Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary: East Neuk, Fife

boat st monans

October 2023

Fife Coastal Path

In the past I have had many trips to Fife. Recently the Glasgow Health Culture Rambling Club ran a bus to Fife to do linear walks on the Fife Coastal Path. The Club can be contacted by email The Fife Coastal Path stretches from North Queensferry, in the south of Fife for 93 miles/150 km to the Tay Bridge, in the north. The route between Elie and Crail is considered to be the best part of the Fife Coastal Path, where the trail passes along and through the prettiest villages in Fife. This section is the East Neuk, a place of historic harbours and fishing villages, seafood cafes and ice cream. Linking the Forth and Tay Estuaries, the Fife Coastal Path runs though the varied landscapes of Fife. Fife is in central north east Scotland.

Queensferry Crossing

We travelled from Glasgow towards Edinburgh turning off at the Queensferry Crossing bridge. The 1.7 miles (2.7km) structure is the longest 3-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world. It is also by far the largest to feature cables which cross mid-span.  This innovative design provides extra strength and stiffness, allowing the towers and the deck to be more slender and elegant.  It looks like the sails of a ship from the banks. The Forth Bridges – Queensferry Crossing


Elie is a picturesque resort gathered around a curve of golden sand. The harbour, established in the 16th century is popular with yachts and small pleasure craft while the surrounding bay is popular with windsurfers and bathers. The town is also home to two fantastic golf courses. James Braid, celebrated golf course designer and five times winner of the British Open Golf Championship in the early 20th century was born in Elie. Elie has many interesting historic buildings, some of which date back to the 17th century, including The Lady’s Tower, a summer house built for Lady Janet Anstruther. Alas, time did not permit us to see it as the bus dropped us off near the harbour to join the Fife Coastal Path.

I noticed the Elie Seaside Sauna which was born out of Elie’s sea-swimming community and was inspired by the mobile sauna movement of Scotland’s Nordic neighbours, re-establishing a long interconnection, between the two cultures.

Ardross and Newark Castles

Further along the Coastal Path which is good underfoot and mostly level, we came to the ruined 14th century Ardross Castle located near the sea. The Dishington family built the castle, but sold it to Sir William Scott of Elie in 1607. At the end of the 17th century it passed to Sir William Anstruther. We later passed Newark Castle built in the 15th century standing in a dramatic location, overlooking the North Sea. The upper storeys are ruinous, but vaulted cellars survive, hidden from view. The rock formations on the beach were also spectacular.

Windmill and Saltpans

Further along the path we came to the windmill. St Philips is the best preserved example of a series of saltpans built in the East Neuk of Fife in 1772-1774 by the Newark Coal and Salt Work Company. This was at a time when demand and prices for salt were high, with salt required in large quantities for an expanding sea fishery and for export. The salt industry prospered between 1783 and 1815. However, decline set in when salt tax duties were abolished in 1823. This windmill dates from 1772 when it was constructed as part of a salt panning enterprise. This entailed extraction of salt from seawater, a business established by Sir John Anstruther.

St Monans

We walked to St Monans to the A listed 12th century church for our lunch break overlooking the sea. It is planned to convert the church to a community hub.  The church was rebuilt by David II in 1362-70 by Sir William Dishington, Master of Works. One of the oldest churches in Scotland, St Monans was believed to have been built in 1256 but fell in to into disuse. It was rebuilt by King David II as a thank you to God following passage through a nasty storm and has the distinction of being the closest church to the sea in Scotland. St. Monans is a T plan church with north and south transepts, a two stage crossing tower with spire and a four bay choir.   There are many surviving medieval features. Popular with film makers, scenes from The Railway Man and Whisky Galore were both filmed here.

Welly Boots

Along the coastal path we saw unusual large rock formations and sandy beaches. On leaving St Monans, we saw the Welly Boot Gardens. These are rubber Wellington boots known in Scotland affectionately as Welly Boots. The Welly Boot Garden was started by Win Brown, a local teacher and amateur gardener who decided to put her grandchildren’s outgrown wellington boots to good use and brightens up the slipway at the same time. It also now includes boats filled with plants.


We walked on to Pittenweem, a wonderful name. The name derives from Pictish and Scottish Gaelic. “Pit-” represents Pictish pett ‘place, portion of land’, and “-enweem” is Gaelic na h-Uaimh, ‘of the Caves’ in Gaelic, so “The Place of the Caves”, named after St Fillan’s cave. Again, we did not have time to visit St Fillans Cave this time.


Anstruther is still a fishing village. Clay pantiles are the east of Scotland’s most iconic roof covering but little is known about the early use and extent of these clay roof tiles; Merchant’s vessels from Anstruther, Crail, Pittenweem, and St Monans took industrial quantities of coal, salt and herring to Denmark, Flanders, and the Baltic ports to return with cargoes of timber, hides, wines, ceramics, bricks, and “holle dakpan”, or ‘roof tiles with hollows’, as the concave pantiles were described. Along with crow step gables, these red pantiles are very noticeable in the East Neuk fishing villages. Anstruther (locally pronounced ‘Ainster’). The name of Anstruther derives from Scottish Gaelic. The second element is sruthair (‘burn, stream’), but the first element less certain: it is possibly Gaelic á(i)n (‘driving’) or aon (‘one’), thus meaning either ‘driving current or burn’ or ‘(place of or on) one burn’.. A type of lobster-fishing boat called ‘the Anstruther’ was popular in the Hebrides and was called in Gaelic An Eanstrach ‘the one from Anstruther’.

We passed the Sea Shell House, a house dating from 1692 has become known for its shell decorated façade. It is a creation made by Alex Batchelor who lived in the Victorian era. He was a slater and a plasterer, who probably in the 1840s was active in this project.

Perhaps the top attraction of Anstruther is simply tucking into a quality fish supper from the Fish and Chip shops on the front which in recent years have won a number of awards including UK Fish and Chip Shop of the year. Enjoy the locally caught fish by the harbour as fishing boats land their catch. After the walk, we enjoyed our fish suppers before boarding the bus for the journey home of nearly two hours.

Many thanks to Roshni for arranging the bus and walk with visits to historical places. It was much appreciated.

Coming attractions; Bute West Island Way and Langholm.



Helen Rose's Outdoor Diary: West Island Way Completed
Helen Rose's Outdoor Diary, Moray Coast and Cullen.

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