Monday, July 02, 2007

Walk 164 -- Crail to St Andrews

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 55 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 197 days.
Weather: Mostly sunny and quite warm. Occasional light showers.
Location: Crail to St Andrews.
Distance: 14 miles.
Total distance: 1379 miles.
Terrain: Very rough grassy paths and stones, soft sand on beaches, and some climbing over rocks. Uneven steps. Undulating. A difficult Walk.
Tide: Coming in, then going out.
Rivers: No.94, Cambo Burn near Kingsbarns. No. 95, Kenly Water near Boarhills.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos.143 & 144 near Crail. No.145 further on.
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 St Andrews where we parked for free near the waterfront. We walked through the town to the bus station and caught a bus to Crail. We walked back to take a couple of photographs which we hadn’t been able to at the end of the last Walk because of the rain. Then we turned off the High Street to continue the trek.
At the end, we walked a few yards from the waterfront to our car. After a couple of cups of tea, we drove back to our cottage at Craigrothie just as it started to rain — we had just made it!

The weather was considerably better today, which was just as well because the Walk was longer and more difficult than we had anticipated. We started at eleven o’clock in bright sunshine which was warm — something we haven’t experienced for a long time! We weren’t going to be caught out though. After getting so cold two days ago, we had all our layers with us today so we could put them on as needed.
We walked back a little along the path to Elie to photograph the harbour in sunshine. Then we descended and walked round the harbour walls. Such a pretty place! The tide was right out, and there was no water — not even over the stone bar that was along the base of the harbour entrance. However, there were a number of small fishing boats stranded in the harbour so perhaps a bit of fishing does go on from there. We had bought some pasties which were still warm, so we sat at a picnic table under a shelter to consume them.
Crail is a picturesque village with cobbled streets and pretty cottages. We ascended to ‘Castle Walk’ where we could look out over the rocks revealed at low tide. I was trying to remember back to 1988 when I was brought there on an Open University Summer School. I couldn’t remember why they had brought us to Crail, I can only remember walking up the street from the harbour after looking at some feature on the beach. I thought it was to see the remains of a volcano full of garnets, but perhaps that was somewhere else. I couldn’t see anything which looked ‘significant’ today, it was very frustrating.
The path descended to sea level again, passing new estates and children’s playgrounds. There was lots of grass for children to play on, but there seemed to be very few youngsters about. Since Scottish schools are now on holiday, where were they on a nice bright sunny day like today? Not stuck in front of computer screens, we hope. As we left the village we passed a very pretty wheelie-bin outside someone’s house!
We passed a notice board which told us about the King’s Mills. Apparently there was a mill hereabouts from the 12th century to the early 19th century. After a brief period of closure it reopened with the advent of the steam engine. But it closed permanently in 1912, and the building was finally demolished in 1920. The digging of sewer pipes in 1998 revealed the remains of the old mill buildings which much excited archaeologists. But I’m afraid that neither Colin nor I get very animated about such remains when nothing is to be seen above ground. So we passed on.
The path got rougher, and there was a lot more up and down over rocks, etc. Not difficult, but it slowed our progress. We watched the birds — linnets, stonechats, guillemots and the occasional heron. (I’m useless at identifying birds, Colin named them all for me.) We also saw butterflies in the grass, and loads of poppies which I always love to see en masse. Perhaps it was Summer after all! It turned very warm and we had to peel off the layers. Colin was annoyed that he had brought his Winter coat today — after our experience on the last Walk — and he had to wear it tied round his waist for the whole Walk. I had my fleece stuffed in my rucksack taking up a lot of room, and ended up wearing my Gortex coat tied round my waist. We just didn’t need our Winter woollies today, and we were both mildly uncomfortable having to carry them.
We met a local woman walking her four poodles, and she stopped and chatted for a long time about birds. It’s lovely to chat to people, but whilst doing so we don’t get anywhere! At last we moved away, we must have been held up at least twenty minutes. Later we sat on a rock to eat our sandwiches, and she passed us again on her way back. She stopped to chat some more, but at least this time we were having our lunch break so it didn’t matter so much.
We came to Fife Ness with its coastguard station on the corner of the cliff. There is also the remains of an old harbour which is now used only by the birds! In the 19th century they tried to put a beacon on the corner to warn ships about North Carr Rocks situated about a mile offshore. But the beacon tower got washed away in a storm, so a lightship was moored on the rocks. This functioned for many years, but now it has been replaced by an automated beacon. We turned the corner out of the Firth of Forth — losing any last sightings of Bass Rock and North Berwick Law — and we continued in a north-westerly direction alongside the North Sea once again.
We descended to beach level where we saw a rabbit in the grass. We were alongside the inevitable golf course where quite a few players were out. We were nowhere near any of them nor the greens they were supposed to be aiming for, but one of the golfers, an American by his accent, was absolutely hopeless. He hit his ball in completely the wrong direction and it narrowly missed my head! I thought players were supposed to attain a certain standard, their ‘handicap’, before they were allowed to play in the clubs. This idiot was behaving as if he had never hit a golf ball in his life before! The incident gave me quite a scare, and I was furious. So we went on to the beach, but the tide was in so the exposed sand was soft. However, it was only for a quarter of a mile — and better soft sand than being clunked on the head by a stray golf ball. We kept coming across stranded purple jellyfish half-buried in the sand.
It started to rain — I knew the sunny weather wouldn’t last — but it was very light and stopped after about twenty minutes. The path along the top of the beach was uneven and not very easy. We passed a cave, but it was really only a little dent in the cliffs. We came to a stile on which was a notice which read, Route follows beach for next half mile. At high tide please wait for tide to recede”. Fortunately the tide wasn’t right in, so we were able to get past the rocks which jutted out. Our legs were aching with the soft sand before we had completed the half mile, so we decided to walk along the edge of the adjacent field with the cows. This was muddy, and we couldn’t decide whether the soft sand of the beach or the mud in the fields was the best option. As a result, our progress was quite slow.
We came to a spinney with a stream running through it, which was quite pretty. As were the wild roses in the adjacent bushes — their scent was heavenly! We crossed the stream using a little footbridge under the trees, then came across a toilet block labelled ‘Rest Rooms’. They were open and free, so we made use of them. But we think they were there for the players on the next golf course, the one we were just about to come to. Now we realised these golf courses have been set up for the American market — because in Britain we have ‘TOILETS’! How I hate the Americanisation of our beautiful language! We continued alongside this new golf course, being very wary this time. But here all the players seemed to know what they were doing so there was no friction between us and the golfers.
We came to a car park where there were free toilets (proper word this time) but we didn’t need them because we had already used the golf club ‘Rest Rooms’. This was a public area with picnic tables and a wet weather shelter. Very nice — except that the shelter had been vandalised, repaired, then vandalised again. There was a boot-mark on the new wood, a fire had been started in a corner, and there was a nest full of dead chicks. How sad that some people’s idea of ‘fun’ is to destroy everything around them, and how warped their minds must be.
It had turned hot and humid making it uncomfortable to walk. On the far side of the car park was a notice attached to a stile informing us that the path ahead was across ‘rough and remote coastal terrain’ and that it was seven and a half miles to St Andrews. It was already half past three, but we had no choice but to carry on. Colin claimed it would take us at least four hours. I didn’t believe it would take that long, but then I didn’t appreciate just how much the roughness of the path would slow us up. Colin was right, in fact more than right — it took us nearly five hours! Thank goodness we were at that time of year when we had maximum daylight. Needless to say, we met no one until we were approaching St Andrews.
The path took us straight down to the beach, and this lasted for about a mile. The tide was right in by then, so we had to walk on soft sand which made our legs ache. When this got too much, we tried a ‘sort-of’ path up on the bank next to a barbed wire fence. Colin took a lovely picture of a stonechat on a fencepost, I took a picture of a cow! The ‘path’, which wasn’t really a path at all, deteriorated into a small ravine full of nettles, so we slithered back down to the beach. And that is how we continued — sometimes on the beach sinking in the soft sand, and sometimes on the bank battling with thistles and nettles. But there were bright red poppies everywhere cheering us up as we struggled along.
We rounded a knoll, and suddenly a decent path was back. But it didn’t last long, it soon became uneven again. Then we came to a notice, “At high tide please wait for tide to recede”. Not again! We knew the tide would be right in by then, but fortunately we were running so late it had started to ebb. We were able to get round the rocks on the beach without having to wait.
We came to a gully in which was quite a substantial stream called Kenly Water. We had to follow it about half a mile inland before we could cross. It was beautiful! With the sun shining through the trees, a babbling stream and little waterfalls — we could have been in Devon! We both remarked how similar it was to the wooded valleys which cut into the edge of Dartmoor. The path was slippery after all the rain we have had, and there were lots of steps. We took it carefully, and eventually came to a footbridge where we could cross. From there the path left the river, went behind a farm and cut across fields back to the coast. Behind the farm was a notice which said, “Path not complete between Crail & St Andrews. Take extra care!!! (I didn’t add the three exclamation marks, they were on the notice.) Now they tell us! But they didn’t say whether they were referring to the bit we’d done or the bit we had yet to do. So we sat down to ponder this conundrum, and ate our chocolate.
We don’t get much out of walking across farmland, it is not the countryside, so we were pleased to get back to the clifftop fairly soon. There we passed a notice for walkers who were coming the other way. It said, “Coastal Path Inland At This Point” and had an arrow pointing away from the sea. Someone had added in marker pen, “Why? Later on when I studied the map (I had put it away for most of the Walk because the coast path is waymarked in Fife) I wanted to know “Why?” as well. There is a track marked on the map from the farm where we had crossed Kenly Water leading parallel to the north-west side of the gully as far as the coast, then a footpath is marked along the clifftop to the point where we were now standing. But we couldn’t see any sign of this path because the farmer had put up a barbed wire fence and the footpath had obviously grown over through lack of use. Why?
We descended steeply from there, and the path was worse than ever. It was muddy, very slippery, and when we got to the bottom we were going up & down, up & down, we were leaping over stepping stones, then more up & down. And the setting sun was shining directly into our eyes. It was not easy walking. We passed an extraordinary rock which we named ‘Ayers Rock’ because of the way it rose out of the grass. One edge was the face of an enormous monster crouched ready to pounce — or perhaps the challenges of this far-from-easy Walk were beginning to get to us! We also passed a small pile of abandoned tyres with a ‘flag’ made of beach rubbish stuck in them. We rounded a corner and could see St Andrews in the distance. It was only two and a half miles away, but in our tired state it looked an awful lot more than that.
We descended to the beach to cross a little ford. Then uneven steps took us up and up and up. I said, “Surely they’re not going to take us right to the top of the cliff!” Colin replied, “No, I don’t think so. I’m sure we are just climbing round and over that big rock….” But he was wrong! We plodded up and up on the uneven zigzag staircase. We hadn’t met anybody for hours, we were the only people in the world! I was ahead of Colin, and when I stepped up on to the final step I turned round to him and said triumphantly, “I’ve made it!”
And there was a round of applause !!
It was surreal! I whirled round. We had emerged on to the final green of one of St Andrews pukka golf courses, and there was a championship match going on with an audience and television cameras! A commentary was being broadcast from a posh-looking golf house further up the hill. I turned back to Colin and stated, “Well, I’m not going down again!” He just looked bemused, not quite sure what was going on. We were legitimately walking the Fife Coastal Path — it wasn’t our fault it led over the final green of an upmarket golf course. There was no way we were going back!
We laughed about this incident for months, no years, to come. It must have looked so funny to see two flustered elderly hikers suddenly appearing in the middle of the game and then skulking round the bushes trying to look as if they weren’t really there. But nobody took any notice of us! It was as if we were invisible. Every time one of the players tapped a ball, the breathless silence was broken by another round of applause — and the TV cameras kept rolling. I was really disappointed the clapping wasn’t for me!
We made the little gate without seeming to annoy anyone, then skittered away down the track in the direction of St Andrews before we got shot! I was hoping it would now be an easy track down into St Andrews, but not so. About a quarter of a mile further on we had to climb a ladder stile to exit golf course territory. After walking through a tunnel of thorny bushes, the path descended all the way to the beach again. There we came across yet another At high tide please wait for tide to recede notices, but by then the tide was receding fast so it was no bother. There were some extraordinary distorted and eroded rocks on the beach — where oh where are my OU notes? We had to climb over quite a few boulders, then a bright green arrow painted on a rock showed us where to climb up on to huge rocks to pick up the coast path again. It started to rain, but it was so little it wasn’t worth putting on wet weather gear.
But it was enough to make the path slippery, the steps were uneven and we had to cross more stepping stones. Then another long flight of steps all the way to the top of the cliff once more — I didn’t get a round of applause this time! We met a couple wearing casual footwear, and they asked us how far it was to the golfing green. We described the path to them, so they decided otherwise and turned round.
The path wasn’t too bad after that, wider and a lot more even. It was a blessed relief, I must say. We came to a caravan site where there was a group of teenagers showing off as only teenagers know how. The one girl with them was being particularly stupid, so we ignored them as much as we were able and barged past since they were reluctant to get out of the way. Having worked with teenagers for so many years, I don’t find groups of them to be at all inhibiting. Show them that you’re not scared and they just melt away. We descended once more to the beach, but the steps were even and it wasn’t so far. The path went between two barbed wire fences — it was like being in prison. But we had reached St Andrews!
We walked along East Sands where the tide was, by then, well out. It is a lovely sandy beach. It was great to see families enjoying it — children playing in the water while their parents cooked over a fire on the rocks. We turned off the waterfront and came to our car parked near the stone pier.

That ended Walk no.164, we shall pick up Walk no.165 next time at the northern end of East Sands. It was twenty past eight, so the Walk had taken us ten hours. No wonder we were tired! We poured our tea, and while we were drinking it and changing out of our boots, it started to rain. This time it was heavy and really set in for the night — we had only just made it in the dry. Exhausted but exhilarated, we drove to a fish’n’chip shop in the town, then returned to our cottage in Craigrothie with our supper already cooked. I was all-in, and didn’t think I could walk the next day. My legs ached a lot and I kept getting cramp. Colin seemed to be okay, but then he is fitter than me.

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