Sunday, 16 April 2017

A Fine Walk in Fife: Aberdour to Burntisland

I don't know how many times I've seen the coastal villages of Fife flash past from a train window. I've walked the better known parts of the Fife Coastal Path in the East Neuk, but until yesterday I'd never appreciated the wonders just across the Forth Bridge.

We started our walk at Aberdour, a very pretty little village with its own (ruined) castle (Historic Scotland - open every day in summer), two excellent beaches and a beautifully kept station. From the village the path heads first to the smaller, rockier beach of Black Sands, then up to Hawkcraig Point. It's a car park now, but in the First World War it was used for hydrophone research. Around 4,000 navy personnel were trained in this tiny place - you can find out more about it at the fascinating Museum of Communication in Burntisland.

The Coastal Path then descends to Silver Sands, a wider stretch of beach with its own cafe. On this sunny Saturday there were lots of families having picnics and intrepid (wet-suited) swimmers braving the water - but still plenty of room for everyone, because this, thank goodness, is Scotland, not the south coast.

Onwards to Burntisland; the path is very well kept and easy, with spectacular views across the Forth to Edinburgh. Half way along there's an impressive waterfall, and everywhere there are flowers - bright yellow gorse, bluebells, blossom, daffodils. A heron flies low across the rocks.

Burntisland might be a little less picturesque than Aberdour, but it has its own Blue Flag beach, some lovely old buildings, the second oldest highland games in the world, and fairs on the green at Easter and throughout the summer. The Potter About Cafe on the High Street is one of the friendliest tea shops I've come across - the staff are very welcoming and helpful, the cakes are great, the prices are low, and the cafe is very much part of the town; it collects food for the local food bank, offers suspended coffees to those who need them, and sells a small selection of local crafts and cards.

There's a great little greengrocer's, Macauley's - winner of the Central Scotland Fresh Produce Provider of the Year 2016, and stockist of lots of local produce.

The Museum of Communication (see above) is highly recommended - its volunteers are very welcoming and hugely knowledgeable, and there's plenty to entertain children as well as adults (tin hats to try on, a World War I trench to climb into, buttons to press...)

The wonderful Burntisland Heritage Trust hosts an annual exhibition - this summer's will be focusing on Mary Sommerville (1780-1872), local resident, mathematician, astronomer and campaigner for women's suffrage. Sommerville College, Oxford, is named after Mary, and her face will appear on new plastic Scottish £10 notes later this year. The Trust also offers free heritage walks every Wednesday in July and August (more information on their website here).

And so, fortified by far too much cake, we walked back to Aberdour, meeting lots of enthusiastic dogs en route. We were back in Edinburgh in half an hour; this lovely walk really is on our doorstep, and what's more it's all accessible by train from Waverley Station. At the end of April the Artline Group (formed in 2015 to showcase the restored art and heritage buildings on the railway through Fife) is holding an Open Doors Weekend, with open studios and exhibitions of paintings, jewellery, poetry and artifacts, plus interesting stories of restoration, at the stations of Burntisland, Inverkeithing, North Queensferry, Ladybank, Cupar, Kinghorn and Aberdour. You can visit them all without the car - and if you buy a cheap day return ticket you can break your journey en route. More information here.

I love Edinburgh, but sometimes it's good to get away from the city. A day out across the water is a day well spent.

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