A Day Out in Fife’s East Neuk

by Keith Savage · 3 comments


The beach at Elie, Kingdom of Fife, Scotland

To my mind, there’s no more beautiful part of the Kingdom of Fife than the East Neuk. ‘Neuk’ is the Scots word for ‘nook’ or ‘corner,’ and indeed the East Neuk is the southeast corner of Fife, a span of quiet, historic fishing villages stretching along the coast between Elie and Crail south of St. Andrews. This area deserves attention especially in a place like Fife, which, in many travelers’ minds, is just another name for St. Andrews and golf. If you’re a fan of gentle, coastal scenery, good seafood, seaside walking paths, and picturesque harbors, then Fife’s East Neuk ought to secure a stop on your next trip to Scotland.

Allow me to elaborate.

If you crack open a map of Scotland, you will see Fife jutting into the water north of Edinburgh, separated from the Lothians by the Firth of Forth. The East Neuk is the far eastern and southern coast – the muzzle if Fife is the head of a terrier. I stress this point because other parts of Fife’s southern coast are depressing industrial wastelands, but they are mostly to the west of the Forth Bridge. One of the most agreeable aspects of the East Neuk is that a traveler can truly make a day of visiting all the towns, bopping between them for different views of the Firth and an array of pints and/or bites to eat. To put it all in perspective, you can drive from one end of the East Neuk to the other in about half an hour. That means most of your precious time will be spent enjoying and exploring these perfectly Scottish coastal villages.

Here are some of my favorite spots along the East Neuk coast.

Elie and Earlsferry

Arguably the East Neuk’s westernmost town (the designation is fairly amorphous and sometimes includes Largo), Elie and Earlsferry is usually the first sight visitors get of Fife’s East Neuk. Wedged against the coast by a public testing golf course, it’s the reddish sands of Ruby Bay that are truly remarkable. The wide beach and fine sand provide a glorious setting for watching the waves roll in. The town itself has a pretty harbor that blossomed in the late 16th century, and, once upon a time, used to ferry people across the Firth to Dunbar in East Lothian.

St. Monans

Just two miles to the east of Elie and Earlsferry one finds pretty St. Monans tumbling down a hillside to the picture-perfect harbor. White-washed houses with pantiled roofs from the 17th-19th centuries predominate and create a web of winding cobbled streets well worth exploring. Though the salt-panning industry has died off there’s still plenty of briny air and salty dogs about to keep you interested. Drop into St. Monans’s pubs, examine the seaweed-strewn lobster pots, and hike up to St. Monans Church for excellent views across the Firth of Forth.

Pittenweem

Pittenweem’s strange name derives from a mixture of Pictish and Gaelic and probably means ‘the place of caves’ due to the proximity of St. Fillan’s Cave. Just a couple of minutes’ drive from St. Monans, be sure to stop on the western outskirts (follow signs to a viewpoint) for an incredible look at the town. This is truly one of the most majestic views in the East Neuk. A thriving fish market sells the day’s catch – Pittenweem is the East Neuk’s most active fishing port. Pittenweem has long been the abode of artists and craftspeople, and this industry has resurfaced recently to the joy of visitors and locals alike.

Anstruther

A few minutes east of Pittenweem is Anstruther, the East Neuk’s largest community (pop. 3,500). Here you’ll find the Anstruther Fish Bar, one of Scotland’s most lauded fish and chip shops, and several pubs and restaurants clustered around a harbor reminiscent of St. Monans. Various fishing and pleasure craft bob at anchor here, and if the weather turns ill a stop in the Scottish Fisheries Museum makes a nice diversion. Nearby hides one of Fife’s quirkiest attractions: A secret nuclear bunker built in 1951. Functioning until 1993, these days it’s a museum that provides a chilling look at the Cold War era.

Crail

After leaving Anstruther and adjoining Cellardyke, the road runs past tiny Kilrenny to quaint Crail, the eastern terminus of the East Neuk (after Crail, the road turns north to Kingsbarns and St. Andrews). Crail is a quiet place beautifully situated around a turquoise harbor. Galleries, tearooms, glass and pottery shops, and even fresh, whole lobsters on the waterfront can be found among its narrow lanes. A couple of seaside courses sate the golf enthusiast while the wealth of restored harbor-front houses refreshes the architecturally inclined.

Stop in the pub at the Golf Hotel for a celebratory pint – you’ve just had an amazing day out in Fife’s East Neuk!


KenNo Gravatar July 22, 2015 at 4:46 PM

This was my introduction to how beautiful Scotland is when I first visited in 2009 with family. And Crail sticks most in my memory as an incredibly beautiful little village nestled against the sea.

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