On the spur of the moment and off the back of a local's recommendation, both Franca and I found ourselves walking in Scotland along the Fife Coastal Path and what we've nicknamed, "Scotland's Cinque Terre".
Much like our unplanned walk along the Cinque Terre in 2012, our latest unforgettable travel memories that feature nature at the heart of them is owed entirely to the personal recommendations of another, a local. A local who loves to walk, who loves to enjoy the world around them that has been crafted of thousands of years, and a local who we can't thank enough for filling us with the inspiration to say "why not?" once more.
A Local Recommendation
Thanks to Alain and Elise – the home owners of the home we were sitting in Cupar, Scotland – we'd heard plenty about the 117 mile / 188 km coastal walk along the the East Neuk of Fife to already start putting the pieces together for our own walk along the path on what would be the first day of our short stay in Scotland for #VeganInScotland.
Our preparation started entirely online. Firstly we checked the weather and found that the sun would be in our favour. Secondly, we look to Pinterest and Trover and did a quick five minute photo search of the part of long walk we'd be segmenting to walk on the following day so that we knew of any local gems along the way.
Lastly we checked the blogs of fellow travel bloggers and found that Hecktic Travels had walked and put together a fantastic photo essay of part of the path that became the nail in the coffin for our agreeing wholeheartedly to do the walk along the "Cinque Terre".
Walking the “Scottish Cinque Terre” – From Elie to Crail
Whilst we didn't know it prior to walking the route ourselves, along the Fife Coastal Path is a 11 mile / 17.6 km stretch of shoreline that features along it five small fishing villages that match the uniqueness and mystic of the Cinque Terre, but rival it due to the diverse spots of natural beauty that lie in the vast spans between each village.
From the southern most village of Elie, through St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther, and ending in the last village of Crail in the north, you too can find yourself walking along the same largely flat landscapes wishing that the mixed colours of nature's palette and paintbrush would never end.
Starting Point – Elie
We left the home of our Couchsurfing host in St. Andrews at around 7am in the morning in order to catch one of the first buses of the day. The 95 route operated by Stagecoach runs between the towns of St. Andrews and Leven, and pass through all of the villages on our selected part of the route; so no matter where we start or end we'll easy be able to carry our tired legs back "home". Whilst you can by individual one-way tickets, purchasing the Fife Dayrider will permit you use of all Stagecoach buses in the East Neuk for the entire day, and for further savings for those travelling in a pair or as a family group, purchasing a singular Group Dayrider ticket will save you even more.
By using either of the two above dayrider tickets you can also hop-on/hop-off from village to village (if time is short), but you'll miss much of the beauty that lies in the beaches between them.
After disembarking from the bus less than 20 minutes after boarding, we immediately moved away from the quiet high street of Elie and down towards the wet sandy beach of Elie, our first port of call (excuse the terrible pun) along our five village route.
Spread along the curved sandy beach that was still wet from the morning tide, Elie is a 400 year old village which was once one of the many thriving fishing ports along the Firth of Forth, but now sees much of its local industry dedicated not to the capturing of fish or the transporting of goods, but focuses instead on its appeal as a seaside resort during the summer months.
Whilst it may lack the height of the villages along the west coast of Italy, it more than makes up for it in picturesque fisherman’s houses; and as we saw first hand, a great place to stroll along the beach, to walk dogs, or as a place to take out a small boat or yacht when the tide is right.
Searching for the path north towards the next village of St Monans we came across the partially restored remains of Lady's Tower, a unique small stone tower built for Lady Janet Anstruther in the 18th Century as a place changing room of sorts due to her keen interest in swimming – and naturism.
Apparently Lady Anstruther was a keen naturist and after undressing in her custom built changing room would head to the waters below without a single stitch upon her body, and according to local history, whilst having a dip her servant would ring a bell so that locals in the vicinity would know to keep their distant to let the lady bath in private.
Between Elie and St Monans
The beaches between the Elie and the second village of St Monans completely obliterated our prior preconception of what we could expect to see along the walk. The multitude of differing geological differences from one meter to the next were astounding, and with nature still yet to finish crafting the landscape with its watery paint brush; the colour range of greens, blacks, blues, and oaky yellows may never be seen in the same way twice.
The level pathway that led along this entire stretch of wave eroded seafront was steady and without much of an incline and on its own would make for a lovely walk on itself, if only for a thirty or forty minute walk.
From one meter to the next you'll be surprised how much the scene may change. With volcanic rock in one moment, to sandy beaches the next – it's blissfully enthralling with every step.
One final feature prior to arriving at St Monans is Newark Castle, unfortunately now nothing more than the precarious remains of what must have been an admirable Scottish stronghold, but a welcome site and you slowly ascend to the top of one of the few casually climbed hills along the coastal path.
At the peak of the hill you can just about make out the church at the southern edge of St Monans and the village that lies behind it.
St Monans certainly feels more like a fisherman's village than Elie with its small houses dotted along the seafront and one side of the small port at its centre, but it's the drained port itself that leaves the deepest impression.
Arriving when the tide is notably at its most lowest, it still comes across as quite strange to see nothing but the silt of many tides lying across the bottom of the port and the few ships that sit atop of it waiting patiently for the night time tide to come rushing back in.
Obviously as two travelling vegans we're not keen on the practice of fishing and the industry itself, but the layout of the village, the port, and some of the fraying ropes tied here, there, and everywhere that are certainly picturesque.
Between St Monans and Pittenweem
Immediately after St Monans is the St Monans Windmill and beneath it on the edge of the shoreline are a small collection of unusual and unnatural mounds of earth. These few bumpy tufts of earth mark the spot where once great vats of salt water were heated past boiling in order to harvest salt, which at one time was one of the chief exports of St Monans.
The shore again takes on a colourful change that must delight geologists the world over. Where before the land alternated between black volcanic rock and sandy beaches, the palette shifts now to include an orange-brown rock, and a vibrant and powerful mossy green.
The walking path itself stays steady and moderate. A welcoming fact for two travellers in particular who don't venture out of the city nearly as much as they should.
Having only seen one picture of Pittenweem when the sun was out and the tide was high, it was quite a surprise to us both as we rounded the last corner before the village to see the volcanic black rock on the bed of the beach on which Pittenweem surrounds.
It was quite strange to watch locals and their canine friends wandered between the seaweed upon the sand beneath the sea wall with the knowledge that whilst dry now, would be a wet and un-walkable path in the hours to come.
With the Fife Coastal Path running through the village itself we couldn't help but spend a few minutes wandering down the lanes between the houses before finally setting ourselves down upon a bench at the edge of the water for our packed lunch for the day.
TIP – There are at least one or two cafes in each village along the route, plus a handful of pubs and restaurants; but for vegan or budget travellers a packed lunch with such magnificent views is an unforgettable treat.
Between Pittenweem and Anstruther
Once more the scenery changes. The beaches still have that now trademark showing of black volcanic rock jutting from the water and from points in the sand or grass, but every now and again they'll be a small semi-circle of beach where you'll also find the stone of the crumbling cliffs above it, or thousands of broken sea shells which give the beach a white-sand appearance at a distance.
The modern village of Anstruther was at one time the two villages of Anstruther Easter and Anstruther Wester, and was separated by a small stream that still runs through the joined community towards the waters edge, but today it’s known under under one united name.
Much like the other villages in the area, trade has shifted in the town away from the valuable fishing industry which helped to make Anstruther one of the largest settlements in the East Neuk, towards a larger focus on tourism. Of the attractions in the town the most recognised is the Scottish Fisheries Museum, but another major draw are the ferries at the port which carry people to the Isle of May, a small island out in the Forth which is a central breeding ground in the UK for Puffins.
Between Anstruther and Crail
Out of one village and on to the next, the landscape between Anstruther and Crail stays flat, yet the worn ground of the Fife Coastal Path disappears from the route ahead and it’s replaced by soft short brown grass, before reverting to its more familiar bold and bright green further along the coast.
To this point it's been about 6 hours of a slow paced walk and plenty of stops for pictures, and not a moment of it has been beyond the possibility of even the most unexperienced walker. In so many ways it's the perfect walk, and as we press onwards to find hills of green grass that appear to flow downhill and into the breaking waves without even the slightest hint of a beach, we wish it would never end.
By the time we reach Crail the sun is at its highest and the final scene of our five village walk is set. We round a corner and sunlight reflects back towards us from the high waters along the village and off some of the whitewashed buildings next to the small port. It's a delight to see it from across the water, though we're both sad that it signifies the end our our walk.
As with the other villages there are plenty of places to rest up and catch your breath, with a number of cafes and pubs amongst the choices also.
It's quiet, yet in a way there's a loud calling from village telling us that we're arrived. We've reached the end of what has become one of the most memorable nature walks we've ever taken during our travels – and that's including walks such as Taiwan's Taroko Gorge, and our walk along the "Cinque Terre".
We wandered around the village for a short while and sat on a bench at the edge of the port to give our legs some much deserved rest after the total eight hours we'd taken to walk our part of the Fife Coastal Path.
For the more adventurous the path does of course continue northwards towards the furthest corner of Fife and St Andrews beyond it. It'd be at least another four or so hours walk, but with so many memories and photographs to take with us and cherish from what we'd accomplished so far.
Getting back to St Andrews was an easy affair, and with only one major road passing through Crail it would have been hard to miss the bus travelling back towards the university town in which we'd be spending the next few nights.
Is It Easy To Walk The Fife Coastal Path?
Incredibly so. I have a slight problem with my knees from time-to-time, yet even after walking from 8AM until 4PM I felt good enough to walk around St Andrews a little on our return. We'd both suggest that it's more than possible for most able-bodied people to walk along, but for those who are short on time or just want to spend an hour or two wandering walking along one of the best walking paths in Scotland, then the walk between Elie and St Monans would be our personal recommendation.
These five former fishing villages in Fife have left in us a deep impression and have given us a deeper understanding of why so many people like Alain, Elise, and Visit Scotland are recommending the Kingdom of Fife for its mixed jigsaw of natural colours, man-made history, and eye-opening walks.
Would you like to walk through the Scottish Cinque Terre?