Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Walk 161 -- Kirkcaldy to Leven

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 50 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 192 days.
Honking showers with hail! Sunny in between. Still very cold, like Winter.
Location: Kirkcaldy to Leven.
Distance: 9½ miles.
Total distance: 1342½ miles.
Terrain: Mostly a gravel path which is the Fife Coastal Trail. Undulating.
Tide: In, going out.
Rivers: No.89, River Leven in Leven.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.137 as we approached East Wemyss. Nos. 138 & 139 as we descended into Buckhaven.
Pubs: None.
‘Historic Scotland’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We were staying in a holiday cottage in the village of Craigrothie. We drove to Leven where we parked on the seafront, very near the bus station, for free. We caught a bus to Kirkcaldy, and had to get off in a nether estate well back from the seafront. We didn’t know the route of the bus into Kirkcaldy, so I tried to follow where we were going on the map. I was looking out for the nearest point the bus went to the Ravenscraig Picnic Site, but we meandered a devious route which didn’t get within half a mile of it. Suddenly I said, “This is it!” and we leapt off! Colin was in deep trouble (with his artificial sphincter—when he’s got to go, he’s got to go!) Thankfully he found a municipal bush before too long, and we continued walking downhill in a southerly direction. We found a pedestrian tunnel under the main road, and down a lot of slippery steps we emerged into the picnic site.
At the end I was gripped with a stomach upset (due, I think, to the pasty I had eaten earlier in the Walk) and needed a toilet pronto! Fortunately our cottage in Craigrothie was only a few miles up the road, so I rolled into the car and Colin drove me there post-haste.

Despite these ‘emergencies’, we are both still in denial about getting old!

We were still in the picnic site, just a few yards into the Walk, when it started to hail! It’s the twenty-seventh of June, it’s as cold as Winter, and the white stuff was chucking it down on our heads! What’s more, it hurt! We had nowhere to shelter, but we saw a natural rock wall ahead and made for that. There was a slight indentation, hardly a cave, so we sort of sheltered in that. Colin said, “I’m hungry!” so we stood there like loons eating our pasties while all hell let loose around us! There was hail, thunder and lightning, cold gusts of wind and the hail came down so fast it laid in sheltered pockets. Might as well be cheerful about it, there was nothing else we could do. We’ve done calmer, warmer Walks in Winter!
The official Fife Coastal Path, marked with green diamonds on our OS map, didn’t come down into the picnic site. Instead it had stayed on the main road ever since it first entered Kirkcaldy two miles back. It eventually turned off into Ravenscraig Park which was at the top of the cliff under which we were sheltering from the storm. (There was also the remains of a castle up there, according to the map, but we didn’t go up to have a look.) But we discovered that there was a path round the end of our rock wall, and wondered if we could get along all the way to Dysart Harbour without climbing up. When the storm had died down a bit and the hail turned to rain, we asked an old man with a dog if it was possible. He had just walked round the rocky end towards us, and seemed glad to stop for a chat. In fact he was so garrulous he must have told us at least six times that the answer was “Yes”! It was difficult to get away, even though we were standing in pelting rain. Poor old chap, I bet he lives on his own!
So we walked round the rocky promontory and along the beach until we came to some steps to take us up into Ravenscraig Park. We continued along the edge of the Park until we came to Dysart Harbour. It was still raining, so we sheltered a moment in its castellated end bit. Eventually it did stop raining, but it didn’t get any warmer. We could see the storms racing through the Firth of Forth all day, even when we were bathed in sunshine ourselves. They were never very far away.
Dysart harbour is very pretty these days with a spattering of leisure boats moored in it. It always was a bit of a holiday resort for the well-heeled, but not for the hundreds of workers in the linen mills and mines. Amongst the goods manufactured at the mills were tablecloths, bed linen and canvas covers for the pioneer families of the American West. The mines produced 800 tons of coal per week in the 1880s. All of this was for export, and was pulled on carts to this harbour where it was loaded on ships. It must have presented quite a different scene to the present day! All mills and mines are now closed and the area is very quiet and calm. I wonder what employment levels are like? The metal footbridge across the harbour was closed, and we were enticed to “enjoy a short stroll around the inner dock”.
We followed a path round the edge of Dysart itself, and came across a modern sculpture. It consisted of nine square straight poles, painted in various shades of blue and grey, pointing up towards the sky. They looked very stark with a slate-grey sky behind them, and the seagulls found them a good perching post!
At the end of the houses we walked up on to a kind of artificial earth ‘dome’ where a small football pitch had been laid out. There were bushes at the end, and a kid’s path twisted through them on to a kind of open field above the shore. But it was sort of squidgy underfoot and there was a distinct smell of bad eggs about. The area was marked as “disused workings” on our map, and there were gas vents at intervals in the field. I said, “I don’t think we should be walking here!” so we retraced our steps to the football pitch. There we found the correct path which ran behind a fence alongside the field — but it was still smelly. I wouldn’t like to have lived in the area. Further on we came to a field gateway on which was a notice saying, “SURFACE HAS BEEN TREATED WITH BIOSOLIDS – PLEASE KEEP OFF”. We supposed they are trying to make good the land after it has been heavily polluted by coal-mining. We wondered how long it will take.
We entered a short wood, we were quite high up with sweeping views. We passed ‘Blair Point’ which is quite significant today since Tony Blair is standing down as Prime Minister to be replaced by Gordon Brown. I wonder if we shall do any better under the dour Scot? (I wrote in my diary, “Arrogant git! Don’t like the man at all!” So I don’t think I’m very hopeful.) At least he isn’t George Bush’s string puppet like his predecessor. Anyway, we met some Army Cadets tramping the other way. Half of them were girls, two of whom were overweight and didn’t look as if they would make it. Reckon they’ll get weeded out very soon.
We found a seat in a sheltered position at the edge of the woods with a lovely view towards West Wemyss. The sun had come out by then, and since we were out of the cold wind we sat there eating our sandwiches pretending it really was Summer! Then it was down some steep steps to sea level where we followed a pleasant path through woodland just in from the shore. At least, I did. Colin reckoned there was a reasonable path outside the wood which was “nearer the sea” and had “much nicer wild flowers”! But I liked my well-marked woodland path, and since they were parallel and met up after about two hundred yards, I stuck to it. We kept waving to each other through gaps in the foliage.
We came to a castellated wall which had a ruined building behind it. The towers at each end still had roofs and windows, but there were an awful lot of cracks in the walls. We gave them a wide berth!
Soon we were by the jetty at West Wemyss. What was marked as a ‘Hotel’ on our map proved to be a bricked-up house looking very forlorn with poppies growing by it. But on the rocks was a cormorant drying its wings, the sea-birds were the only sign of life at that spot.
We walked up into the village of West Wemyss and noted a lot of new houses recently completed. There are so many along this coast, but where do the people work? There was a brand new wall along the seafront, it looked very smart. We walked a gravel path to East Wemyss, a mile and a half away. There we came across more new development and the same kind of wall. These hamlets will soon lose their identity if they’re not careful.
The green diamonds on our map would have directed us on to the main road at this point, but we found we could get round the other side of the cemetery to pass a cave and the remains of Macduff’s Castle. We would have missed those if we’d followed the map — not that they were terribly exciting anyway, but more interesting than the road. We could see the volcanic plug behind North Berwick (“North Berwick Law”) quite clearly if we looked out to sea, so we knew we had already come that far out of the Firth of Forth.
We couldn’t get any further along the bottom by the shore, so we went up to join the official path and only touched momentarily on the main road. Then we turned on to an old railway track, so it was a good path. Almost immediately the heavens opened and we were bombarded with hailstones once more! (It was just to let us know it wasn’t really Summer and we shouldn’t get complacent!) We rushed to the one and only tree in the vicinity and stood under it because the hailstones hurt! In hindsight this probably wasn’t a good idea, but the hail didn’t seem to be accompanied by thunder and lightning this time. It stopped after a few minutes and again we were bathed in bright sunshine.
We traipsed down the disused railway towards Buckhaven where there were workings on the beach. They seemed to be shoring it up with rocks, perhaps to prevent erosion and flooding. We sat on a wall overlooking these workings to eat our apples. Then we sloped down beyond them to shore level. There was a wide swathe of grass round Buckhaven on the beach side. It was new, like the adjacent houses — much the same as East & West Wemyss.
It was at that point I began to feel unwell, painful guts’ ache which kept coming over me in waves. When it was there I was bent double, when it waned I could walk on. I really needed a toilet, but there were none about and no reasonable bushes. So I just had to put up with it.
The last two miles of the walk were along town streets and very boring. This is because we passed an ‘Oil Rig Construction Yard’ according to the map, but we had a suspicion that it was an ex-Oil Rig Construction Yard. We could only catch an occasional glimpse between buildings which didn’t help us much. There was a touring caravan parked in the road which we thought was a bit odd. It didn’t appear to have any locks on it, anybody could have hitched it up and stolen it in minutes.
Then we had to pass Methil Docks which are industrial and therefore can be missed out. All I was concerned about by then anyway was getting myself to a toilet! My discomfort in the guts area was major and I couldn’t think about anything else. I could barely walk! I blamed the pasty I had eaten earlier. I had bought mine in a different shop to Colin as I like different flavours — obviously I had made a bad choice. We missed the footbridge across the river between Methil and Leven as we couldn’t see our way over a railway. So we had to go a longer way round by road, but I was in no mood to get lost and have to retrace my steps so we marched on. At last we got to the car parked on the sea front.

That ended Walk no.161, we shall pick up Walk no.162 next time on the seafront at Leven. Colin suggested I walk to the bus station and use their toilets at 20p entrance fee, as I had under protest that morning. But I said I couldn’t walk another step, I’d had to keep stopping for the pain to subside over the last two miles as it was. We were actually at our nearest point on the coast to our holiday cottage which was only ten minutes drive away. So, without stopping for tea or anything, Colin drove me straight back so I could use the cottage bathroom in comfort. I had a long soak in a warm bath as well, and Colin prepared the supper of which I was able to eat a little. We decided to have a ‘rest’ tomorrow and not walk until the day after.

I have gone off pasties!

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