Monday, 27 August 2012

Best coastal walk in the East Neuk

Here's my favourite walk along the Fife Coastal Path. In a remarkably short amount of time it shows you 3 picturesque East Neuk villages, constant beautiful views across the Firth of Forth, several gorgeous beaches, 2 castles, 1 windmill, 1 tower, 1 lighthouse and lots of rabbits and birds! 2013 Update: And don't just take my word for it either - the Independent has included the Lower Largo to St Monans part of the Fife Coastal Path in its 10 best coastal walks in the UK. This walk is part of that (longer) walk.

The walk starts in the village of Pittenweem and ends up in the village of Elie, passing through the tiny village of St Monans along the way. It takes about an hour and a half, depending on your pace and it ends where all the best Scottish walks do - in a pub! It is not a difficult walk and is relatively flat. I think it's best done late in the lovely evening light.

You can drive to Pittenweem and then get the bus back from Elie or take the bus to Pittenweem and then bus back from Elie, depending on where you're based etc. If you're like me you will not be able to resist taking lots of photos along the way so bring your camera. Bring a raincoat too - just in case as the only thing that is predictable about the Scottish weather is that it is unpredictable!

The walk: 
When you arrive in Pittenweem make your way down to the harbour and simply follow this round to get to the Coastal Path at West Shore. Pittenweem is a lovely village and has Fife's only working fishing harbour.

St Monans Salt Pan Windmill, Fife Coastal Path

There is only a short distance between Pittenweem and St Monans as the two villages are practically joined together. Before you get to St Monans you will probably see some rabbits before passing by my favourite landmark on this walk, the St Monans Salt Pan Windmill (pictured).
The windmill has been restored. It was once used to pump seawater into the adjacent salt pans and fossil rich limestone beds.

The walk then passes through the tiny village of St Monans. I really like St Monans - it has a lovely off-the-beaten-track feel to it and is really chilled-out. If you feel like spending more time here you could eat in a nice fine dining restaurant at the west end of the harbour - Craig Millar @ 16 West End: The walk passes by this restaurant. At the historic St Monans Church (14th century) there is a diversion to the path if it is high tide. If it's not high tide you go to the left of the church. Look back and you will see this wonderful view of St Monans with Pittenweem and Anstruther beyond...

St Monans Church and East Neuk village view
The section of the walk between St Monans and Elie is great. You pass by the ruins of two castles - Ardross Castle (1370) and Newark Castle (15th century) - and a 16th century doocot. As well as history there is natural beauty too, in the form of sublime beaches...

What's more they are remarkably deserted - we got the whole beach to ourselves.

Approaching Lady's Tower, outside Elie on the Fife Coastal Path
You'll then start to see the next landmark from a distance. This is Ladies Tower (pictured).

I think it is quite romantic! It was built in 1760 for Lady Janet Anstruther as a summer house. She liked to swim in the sea here (maybe it was warmer then!). The views from here over the Forth Estuary are particularly stunning. Look out for Bass Rock in the distance, near North Berwick.
Elie Lighthouse, Fife Coastal Path

Just past the Tower there there is one final historic landmark, Elie Lighthouse (1908) (pictured).
The path crosses Shepherd's Knowe next and then Ruby Bay, which is famous for the red garnet once found here. There are lovely views across Elie and over to the adjoining village of Earlsferry. When we were there it was made even more picturesque by some kitesurfers...

Follow the curve of the bay and you will then arrive at your destination, The Ship Inn.

The Ship Inn - a beach-side pub in Elie

This is a traditional pub with good food and is very popular with the people of Elie (many of who are holiday-home owners from Edinburgh) and visitors too. It's right opposite the beach and you can sit outside in their beer garden if the weather is nice. They even hold cricket matches on the beach some days during the Summer.
You have completed the walk - now time for a refreshing drink!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Art in the East Neuk: Pittenweem Arts Festival 2012

This was my second year visiting the Pittenweem Arts Festival ( and I love it - it makes a great day out and is a great showcase for Scottish artists. Pittenweem is one of the prettiest of the fishing villages in the East Neuk of Fife area and for a week each summer it becomes THE place to be. This is the festival's 30th year. It takes place from 28 July to 5th August 2012 with a whopping 120 artists in 90 venues. These venues range from proper year-round galleries to churches, schools and halls to people's living rooms, sheds and garages. Some famous artists are invited to exhibit such as John Byrne of Tutti Frutti fame and ex-husband of actress Tilda Swinton this year. The majority of artists simply turn up. Here's a picture of the festival brochure, featuring a John Byrne picture:

The venues are actually as much of a draw as the art itself as you get to see inside places you wouldn't normally be able to - such as venue 39, Rock Villa which literally sits on some rocks in the harbour. Some of the venues are the artist's own residence, such as venue 44 which is on the picturesque West Shore, by a beach. A really chilled out place and home of artist Heather Cunningham (, who creates some lovely local paintings, inspired by her East Neuk surroundings. Her pet cat Lily made us feel right at home! Couldn't resist buying this painting called "High Tide at the Gyles" - the Gyles is at the east end of the Pittenweem harbour - which will be proudly hanging on the walls of Rose Cottage very soon:

I'm also a huge fan of another East Neuk artist - Susie Lacombe of Crail, who does eye-catching limited edition linocut prints and original collages of local scenes and animals (Crail Gallery, 23 High Street, Crail; She was at the bustling venue 26 on Mid Shore with talented black and white cermaics-maker Susan McGill and local painter of boats, fish etc Malcolm Cheape (the venue was Malcolm's home). Here's one of Susie Lacombe's prints that I bought recently:

And at venue 23 also on Mid Shore I was as impressed and inspired as I was last year by Fife scientist turned artist Paul Bartlett's collages of birds and animals. Very life-like and beautiful! Here's one of them in  the festival brochure but they are much better in real life when you can see all the impressive detail:

To keep our energy levels up we bought some delicious chocolate from The Cocoa Tree (, a chocolate shop and cafe on High Street (Pittenweem's main shoping street). Check out their Pittenweem Chocolate Company Ginger Crunch - just yum!

The only thing I was slightly disappointed about was that there was no exhibition on the pier at this year's festival - the life-sized metal animal sculptures on the pier last year were a real crowd-pleaser (when else would you see a camel looking out to the Isle of May?!). Here's a photo I took of one of them:

Can't wait to go again next year!

p.s. There is lots of space for parking in the festival car park (donation of £1), a shuttle bus service (we just walked - it's not far) and festival programmes cost £3.50 from a stall outside the car park. There is no cash machine in the village but you can get cash over the counter at the Post Office on High Street or get a cash machine in the neighbouring East Neuk village of Anstruther. Bus number 95 connects the East Neuk villages and runs approximately hourly.