Thursday, July 05, 2007

Walk 167 -- Leuchars to Tayport

Ages: Colin was 65 years and 58 days. Rosemary was 62 years and 200 days.
Weather: Sunny and warm, clouding over later.
Location: Leuchars to Tayport.
Distance: 11 miles.
Total distance: 1397 miles.
Terrain: Concrete. Gravel tracks. Grassy paths. Sandy beach. Dunes. Woodland. Nearly all flat.
Tide: Out.
Rivers: No.99, Lead Burn. No.100, Scotscraig Burn. Both in Tayport.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: ‘Bell Rock Tavern’ in Tayport where Colin had their only real ale — Marston’s Burton Bitter — and I had a ginger beer.
‘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 Tayport where we parked at the harbour overlooking the Tay estuary. We walked through the town, buying pasties at a local butchers, to the bus stop where we had to wait twenty minutes for a bus to Leuchars.
At the end, we went to the pub which was very near our parked car. Colin was disappointed because they only had one very ‘run-of-the-mill’ beer on, so he only had a half. We drove on to the picnic site at the end of the Tay Bridge, and established that we can walk across it — that wasn’t clear from the map. We had some tea, then drove back to our cottage at Craigrothie.

The weather was much better for our Walk today, sunny and fairly warm — we were quite relieved. We had a look at the church in Leuchars before we left the village. It is an interesting shape on the outside, a bit like a wedding cake with a pepperpot on top! It was built in the 12th century, and has decorated and interlocked Norman arches on the outside. The inside is rather plain, apparently it has been ‘improved’ several times much to its detriment. I love the round Norman arches on a church, it is such a satisfying shape, somehow. The old Norman part at the far eastern end of the church is beautiful! But this church seems to be inside out, with the Norman arches on the outside instead of the inside!
We took the lane eastwards past the school. I thought the Scottish schools had started their Summer holidays, but apparently not so. We passed a property with an ornate gateway, and skirted round the boundary fence of the RAF base. We managed to find the path which took us round the end of the runway and into the forest. The engine noise of the jets about to take off was LOUD! It reminded me of my childhood days in Farnborough, and we were glad to walk away through the wood. But the noise pursued us — as a couple of jets took off I thought my eardrums would burst!
We came to the beach which was beautiful and remote. The tide was out so we started to walk along the sand — but it was too soft to walk comfortably. We moved further out towards the sea and for a while it became more solid underfoot, but then it got soft again and made our legs ache too much. So we returned to the dunes, and sat on one to eat our pasties in the sunshine. After all the cold and wet weather we have been experiencing recently, it was really pleasant to sit in the sun and feel warm!
We decided that the beach was too sinky, and so went into the dunes to look for the path which was marked on our map. It was a bit swampy — and hilly — and softy-sandy — and the path seemed elusive. We came across a notice warning us that there were ground-nesting birds in the undergrowth, so we had to avoid that area. We passed lots of beautiful dune flowers, including orchids — it was brilliant!
We also encountered a rusty dome and hadn’t a clue what it was. However, I was brought up near Aldershot, and had ingrained into me from a very early age NEVER to touch any weird-looking rusty object I found on the ground. So we took a photo of it and gave it a wide berth.
At last we found the path! It led us northwards into the forest — but that was where we encountered the flies! They were horrid — buzzing in our ears, eyes and trying to get inside our mouths. We hurriedly doused ourselves in ‘jungle juice’ and walked on as quickly as we could. We seemed to walk out of them fairly quickly, which was a relief. The woods turned out to be a lot more pleasant than we had anticipated. It had looked so artificial on the map with row upon row of conifer trees, but they are long-established and we found we were rather enjoying ourselves. Not all the trees were conifers, there was quite a variety although it was obviously a man-made forest — by no means ancient natural woodland. As well as the wild flowers we encountered — the roses smelt particularly gorgeous — we came across an interesting variety of fungi.
We crossed a footbridge and reached a picnic site where there were a few people about. But as always, as soon as we left the environs of the car park, we were completely on our own.
We were now on the official footpath-cum-cycleway, but further north it was not all that easy to follow. We found a log where we sat to eat our sandwiches.
Further north we came across an ice house — it is now a home to bats! We didn’t see any of them as it was the wrong time of day, but a notice told us it was now a protected site because of them living inside it. A board informed us:
Welcome to the Ice House. Built in the 19th century to store locally caught salmon, this stone building now forms a focal point for walkers and cyclists in Tentsmuir Forest. To keep the salmon fresh, ice was dragged here from ships in Tayport harbour and placed within the thick dark walls of the Ice House. In winter ice was also produced from the nearby ice ponds.
There was also what looked like a tombstone nearby, but it was so eroded and covered in moss we couldn’t read the inscription.
Eventually, with lots of twisting between trees, we got to the ‘corner’ where we turned West into the Tay estuary. We sat on a bench with a view across the estuary to Dundee and Monifieth to eat our chocolate. According to our map the official path led well within the forest, but we found we could walk on a dune path along the edge of the trees, then on the beach. The path led us past a warning notice of a gas pipeline underground, round a sports’ field, through a caravan site, and straight into Tayport. We were well pleased.
A board told us about Tayport:
Tayport began as a pre-Roman cluster of huts round a ferry terminal with no pier and a name, Ferry-Port-on-Craig, which suggests passengers and animals had to negotiate bare rocks.
By the mid-15th century, Ferry-Port-on-Craig had accumulated enough strategic significance for James II to build a castle, but subsequent eras ‘borrowed’ from it and no visible stone remains.
Ferry-Port-on-Craig became Tayport in 1846 when the railway arrived, complete with harbour and paddle steamers with railway lines on deck. Among the ferry’s most famous passengers was American President Ulysses S Grant, whose passion for engineering had led him to inspect the world-famous but doomed Tay Bridge in 1877. The ferry lasted until 1939, and the railway until the opening of the Tay Road Bridge in 1966.
Today’s Tayport sustains a robust community spirit, a quiet historic pride, and a landscape setting that embraces the estuary shoreline and Tentsmuir Forest and National Nature Reserve.
But not all the residents of Tayport are happy with this romanticised version of life in the town today! The next day we discovered the LAST BUS from Dundee to Tayport leaves Dundee just after half past three each afternoon! As one disgruntled passenger remarked, “They expect us all to be tucked up in bed with our cocoa by tea-time!” What kind of a social life is that, especially for the younger generations? In yesteryear it appears we could have taken a ferry from Tayport across to Broughty Ferry or even Arbroath, missing out Dundee altogether. That would have saved us miles of walking!
We were not able to walk the harbour arm because it was private property. We were not sorry! We were really quite tired. The harbour was full of expensive-looking private yachts, it no longer seems to be a working harbour. We watched a pair of swans with five growing cygnets — they have done very well. Then we came to our car which was parked on the harbour wall.

That ended Walk no.167, we shall pick up Walk no.168 next time on the harbour-side in Tayport. It was half past four, so the Walk had taken us six hours. We dumped our rucksacks and went to the ‘real ale’ pub which was nearby. But, unusually, we were not made to feel very welcome — it was as if we had intruded on a private meeting. There was only one beer on, and that was not very exciting. So we drank up quickly and left. We drove along to the Tay Bridge, just to establish that there is a footpath across it. Then we returned to our holiday cottage in Craigrothie.

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