It’s been a while since I wrote a Secrets of Scotland, so I thought I’d catch you all up on some of the glorious areas of the country I am lucky enough to call home. The suggestions on this blog are many, and you won’t be able to do them all in a day, so pick the ones you like best, and don’t forget to let me know the ones I missed!
A lot of tourists land in Edinburgh and drive straight past Fife to head for the Highlands. Or if they visit the area, they drive to St Andrews, and then onwards. When we pick visitors up from the airport, we always drive around the coast road of Fife, and our guests are stunned by the beautiful views.
Entering the Kingdom of Fife from the south brings one across the magnificent Forth, with (at present) two bridges, the suspension bridge for road traffic, and The Forth Bridge. Officially for trains, but actually the Forth Bridge is there to raise spirits, bring a tear to the eye of returning expats and delight locals and tourists alike.
You just NEVER get tired of that view! Instead of staying on the boring motorway, to head north via Kinross and Perth, take a detour along the coast road. Off the road at Rosyth, and head towards Burntisland. The road takes you parallel to the Forth, and there is lay-by just after Aberdour, where you really must stop and take in the view.
Head for Kirkcaldy, a town that most people drive straight through, although I’ve recently been informed that there is some stunning architecture there – a sign of the historical importance of the Kingdom of Fife, which King James VI described as “beggar’s mantle fringed wi gowd”, a reference to the fishing and trading villages of the coast. The traditional red clay roof tiles of the villages came from Holland, as ballast in the empty boats returning from selling wool, linen, coal and salt.
Your next stop should be the little village of Elie, which boasts one of the most scenic beaches in the country. The first photo at the top is the beach/harbour. It has a delightfully old-fashioned beach holiday feeling to it, with rock pools to discover, and a nice little ice cream parlour on the main street. Lunch in the Ship Inn, (apparently under new ownership, so I hope they don’t change too much!). The pub organises cricket matches on the beach in the summer season, so sit on their beach bar terrace, with the sun shining on your face and just relax.
Don’t get too comfy though, cause there is still lots to see. The tiny village of Pittenweem is worth a quick stop, but we normally head to Crail next. Stop for coffee in the Crail Harbour Gallery, but don’t forget to duck your head to avoid the low beams! Take a walk around the village – the 13th Century church is worth taking a look at, and the Victorian turret on the site of the former Crail Castle will have hobby photographers’ fingers twitching.
If you are staying a few days in the area, then you might want to spend a day walking a part of the Fife Coastal Path, which runs from the Forth Estuary to the Tay Estuary, across from Dundee. The section between Crail and Fife Ness, or onwards to Kingbarns is one of the more rugged sections – check high tide times, as parts of the path are impassable at high tide.
If you don’t want such a long walk, then drive from Crail to Kingbarns, where you can visit the Kingbarns Distillery for a wee dram. I’ve not been to the cafe yet, but will report back when we get around to that! You can walk along the beach at Cambo Sands, catching a glimpse of golfers from the renowned Kingbarns Golf Links.
If you are a keen gardener, then Cambo Gardens will delight you. The Fife Coastal Path goes along the shore, and you can walk up through the woods right into the gardens to the house (where you pay the entrance fee). From February to March, the gardens take part in the to the Scottish Snowdrop Festival, the highlight of which is the Cambo Snowdrops by Starlight event. The rest of the year sees the gardens bursting with colour, and the regular events throughout the year means there is always something to do or see.
En route to our final destination for this blog trip, the ancient town of St Andrews, we always stop at the Fairmont St Andrews, because it has the best view over the bay. Drive past the main hotel to the golf club house, and just drink it in!
St Andrews is famous for two things – it is the Home of Golf, and also home to the oldest University in Scotland. Founded in 1413, St Andrews University is the third oldest in the English speaking world, with recent alumni including Alex Salmond, Prince William, Sir Chris Hoy and no less that five Nobel Laureates!
The great thing about St Andrews is that there is always a nice buzz about the town. The golfers in summer give way to the students in winter, with only a few weeks of the year the ‘quiet season’. Despite the relatively small size, the town boasts an impressive array of restaurants, bars and cafes, and pretty decent shops if you want to pick up some souvenirs.
Highlights of St Andrews include the beach (do try to resist humming the Chariots of Fire song, as you jog in slow motion along the beach!), the many wonderful university buildings, such as the quad of St Mary’s College, the rugged ruins of the castle, and cathedral, the family-owned J&G Innes Bookstore, and the wonderful Jannetta’s Ice Cream parlour, which serves the BEST ice cream in Scotland. The Salt&Caramel is to die for!
A lot of people are unaware of this fact, but the Old Course is closed on Sundays. We’ve been for walks with the dog on cold winter days – you really get a different view of the town. On other days, you can walk around the perimeters, and there are also guided walks, for golf fans.