Impressions from the Road: The Kingdom of Fife

by Keith Savage · 7 comments


Crail Harbor, Fife

Yesterday was the most beautiful day in Edinburgh I’ve ever experienced. The sun shone from a cloudless sky, the wind – for once – was absent, and for a time I thought I might have been in some warm Mediterranean city. It was glorious.

Before I arrived to Edinburgh, I spent three days of mostly awful weather in the Kingdom of Fife. The beautiful East Neuk was hidden beneath an opaque shroud for all but a single morning during my stay in Crail. I wasn’t gnashing my teeth; I was biding my time. Scotland’s weather is variable and I knew my window would come at some point. When it did, I jumped in my car and spent the morning exploring places like Elie, St. Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther, and my home base, Crail. The Kingdom of Fife isn’t just that pretty stretch of fishing villages on the southeast coast, though. Like the weather, it’s more varied and often unexpected.

Three days was a good next step from my last spin through the area, which literally lasted all of an afternoon, but it was a woefully short period of time for digging into the nuances of the place. I rest assured knowing I will spend more of my future days in Fife.

Now, on to the impressions.

Impressions

The East Neuk is Scotland’s equivalent of Italy’s Cinque Terre. Well, roughly. There are some key differences like the fact that cars are allowed in the East Neuk villages and the scenery isn’t fall-away cliffs plunging into cerulean blue waters. That said, the string of fishing harbors from Elie to Crail have had pretty, small(ish) towns grow up around them that you can drive between in less than half an hour. Even better, you can hike through the villages using the Fife Coastal Path for some amazing views of waves crashing on striated and extruded rocks, gulls circling over the towns’ red-tile roofs, and lobster and crab buoys bobbing in the surf. Good pubs, beautiful golden beaches, and delicious shellfish make for a great visit.

Fife is a land of contrasts. The south coast of Fife undergoes a great transformation after Lundin Links. Going west from here toward Kirkcauldy and Dunfermline, the prime economic engine switches from tourism to industry with massive shipyards, oil terminals, and the like rising along the Firth of Forth. This stretch is more likely to drive you east toward St. Andrews and the East Neuk than pull you in, though I’m sure there are plenty of interesting sites in the area. Going inland from the coast Fife becomes quite rural with a focus on farming, Cupar being the main town in this region. Then there’s the bridge to Dundee on the north coast of Fife, along the Firth of Tay. It all adds up to a complex and varied landscape.

The whisky industry is booming. That’s right, it is, but can you name any of the distilleries in Fife? No? That’s probably because there’s yet to be a bottle on store shelves that says “made in Fife” (I think), but it won’t be long. Just outside Cupar lies the small, farm distillery Daftmill. Francis Cuthbert has been distilling there for almost 10 years but he has yet to release any of his precious juice because he’s waiting until it’s ready. South of St. Andrews, on the gorgeous Cambo Estate, the Kingsbarns distillery is under construction and slated to be open and distilling by the end of the year. Then there’s Diageo’s massive Cluny Bond warehouse, a £150 million project that will house north of 60,000 barrels for aging whisky from Diageo’s portfolio of distilleries.

St. Andrews is a gem. I know, this is no revelation, but St. Andrews is a lively, fun town. Lodged on the eastern tip of Fife, St. Andrews is home to the third-oldest English-speaking university in the world, a beautiful 11th-century ruined cathedral, and, of course, the game of golf. The youthful university atmosphere really livens up the town and made me realize its an energy missing from most of the rural places in Scotland (as kids move to the cities for school).

Someone told me on this trip that Fife and the Lothians are bedroom communities for Edinburgh. There is a certain sprawl feel to the area, but then there are places like the East Neuk and St. Andrews that are just far enough away to be their own unique places.

I return to the States in a mere two days – it’s been a great trip!


Susan McNaughtonNo Gravatar May 8, 2014 at 2:12 PM

Hi Keith, glad that you had a cosy place to stay at Sandcastle Cottage in Crail while the weather did its worst outside. But you’re right in that you just have to bide your time and wait for a break between showers sometimes. It’s glorious to walk the Fife Coastal Path. Visit again soon and discover why we’ve been holidaying there for over 20 years!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 8, 2014 at 3:21 PM

I really enjoyed Sandcastle Cottage, Susan, and I’m looking forward to spending more time in Fife in the future.

GiselleNo Gravatar May 5, 2014 at 6:33 AM

A day is not enough! Hope you get a chance to come back for a longer time, agree with Keith that
3 days to explore St Andrews and the East Neuk is a good minimum. Too bad Keith had such poor weather, hope the sun shines for your visit Mindy and you get a chance to come back for a longer stay like Keith.

MindyNo Gravatar May 1, 2014 at 7:05 AM

Our trip is coming up soon. We only have one day for this coastal area. Thanks for the great report!

Fife Coast & Countryside TrustNo Gravatar May 1, 2014 at 5:17 AM

Really enjoyed this piece and glad to see you liked our coastline we’re so proud of! Are you planning to come back? Please do drop by our HQ at Harbourmaster’s House in Dysart (http://fifecoastalpath.co.uk/the-harbourmaster-s-house_9.html) along the Fife Coastal Path to say hello and check out our coastal centre.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar May 1, 2014 at 8:02 AM

The coastline along the East Neuk is great. I’ll keep your HQ in mind next time I’m in the area.

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