Saturday, June 30, 2007

Walk 163 -- Elie, via St Monans, Pittenweem & Anstruther, to Crail

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 53 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 195 days.
Weather: The day started sunny and warm, so we decided to dispense with our winter woollies. But, when it was too late, it quickly turned cold and the wind was particularly bitter. After Anstruther, we had persistent rain for the rest of the day. It was miserable!
Location: Elie, via St Monans, Pittenweem and Anstruther, to Crail.
Distance: 12 miles.
Total distance: 1365 miles.
Terrain: Some pavement-bashing and a little beach-walking, but mostly grassy paths. Undulating.
Tide: In.
Rivers: No.92, Inverie Burn at St Monans. No. 93, Dreel Burn at Anstruther.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: No.142 near St Monans. Nos. 143 & 144 as we left Anstruther.
Pubs: The ‘Dreel Tavern’ in Anstruther where Colin drank Deuchars IPA and I had a shandy.
‘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 Crail (where the toilets are FREE!) and parked in the High Street. We caught a bus to Elie, and walked down to the waterfront where we had left it yesterday.
At the end, feeling very cold and soggy, we got straight into the car and drove back to our cottage in Craigrothie. Only when we had dried out did we make ourselves a cup of tea!

Today is the 16th birthday of our grand-daughter, Kelly. When she was born in 1991, her mother (our ‘rebel’ daughter) was still only 18 years old and she already had a two-year-old son! It is difficult to believe that we now have grandchildren aged 16 and 18!! Despite our daughter’s precarious position of being a teenage single Mum with no job and no qualifications, she pulled on inner strengths and came up trumps. Kelly is an emotionally stable young lady, very personable, outstandingly good-looking and a delight to know. She has worked her socks off all through school, but she is not an academic child. She hopes to work in the media, possibly in radio, and is starting a relevant college course in September.

We started today’s Walk by touring the harbour in Elie. There we found a brand new toilet block that was clean, open and FREE! Well done, Elie! It makes such a difference to the enjoyment of our Walks if we can start them in comfort. In fact this block was so new, all the signposts still pointed to the old, locked redundant block down the road.
But I mustn’t keep on about toilets (why not? they are so important to those of us who are getting on a bit but still want to get out and about), we found Elie to be pretty harbour with a number of leisure boats moored in it. Fishing doesn’t seem to feature any more.
We also explored the nearby rocky promontory on which there was a lighthouse, and further round a ruined stone building called ‘Lady’s Tower’. I looked this up on the internet at a later date, and discovered that it was built sometime after 1750 as a summerhouse for Lady Janet Anstruther who liked to bathe naked in the sea. Apparently she used to send her bellman round Elie to warn the villagers to keep away whenever she fancied a swim!
Well, she was a braver soul than ourselves, for it was perishing when we were there despite it being the last day of June. It was while we were exploring ‘Lady’s Tower’ that we realised we had been duped by the weather. It had been quite a nice day yesterday, and this morning it had started sunny and warm. Thinking Summer had come at last, Colin left his big coat in the car and I wore just a cotton shirt under my thin Gortex coat. The sky turned grey and a bitterly cold wind suddenly got up. We were only a few yards into the Walk when we realised we were inadequately dressed for a Winter’s day! But there was nothing we could do about it — except walk quickly, I suppose.
We tried to sit behind a grassy mound to eat our pasties (yes, I am still eating them!) but we weren’t very successful at getting out of the wind. So we marched on as fast as we could along the coast path hoping the exercise would warm us up. It didn’t.
We passed the scant remains of a castle, then a stone cylindrical building. Colin was convinced it was a windmill — I said it looked more like a dovecot. Colin wouldn’t have it, said it was definitely a windmill. We had long since put the map away because today’s route was a simple one along the coast path with no ambiguities. When I got it out later, in the pub, it said ‘Dovecot in ancient lettering on that spot — Colin had to admit defeat.
As we approached St Monans we found we had a choice of way, a high tide route or a low tide route. There was a marker post on the steps leading down to the beach to show when the sea was too high for the low tide route. Although the tide was coming in, the water was nowhere near the post — so we decided to go for it. We walked along the bottom of a high wall, then up steps in the wall into the village without the sea coming anywhere near us.
St Monans is a real fishing village with colour-washed houses lining the quay. But there seemed to be few fishing boats in the well-protected harbour. Several boats had been lifted completely out of the water, one was having its bottom scraped and all looked as if they had recently been painted. That was the only activity that was going on, so we concluded that St Monans is a centre for refitting boats rather than a fishing village these days.
By golly, it was cold! Despite our quick-marching for the past two miles we were frozen to the bone. Colin had put on his cape in a vain attempt to add another layer, but it is very thin and quite useless in this respect. Even though it wasn’t raining, he obstinately refused to put his hands through the sleeve holes “because the ends of my sleeves are exposed and they get wet!” Then an extraordinary thing happened. We were walking along a street between tall buildings when a sudden gust of wind turned Colin’s cape completely inside out above his head! The only thing that stopped it blowing away altogether was the fact that it was secured under his chin. It looked so funny, I just creased up with laughing! Colin stood still, and all the while I fiddled to get my camera out and switched on, his cape stayed in that vertical position. That is how strong the wind was! In fact I had to help him pull it down again, when I had at last stopped guffawing, as the gusts were so strong he couldn’t do it on his own. That’ll teach him not to put his hands through the sleeve holes!
As we left St Monans we passed a seawater bathing pool cemented into the rocks at the top of the beach. But there was a notice above on the low cliffs which read, “THIS POOL IS NO LONGER MAINTAINED BY DISTRICT COUNCIL BATHERS USE IT AT OWN RISK”. What they really mean is that in these days of litigation, they are no longer going to risk being sued by someone who slips over and bumps his noddle — it’s always got to be someone else’s fault so he can make a quick buck. As I’ve said before, if we didn’t take any risks in this life we’d never get out of bed, but our freedoms are being thwarted by these inimical lawsuits.
We also passed a windmill — Colin was delighted because it really was a windmill this time! In the grass below it were lots of dimples and the occasional remnant of an old building. These were panhouses, the remains of the 18th century salt industry. This has been described as a “dirty, smoky industry which went on around the clock”. Abundant coal measures and soft, easily cut rock, brought the salt industry here. A board nearby described how it worked:
In 1771 Sir John Anstruther and Robert Fall established the Newark Coal and Salt Works Company. Nine saltpans, probably a windmill pump, a settling tank and channel were built. A wagonway transported the coal to the pans, and took salt and coal for export to Pittenween Harbour.
The settling tank, or ‘bucket pot’, would fill with seawater which was pumped up wooden pipes, perhaps by the power of the windmill, to be distributed to the panhouses by a surface pipe or a water cart. The small coals, or panwood, brought by the wagonway, were dumped into chutes at each house to be used in the furnaces which heated the pans. At one end of the row of panhouses was the ‘girnel’, a secure warehouse where the salt was stored and weighed by salt officers who ensured the correct duty was paid.
The St Monans works became the third largest salt producer in Fife, but it survived for only about forty years. The Scottish coal-fired industrial salt tended to retain impurities, and by the end of the eighteenth century demand began to give way to purer sun-evaporated salt from the Bay of Biscay. In England rock salt was being exploited as an alternative source. In 1825 salt duties were repealed, but it is thought that by then production had long since ceased at St Monans. However, it continued at Prestonpans on the other side of the Forth right through to 1959!
All we were interested in was getting out of the wind. We skulked in the deepest ‘panhouse’ dimple to sit on wet grass and eat our sandwiches, but it was still perishing so we didn’t skulk for long. We soon moved on, passing some interesting twisted and eroded rocks — if only I could remember more from my OU days!
Pittenween wasn’t far away, a real fishing harbour full of working boats. Though we have heard subsequently that city people have moved in en masse to buy the pretty waterfront cottages as second homes. This has forced up house prices so that local younger fishermen have to live inland and commute to Pittenween from their more affordable homes which are miles away. This sort of thing destroys communities, but what can they do about it?
We passed a group of kids who looked at Colin quizzically and asked, “Why are you wearing that cape?” I can’t remember his answer, but I must admit he did look odd in his long green cape with bare legs poking out underneath because he was wearing shorts which they couldn’t see. As far as they were concerned, he could have been naked underneath! I gave up on him years ago, and totally ignore what he wears or doesn’t wear. It doesn’t bother me that he looks a wally!
We bypassed Pittenween Harbour, deciding not to walk the walls on the grounds that it was too cold and windy, and since they were dead ends we didn’t have to anyway. In truth, we were just so cold we wanted to get to the pub in Anstruther as quickly as possible. We passed a concrete block on which was written, “FREE SCOTLAND SAOR ALBA”. Well, I’m quite happy to give Scotland it’s ‘freedom’, but only on condition they take all their Scots out of our Parliament in Westminster as part of the bargain!
Leaving Pittenween behind, we passed the inevitable golf course to get to Anstruther. The sky was darkening, the wind seemed to be colder than ever, but wild roses with their heavenly scent reminded us that it was, in fact, officially Summer. We passed a tower which was a War Memorial. On it was a ‘roll of honour’ naming all those local men and boys who had died serving their country. What a waste of humankind is war!
Anstruther is another historical fishing town full of pretty colour-washed cottages, but we were so cold and miserable by then we made a bee-line straight for the pub. It was a ‘real ale’ establishment, but the beer was very ordinary. I had a shandy because I thought that would be more refreshing, but at least we were able to sit down out of that wretched wind and warm up!
When we left we discovered it was raining — really hard and set in. We still had four miles to go to get to our car in Crail. We were tempted to look for a taxi or a bus, but then we said “No!” we would ‘power-walk’ it in an effort to stay warm. Colin protected my camera while I photographed a shell-covered house which I couldn’t resist. Then we set off at as fast a pace as we could, looking to neither right nor left on our way. It should have been a lovely Walk between the sea and the low cliffs which we would have enjoyed if we hadn’t been so wet and cold!
Two thirds of the way along we came to a cave which was quite large enough for us to walk in out of the rain. We decided to have a breather and eat our chocolate, but we had to consume it standing up because the ground was muddy and covered in puddles. We cooled down very rapidly and I started shivering, so we soon got moving again. We tried to keep up a pace, but it was difficult because the path was quite slippery in places. Falling and breaking a leg was the last thing we wanted to happen!
We walked as carefully as we could, looking at nothing because we were only interested in getting back to the car.

With a sigh of relief we arrived in Crail at last. I sort of had an inkling that we had lovely views across the quaint little harbour from the path as we entered the village, but we were both too miserable to take much notice. I took the pictures of the harbour and beacon two days later when we returned in better weather. We were spilled out on to the main road where our car was parked about a hundred yards further on.
That ended Walk no.163, we shall pick up Walk no.164 next time on the main road in the village of Crail. It was ten past six, so the Walk had taken us a little under eight hours. Most of that time we had been cold, and for the last two and a half hours we had also been wet. The rain was still coming down in stair-rods and I had started shivering again, so neither of us were interested in pouring tea from a flask. We got in the car and drove straight back to our cottage in Craigrothie. There we both had to change all of our clothes because we were so wet. I had a long soak in a hot bath to ward off hypothermia. It was only when we were dry and warm (yes, we had to put the heating on again — on the last day of June!) that we treated ourselves to tea and biscuits.

Scotland’s Secret Bunker
A few miles inland from Crail, and deep underground, lies Scotland’s Secret Bunker — which is a secret no more! We visited it the next day, on one of our ‘rest’ days.
It is an enormous structure, built entirely underground and in great secrecy in 1951 (I was six years old then, and Colin was nine.) It was built because of the fear of a nuclear attack by the USSR, the huge Russian Communist Union which was formed after the Second World War by the Russians aggressively overrunning most of their adjacent countries and forcing them to lose their identities. Our young lives were dominated by fears of the Third World War breaking out, as it very nearly did in 1962 over Cuba, and it would be a nuclear war in which nobody was likely to survive. But our family was weary of war, my parents had lived through two World Wars, and we were always optimistic of a brighter future. I can’t say that the fear of a nuclear war ever bothered me. I somehow knew it would never happen, but if it did I wouldn’t want to be a survivor. Rather than hide in a concrete bunker, I would have stood in the garden shouting, “This way! I’m here! Hit me directly and let’s get it over with quick!” Those were my thoughts, on the rare occasions I ever thought about it. Then I would dismiss them and get on with my life in the present. Colin said he rarely gave it a second thought either, I think most families were like that.
But the government couldn’t afford to be so flippant. They set up a chain of secret bunkers along the east coast, and the one near Crail is one of the largest. The locations of many of them are still a secret, though why, in this more open day and age, is anybody’s guess. We knew about the one in the cliffs at Dover when we passed there in 2001 as ‘English Heritage’, who now own the site, were hoping to open it up to the public. But this will never happen because it was lined with asbestos. The atmosphere in those tunnels is now so lethal you can only enter if you are wearing breathing apparatus — so those ‘bigwigs’ hiding away trying to save their own skins would have died a much more painful and lingering death anyway!
Crail’s bunker was manned by the RAF from 1953-1956 by which time the technology installed in there was already outdated — such was the march of progress. It was closed briefly, and then re-opened as a Regional Seat of Government to be staffed by the Civil Defence Corps. When the Corps was disbanded in 1968, the bunker became a regional Government Headquarters. In the event of a nuclear attack, it was planned that Scotland would be governed from this bunker. But would the bigwigs have time to get there? We were always told we would have a mere four minute warning of a nuclear attack — hardly time to get from wherever they were to a secret bunker in the middle of nowhere! People were always being asked, “What would you do during that four minutes? My answer was to get blindingly drunk so I wouldn’t know what was happening! I don’t know of anybody who took it really seriously. It was planned that the warning should be sent out from bunkers such as these to every police station in the country — though what the police were supposed to do with the information once they had received it wasn’t explained to them!
I remember when the film “On the Beach” came out there was mass panic as people realised what the aftermath of a nuclear war might mean. My mother wouldn’t let me go and see it because she didn’t want me to be upset as many other teenagers were. (Teenagers obeyed their parents in those days!) In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen the film, but I read the book in later years — creepy!
Our tour of the bunker brought back lots of memories of those years. We can laugh at it now, but for many people those fears were very real. In 1989 to 1990 the Soviet Union broke up after nearly half a century of its iron grip on Eastern Europe. The rotten apple disintegrated from the inside, and all the hypocrisy was exposed. By 1993 the bunker was redundant, and the government didn’t know what to do with it. So they admitted its existence and turned it into a tourist attraction!
We enjoyed our tour, but the history with which we were bombarded as we walked round was much too wordy for us. Believe me, what you read above is a short summary! Personally, I can’t get over the arrogance of the bigwigs of the time who were going to save themselves in the event of a nuclear war, and to hell with the rest of us! They would probably have died of suffocation anyway. Even though it is supposedly now all out in the open, there are still certain areas of the bunker where it is strictly forbidden to wander and certain secrets are still kept.

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