. The latter was built in 1760 as a summer house for Lady Anstruther who liked to bathe in the sea below.
At the other end of the town, Earlsferry acquired its name because ferries began a thousand years ago when Macduff, the Thane of Fife, took a boat from here to escape from Macbeth. Earlsferry was granted a Royal Charter by Macbeth’s successor. We reached our campsite at Shell Bay in time for a walk along the beach.
Today’s sea glass haul was better than the day before and included one piece of blue glass which is less common than clear, green or brown. Shell Bay had more rubbish (mainly plastic) among the seaweed and driftwood than the other beaches we have visited so far. On Tuesday we walked just over six miles in total. As predicted the night was wet and cold. We awoke to rain on Wednesday with the radio reporting that the snow gates were shut at Cockbridge in the Cairngorms.
The original plan was to walk from Shell Bay to Elie along the coastal path around Kincraig Point and Earlsferry but had to make do with a short stroll in a brief lull in the weather.
It finally dried up in the evening and I hoped to see the sunset through the clouds but it was hidden apart from a hint of pink.
We left Edinburgh on a bright sunny morning to start our journey around the coast of Britain. We crossed the Forth on the relatively new Queensferry Crossing. The bridge was in the news recently when three cars had their windscreens smashed by falling ice. Fortunately this was not a problem today but it did make me wonder how other countries design their bridges to avoid this. Perhaps we should seek some assistance from Scandinavia.
Over the bridge and now in Fife we turned left along the coast. On Dalgety Bay at the east end of the town lie the ruins of St Bridget’s Kirk. The church was built around 1178 to serve as the parish church of Dalgety. Worship was arranged by the Augustinian Canons of Inchcolm Abbey which lies on an island in the Forth. The church remained in use after the Protestant Reformation in 1560, though it was significantly altered for Protestant worship. It was abandoned in 1830 when the congregation was moved to another church. From the road it took us a while to locate the path down to it which is down a narrow alley off a residential street. It is more easily found from the Fife Coastal Path which passes closer by.
Close to the church is Crow Wood which was devoid of crows this morning because they were all feeding in a field above the bay. East of Dalgety Bay is the Exxon oil terminal but the next town along the coast is Aberdour.
After a coffee we walked down to the shore. Most of the residential streets had ‘Private Street’ notices, advising that only residents can park there, an indication of how busy the town can get in high season. Aberdour has a ruined castle (the coast here has many of them).
We walked along part of the coastal path to Hawkcraig Point where there is a small lighthouse.
Lunch was had at the Silver Sands, a beach west of the town where a lonely sandcastle sat by the sea. Plenty of others were under construction on the beach.
The coast road continues through Burntisland, Kinghorn and Kirkcaldy which has a large flour mill on the seafront. Further on is Dysart, Wemyss, Buckhaven and Methil. Inland from the road is Clatto Hill which is all of 248m, only one metre higher than Mow Cop near home. In Methil, a bridge crosses the Leven. Until 1821, the only bridge across the river was the Cameron Brig on the main Kirkcaldy – Cupar road. In that year, a pedestrian suspension bridge was built at Leven. It was replaced by a three-arched stone bridge in 1840. The toll to cross this bridge was a Scottish halfpenny, or bawbee Even though the stone bridge was replaced by a single-span bridge in 1957, it is still known locally as the Bawbee Brig. A little further on was Lundin Links which has a campsite for our first night’s stop. It is on the slope of Leven Law which is a slightly more respectable 290m.
Before collecting our new wheels, we spent 10 days in Edinburgh. There were 2 Six Nations rugby matches on consecutive weekends which we attended with friends. The first one took place while there was still some snow on the Pentland Hills.
We met up with several friends and did some trip planning. One other thing I did manage to squeeze in was a trip to the City Art Gallery which had a couple of photographic exhibitions I had wanted to see for a while. The first was Robert Blomfield’s Street Photography which continues until 17 March 2019. He was a doctor but managed to pursue street photography from the 1950s to the 70s. It was only brought to an end when he suffered from a stroke in 1999. His son spent a lot of time sorting out the huge amount of film his father had at home.
The other photographic exhibition was ‘Scotland in Focus’ which included the galleries collection of Scottish photographs from the mid 19th century to the present day.
The final exhibition we saw was ‘Another Country’ which explored contemporary immigration to Scotland, including themes of integration, nationality and identity.
It included work by eleven leading artists from distinct ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, all born or currently living in Scotland and using different media.
As photography is not allowed in the galleries, the images are from the gallery website. The exhibitions are free, and the gallery is very central and close to Waverley Station. The adjoining café provided an opportunity to top up the caffeine levels.
On our last morning we were up early to take the train to Leuchars and then a taxi to Anstruther where our vehicle, a van converted to camper was made. We then drove home and for once there were no major motorway problems. The seemingly eternal SMART motorway works on our nearest stretch of the M6 and are due to be completed soon. At last we could see some parts completed since the last time we drove back in early January. At the moments we are kitting out the van and will probably have a trial run in March before starting to tour the coast of Britain. This will be done in stages, fitting around other commitments but we will set off at the beginning of April, starting in Fife and travelling anti-clockwise.
The day before we left for Dundee, Edinburgh and the autumn leaves were bathed in sunshine. While we were in Australia the UK seems to have had a fairly mild autumn.
However, this was not to last and by the time our train pulled into Dundee Station, the sky was overcast and the wind was getting up. We had been meaning to re-visit the city for some time, especially since the V&A opened a museum there in September 2018 and James is always keen to come back to the place he was at university in. The new V&A is right on the waterfront in a stunning building. It was designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates from Japan who are also designing the stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.
The collection is devoted to Scottish design in many different areas. The main collection is free to visit and there are additional exhibitions for which a ticket has to be purchased. The current one is on ocean liners. There was so much to see and one thing I enjoyed was The Oak Room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Catherine Cranston who owned tea rooms in Glasgow.
Next to the V&A is Discovery Point; a museum devoted to Antarctic research and the ship Discovery. Dundee had for some time engaged in whaling and so had expertise in constructing ships that could withstand Arctic ice, making it an obvious place to build the first ship constructed for scientific research in the Antarctic. The Discovery had sails but also an auxiliary coal-fired steam engine. There are displays on the construction of the ship which used several different kinds of wood, those who sailed in her, the work they did and the restoration of the Discovery. After looking at the displays in the museum (and trying some of the interactive things if you are brave enough) the ship can be explored, above and below deck.
When we visited some workers were repairing the decking with what looked like traditional methods.
Back in town, penguins are popping up everywhere as part of the Christmas Decorations. Those outside Discovery Point and these in the city centre are present all year.
Another Scottish export was comics. DC Thomson have been publishing newspapers and comics since 1905. Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx from the Beano are also in the city centre.
Had the weather been better there are riverside walks, boat trips, the Botanic Gardens or a climb up the Law for the view but they will have to wait for another trip. Down in the waiting room at the station there was a wall display:
While living in Dundee, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein
The first ever wireless broadcast took place in Dundee
In 2016 Dundee hosted the UK’s biggest independent video games festival
Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland. This raised a smile as it was pouring with rain and very windy outside with reports of snow on high ground. Despite Scotrail glitches: announcing a delayed train when it had just departed and telling us as we approached Haymarket that the next stop was Leuchars, we made it back to Edinburgh on time.
After our night in the harbour at Lochmaddy the wind had gained in strength and our skipper decided that we need to cross the Minch before it got worse. The decision was made to head for Rum. We had a brief glimpse of a minke whale as we crossed to the Small Isles, sailing past Canna and the Point of Sleat and were followed into the harbour by a French sailing boat.
We moored in the harbour as the storm was approaching fast and dinner was served.
The boat’s flag was considerably more tattered than on the outward journey.
The following morning there was not time to explore Rum as we had to make for a sheltered loch on the Sound of Mull near Isle Oronsay. Leaving Rum, we passed a promontory called ‘Welshman’s Rock’ and I have not been able to discover how it got its name. We passed between Eigg and Muck and then round Ardnamurchan point where I managed to replace my lost photographs of the lighthouse.
We were soon in the loch and watched the sun go down.
The next morning it was a short trip over to Tobermory harbour.
Wandering along the street we noticed that since our last trip many years ago, most of the shops were aimed at tourists. A local told us that for many items they now needed to go to Oban as some essentials were not stocked locally. After a coffee, we decided to walk the 2km path to the lighthouse which goes along the shore. On our return to town, it was sunny enough to enjoy an ice-cream.
After lunch on the boat we left for Lochaline, a sea loch closer to Oban where our journey of the water would end. Ahead looked calm but behind us the clouds were building.
In the morning it was a short trip past the Lismore lighthouse once more to Oban to catch our train.
Our boat left the Sound of Harris at 5am. I had awoken when the engines started up but fell asleep again until breakfast time. The weather was improving and blue sky appearing among the clouds. Just before the St Kilda archipelago came into view, we were overtaken by some small, fast daytrip boats. The first island to come into view was Boreray with Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.
On arrival at Hirta, a cruise ship came into view.
I had not expected this and had to remind myself that St Kilda has been a tourist venue since the mid 19th century. Unfortunately, these ships also brought smallpox and cholera and in 1913, influenza. Emigration also contributed to population loss. In 1851, 36 islanders emigrated to Australia and a suburb of Melbourne is called St Kilda. After the First World War many young men did not want to return. Zealous church ministers who expected high levels of church attendance left less time to run the island and harvest food. The demand for goods which the population had previous given to their factor in lieu of rent such as feathers for mattresses and tweed made from Soay sheep wool had declined. Midwifery skills were rejected and tetanus infantum lead to infant mortality rates up 80% because putting fulmar oil on the umbilicus was a local practice. This may have been stored in gannet or sheep stomachs and is thought to be the origin of the bacterium. In 1877 a midwife was brought to the island and maternal and infant mortality levels reduced.
Packed lunches collected, we were taken in the dinghy to the village pier where a red carpet was laid out. This was not for us but for the cruise passengers.
The street consists of the 1860s cottages with the old blackhouses in between and a small cemetery behind.
Cleits are everywhere and were used to store peat, food and clothing. Some on the hillside are now used by the sheep as shelter.
The current shop is also the Post Office and mail is collected by helicopter twice a week. The helicopter also transports workers to and from the military base which is being renovated at present to turn the buildings into some more in keeping with the others on the island.
We walked up to the gap which overlooks the cliffs below, past the storehouse and gun emplacement but the tops of the hills were still in the cloud.
After descending we had our lunch on the seat outside the small museum where this Lesser Black-backed Gull was observing us hoping for some food.
I also chatted to one of the cruise ship passengers who was from the San Francisco Bay Area. At least she was used to grey days and fog. After lunch I returned to the cliff edge near the gun where fulmars were nesting, and some puffins were visible.
On our return to the boat we saw a basking shark in the bay and after our evening meal enjoyed the sun going down.
On our second morning we walked up the road which was built in the 1950s when the military arrived.
The base has a pub but it only opens from 7pm as a previous earlier opening time had led to behaviour problems and drunkenness.
It was sunny and warm at first and we walked as far as the scree.
Back at the street, I briefly saw some St Kilda Wrens before it began to rain.
Our skipper told us that we had to leave the island at 3pm due to an approaching storm which was predicted to have up to 50mph winds. It was too windy to get to Soay so we passed around the stacs and Boreray where northern gannets nest. St Kilda vies with the Bass Rock as to which has the largest gannetry in the world.
before heading to Lochmaddy on North Uist to shelter for the night.