Neuk view

Away to the east of the splendours of Edinburgh, north of the Firth of Forth, runs a coastline full of interest, not least the name, the East Neuk of Fife (Neuk means corner). 

A well-signposted coastal trail means you can walk right out to the corner in question, and on a recent weekend visit that was the highlight suggested by family members who live near Scotland’s capital.

Anstruther harbour

It started at the harbour in Anstruther, dominated by a busy RNLI lifeboat station. The volunteers are supported by a community which has cared for shipwreck victims since Elizabethan times, when the crew of one of the few surviving ships of the Spanish Armada made landfall there.

It’s a town of parts, Easter and Wester Anstruther, and Cellardyke, which have enjoyed the prestigious status of being Royal Burghs since the 16th century, and stories from their history are well-explained in a series of roadside boards.  

A Walk Along The East Neuk of Fife 1

A smaller community, Kilrenny, slightly inland, was included in the list of Burghs by accident in 1592 and spent the next century trying to escape because of the cost of maintaining privileges such as a more expensive local government.

Cellardyke harbour

Head east from Anstruther’s harbours and a street lined with old cottages brings you to Cellardyke, whose harbour still has lines to hang nets, although they’re more used by locals for drying the washing these days.

The harbour was once as busy as the neighbouring Anstruther but couldn’t cope with the huge fleets of the herring trade, and is now much less used.

Cellardyke pool

Cellardyke also has a large tidal swimming pool, created naturally by the geology of a reef just offshore but enhanced with some concrete walls.

Once out of the towns, the shoreline walking is mostly level but often very uneven, and supportive footwear is a must.

Neuk post

Along the way you’ll find regular posts displaying a reference number and a “What3Words” location, which are used by the Coastguard and lifeboat crews to help locate those who do twist an ankle or worse.

It means anyone calling for help can find the nearest post and then easily tell the emergency services how far along the miles of coastline they are, even if they’ve never walked it before.

Neuk box

The trail is well-maintained by the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust, with a light touch and bright ideas like these posts.  

Another is the way fish boxes, washed up along the beach, are used by the public for collecting litter like cans and bottles, and the flotsam and jetsam of the fishing industry, making the task of trust staff and volunteer litter-pickers much easier.  Maybe as a result the path was almost devoid of litter – result!

Neuk caves

To your left are mostly low cliffs, until you reach the Caiplie Caves, a striking sandstone formation once used as a shelter and place for prayer by pilgrims heading for St Andrews, and now a useful shelter in bad weather, almost whichever way the wind is blowing.

Out to sea is a view across to the far side of the Firth of Forth, and the Isle of May, the site of one of Scotland’s earliest churches and now a national nature reserve.

Neuk Crail

A few miles on the harbour town of Crail makes a perfect lunch stop, with the local fishing catch of crabs and lobsters available by the harbour.   

Crail lights

But as you walk into the town look out for this on your left, above the harbour.   Its colleague is to your right, less visible, down the slope: The pair are leading lights, helping guide boats returning in the dark along the safe route between the rocks into harbour.

The final couple of miles out to the Neuk itself starts with a long stretch through a caravan park, before you reach open country again.

Neuk pillbox

Enthusiasts for military history may be alerted by the concrete pillboxes peeping over the top of the low cliffs every now and then, that just out of sight is a huge, but now disused, naval airfield.   

Known variously while in service as HMS Bruce, HMS Jackdaw, RAF Crail and RNAS Crail, it boasts some of the best preserved Second World War military buildings in Britain.   You may catch glimpses of the control tower and hangars, and the runways are still there, too.

Neuk end

To your right, the Firth of Forth is changing into open sea as you reach the point, and on the land side this is marked by a low-built lighthouse, a radio mast, and other buildings.

But it is also a nature reserve, noted for a big variety of seabirds, and our walk back, once we were back on a wilder part of the coast, was entertained by the purring coo of eider ducks.  It was a long walk – close on 14 miles out and back to Anstruther – but well worth the effort.

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