Friday, 27 February 2015
Dundee → Carnoustie
« Leuchars | Not walked »
A final walk of the week. Another tarmac trudge
There's a cycle path running due east out of Dundee all the way to Carnoustie. With the exception of a couple of detours we followed it all the way.
The first diversion was around the modern developments at Dundee Harbour. We passed the Frigate Unicorn, said to be the oldest UK-built ship still afloat; the ship was built during a period of relative peace and never had masts installed - instead, it has a strange and slightly flattened roof. We then crossed the Victoria Docks into a curious small shopping centre and office complex on the north side before rejoining the cyclists.
The development here is similar to that which we've seen in abandoned wharves elsewhere in the country, but doesn't quite match the usual vigour and arrogance. I don't think that's a bad thing.
Broughty Ferry came next, where we were welcomed by a flock of swans sitting in the middle of the road. All my previous knowledge of Broughty came from watching the comedy series "Bob Servant Independent" a couple of years ago. At the castle we met up with Mum once again, and all pushed on together along the prom through Monifieth, past the firing range at Buddon to reach the golf courses at Carnoustie.
It may have been possible to walk round the range via Buddon Ness but we'd seen a lone red warning flag flying when we passed through on the train in the morning and decided it was best to keep things simple rather than have to turn back after getting 90% of the way along the headland.
Notes for future walkers:
- The cycle path that follows the railway east out of Dundee runs through Dundee Docks. Between NO 419 308 and NO 433 310 cyclists are required to present photo ID and pedestrians are barred. There's easy access across the railway to a pavement running alongside the A92/A930.
Thursday, 26 February 2015
Leuchars → Dundee
Yesterday Mum did the rural, first half of the walk and left us for the tarmac of the second half. Today she had her coffee while we walked the rural starting leg and we picked her up for the closing tarmac trudge.
After passing Leuchars airbase (complete with shed for "Pipes and Drums" section) we crossed Tents Muir Common into Tentsmuir forest. Although it's said to be a stronghold of the red squirrel, the forest didn't reveal any of its inhabitants to us today.
It's still a stunningly beautiful walk, with plenty to see. At Tentsmuir Point we reached the mouth of the River Tay and turned west once more, soon finding the Harbour Café in Tayport where we fortified ourselves with coffee after collecting Mum. It's a great coffee shop, run as a local community enterprise. We'd highly recommend a short stop.
The highlight of the walk was next: the Tay Road Bridge. At a mile and a half, it's just a little shorter than the Forth Road Bridge but feels longer due to its arrow-straight alignment and lack of visual landmarks such as suspension towers.
Dundee was our target for the week and we'd intended to celebrate with a slice of the town's cake. Curiously the coffee shop we visited wasn't able to oblige; clearly there's a little work to be done yet in promoting the town's image.
All day I've been singing to myself Michael Marra's songs. Known as the Bard of Dundee, I'd seen him perform twice live — supporting Deacon Blue when I was a student in London, then just a couple of years ago headlining the second Solas festival. As we crossed the bridge the floodlights of Tannadice Park were visible on the skyline and "Hamish" (also known as "Grace Kelly's visit to Tannadice") looped round my head.
I'd hoped we'd have been able to celebrate crossing the river with a quick drink in Marra's favourite pub, the Taybridge Bar but alas time didn't allow. We listened to "Frida Kahlo's Visit to the Tay Bridge Bar" on the way back to our cottage instead.
Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Kingsbarns → Leuchars
Mum has joined us for the rest of the week, so today we took things slightly slower.
A delightful feature towards the start of the walk was the wooded glen of the Kenly Water. Snowdrops carpeted the glade, easily beating what we saw of the Cambo Estate yesterday (which is famed for its snowdrop collection).
The path kissed the edge of the village of Boarhills and gave us the opportunity to examine a doocot (dovecot) up close. Seemingly every farm in Fife has a ruined dovecot: a small building two storeys high with a sloping roof. Inside the walls are lined with nesting boxes for the meat supply.
We rejoined the coastline at Buddo Rock, another sandstone sculpture that put yesterday's caves at Cailpie to shame. Beyond the path got muddier and slipperier, with a number of climbs to the top of the cliffs. The geology remained fascinating, with plenty of stacks and isolated rock structures to look at, many of them named on the map such as the Rock and Spindle which to us looked more like a steam locomotive.
Eventually we reached St Andrews. Following the most coastal road meant we saw little of the town, instead passing by numerous college buildings before reaching the clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient.
Emma and I left Mum in a coffee shop in town while we zipped along the last five miles to Leuchars. The route we took was the surfaced cycle path that runs alongside the A91 and A919 through Guardbridge. The rain began to fall and the wind picked up once again, so there's not much to report.
Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Pittenweem → Kingsbarns
The Dawn Walk has become a feature of our walking weeks recently. Since we're staying in Pittenweem, this walk — when we get to leave the car behind and head out directly from our front door — was the natural choice.
And what a choice. The sun rose fifteen minutes after we set out, sparking light to the sky and silhouetting the Isle of May out in the Firth of the Forth. By the time we were in the next settlement (Anstruther — pronounced "Enster" in these parts) the show was over but the rest of the day remained ahead of us.
Halfway between Anstruther and Crail — the final two links in the East Neuk chain — the rolling landscape abruptly changes to reveal sandstone stacks and caves beside the path. The Caiplie Coves are well worth visiting, and looked stunning in the rich sunlight of this winter morning.
Crail itself feels like "just another" East Neuk village, but don't let that put you off. Frankly all of these villages are stunning and charming, full of cottages with stepped gable ends and open front doors welcoming strangers and locals alike. We certainly want to return.
The westerly wind propelled us all the way to Fife Ness where we sat for an early lunch. Off the headland a couple of dolphins provided a suitable demonstration of dexterity in choppy waters.
The Ness is the furthest east you can go in Fife; it marks the point at which the Firth of the Forth gives way to open sea and our way forwards switched from east to north. Today that meant battling gale force winds which we were sheltered from only briefly at Cambo, but all the way the light was stunning.
Monday, 23 February 2015
Lower Largo → Pittenweem
Lower Largo – Earlsferry – Elie – St Monan's – Pittenweem: a chain of fishing villages forms the heart of the East Neuk (pronounced "nook") of Fife.
Between the villages, a chain of castles and ruins.
Neither of these were the chains I was most looking forward to though. Those were the chains of the Elie Chain Walk.
We'd planned meticulously and arrived at the start of the chain walk an hour before low tide. Coming near the start of the walk we knew we'd be ready for challenge.
The one thing we couldn't plan for was the weather. While dry, a fiercely chopping wind was howling in from the south-west. Standing at the point where the paths split, huge waves were crashing over the rocks. Disappointed, we took the high road.
The danger wasn't over there; the wind was so strong that we were blown off our feet at the top of the hill, but I think we made the right decision.
Notes for future walkers:
- Just south of Newark Castle, a sign explains how to tell whether or not the low tide route is safe. This is not where the paths diverge; climb up to the castle — the paths split there. The issue is the short stretch of intertidal path beneath St Monans church; it is likely you could take the low path route and hop the wall into the graveyard if the path is inundated.
- Be sure to check out St Fillan's Cave in Pittenweem. It's a little way up Cove Wynd, which is the narrow alley opposite the telephone box on the harbour.
Sunday, 22 February 2015
Kirkcaldy Harbour → Lower Largo
There's a great Sunday bus service in Fife so we were able to make an early start today.
Dropping down to the beach at Pathhead Sands we were greeted ("Y'alright, pal?") by a group of teenagers huddled round a fire beneath the crags. With music playing and a few discarded cans at their feet, they were clearly hanging onto Saturday night but didn't once make us feel threatened.
Further on we were the threat to someone else who'd not let go of the night: standing still just a few metres away a Roe deer stared at us from his exposed position before darting into the safety in Chapel Wood.
The rest of the walk has been a real mixture. Just before West Wemyss a beautiful mosaic marks the point where an old tunnelled incline rises up to a disused coal mine. On the other side of the next village (East Wemyss) is a cluster of caves, one of which was previously used as a dovecot.
I don't think we missed much in Buckhaven, Methil and Leven. The towns looked like a smaller version of Kirkcaldy with a little more class: a tall wind turbine on the dockside marks Fife Energy Park and a sign of hope for the future.
Although we'd left the car in Leven we pushed on a little further to the next pair of twin villages: Lundin Links and Lower Largo.
Notes for future walkers:
- Just west of Ravenscraig Castle, drop down to the beach and walk beneath the castle, picking up the formal path at the dovecot to its east.
Saturday, 21 February 2015
Aberdour → Kirkcaldy Harbour
Today's walk has been a progression: from leisure to labour, rural to urban, Silversands to Kirkcaldy.
We've seen two sides to Fife; the sun coaxed people out to enjoy the sands of the Kingdom's beaches, despite the biting cold. Plenty of times we've read about "fond memories of holidays by the sea" in this county. The number of people watching seals on the rocks near Seafield Tower suggests there are more memories being made even today.
The towns of Kirkcaldy and Burntisland later provided a stark contrast. The dockside at Burntisland was overgrown and eerily deserted; once past the boarded-up buildings on the outskirts of the town we found Kirkcaldy's newly-constructed promenade to be just as grim, with its whitewashed sea wall looking like an anti-tank defence. This is the other face of the county: hardworking, functional and gritty. But there were signs of hope; the large Carr's flour mill on the edge of the town centre was running, and we had a cheery welcome at a slightly eccentric cafe that offered pottery painting and family fun, along with its hefty homemade cakes.
The people of Fife are said to be very proud of their Kingdom. We haven't quite got the measure of them yet, but hopefully that will change this week as we make our way round to the Tay.
Notes for future walkers:
- At the point where the path meets the road down to the Forth View Hotel on Hawcraig Point, take the stone steps to the top of the headland rather than following the road to the disused pier: the path round the foot of the cliffs implied by the map doesn't exist.
- Instead of following the formal route along Burntisland High Street we took the dock road to south of and parallel to the railway.
- It's possible to walk the two miles from Burntisland to Pettycur on the beach at low tide; there are two exit paths that could be used if you get your timings wrong.
Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Eyes wide open
I first noticed them last Tuesday. There were four of them. On Wednesday there were five, then eight on Thursday and nine yesterday.
It took a fresh fall of snow for me to open my eyes.
I've been doing the same walk first thing in the morning for much of the past six months. It's become very familiar, but last Tuesday's snowfall transformed the scenery. Besides naturally turning everything white, it revealed that I'd been the first human along the path that morning. A little while later I saw the animal footprints, and following their trail into the field I saw the deer.
Here just before the track dives into the woods then crosses the thundering motorway, I've seen a small herd of deer hidden in the hollow of a field every time I've walked this way since.
Have they always been there? It's only in the past week or so that the lengthening day has meant it's been light enough to walk this way without a torch. Do they overnight in the field then take cover in the woods during the day?
For now I'll look out for them each morning. And I'll remember to open my eyes a little more on this wakening walk.
Sunday, 1 February 2015
Both of the gigs we went to at Celtic Connections are now on iPlayer. And you can spot us in the audience in each one!
Rab Noakes may be a legendary solo artist, but he's not got the discipline of timing required to perform with a full orchestra. On the other hand, Fiona Hunter's vocals on the first two tracks are stunning. My biggest disappointment is that the camera barely picked out cellist Su-a Lee, who seemed to be enjoying herself more than anyone else on stage.
Perhaps the more faithful recording is of Saturday night's gig at the Old Fruitmarket with Le Vent du Nord. This is world music at its joyous best. We certainly hope to see this Québéois quartet again. (But I still think the violinist looks like he's doing the wee-wee dance.)
You have about two weeks to watch the shows before they expire from iPlayer. Go get 'em!
Sunday, 18 January 2015
Le Vent du Nord: Misses et Messieurs
The first half of Thursday night's gig (the second was the reconstruction of GRIT) featured a number of Celtic Connections artists contextualising Martyn Bennett's work: by performing covers of his songs, or the originals that he'd sampled. The odd-one-out was Le Vent du Nord, a Québécois quartet whose close harmonies and infectiously joyful playing won us over immediately.
So last night we made our way to Glasgow's Old Fruitmarket to see the group's headline set with a festival twist: the four Messieurs were joined by seven Misses, each virtuosos in their own right from the Scottish folk scene.
I'd seen only one of them before: Emily Smith so it was unusual to be at a unique gig listening to musicians I didn't know singing in languages I couldn't understand (French and Gaelic). The underlying music however was delightful, as were the expressions on the faces of the performers. A particular highlight was when Megan Henderson from Braebach — tonight playing in a backing string quartet — took to the centre of the stage to accompany the others on tap.
Tonight's performance is another that the BBC recorded, so look out for it on iPlayer Alba in about a fortnight.