The fairways of Fife

Rest Day, 20th September: Clayton nr Leuchars

With Bob off and away, I reflected on another week in the company of another stranger who had become a good friend. We had a grand week and his company was certainly fun and always welcome. It also helped to have local knowledge in charge of Snickers and I learnt  much more than I expected about Scottish politics, even if my Sassenach ignorance left me saying “pardon” or “sorry” more than was normal. He left with my deepest thanks.

With chores to do, the day flew too fast and by the time I picked Sara up from the station I was wondering where on earth the day had gone. Sara and I had only met a couple of times, so we too should be classed as relative strangers. But for me the thought of getting to know someone new again was no longer daunting, even if I did have to smile politely when she slipped the clutch on Snickers as we drove away from station.

Stage 181, 21st September: Leuchars to Crail

Sun! Yes, the big round yellowy thing was hanging in the sky as I took a pavement walk to pass a sleepy RAF Leuchars. It wasn’t a particularly warming sunlight as the air was decidedly cool, but it was welcome nonetheless. The airbase was very quiet, even for a Sunday morning. It was as if everyone was hungover and having a good lie in. So I crept by and headed for St Andrews and for the land of golf.

St Andrews was positively heaving with Americans wandering the fairway of the 18th talking animatedly about a difficult position Tiger got himself into and how well he extricated his ball. I think they were talking about golf, but you never can be too sure. I  stopped to take a picture of the 18th myself and got chatting to a group who were over to watch the Ryder Cup later in the week at Gleneagles. I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to Americans throughout this journey. They have always been enthusiastic about where they are and what they hear. I ended up taking their picture standing on the famous Swilcan Bridge leading up to the green. I declined their kind offer of a return favour as I tend to get embarrassed doing touristy things.

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St Andrews was also full of students with maps in hand. Freshers week was on. Their confused but excited faces reminded me of my eldest daughter who was starting her university life at the other end of the country in Exeter. I hoped she was OK and sent her a quick text. She didn’t reply, so clearly she was fine. Indeed, there were so many people to watch in St Andrews. I could have sat for hours. But it was clearly obvious that the pretty people were out and about and that money wasn’t short in this part of the world. It didn’t feel quite real.

On leaving the town, reality returned and a proper rugged undulating coastal path came with it. I had little bits of everything: Small sandy beaches, rocky foreshores and shingle spells mixed themselves with low cliff paths. But one thing was with me all the way today and it was golf. Including the six St Andrews courses, I counted twelve today. Twelve within a twenty miles stretch of the coast? That must be a record.

Stage 182, 22nd September: Crail to Leven

Even more golf courses kept me company today but added to the immaculate fairways were a series of villages, all with their own harbour. I took loads of pictures, but knew that I would struggle to remember which picture was taken in which village. All the villages were pretty and all were competing for visitors. All were very tempting but none stood out as a favourite for me to dwell in.

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The coast path dipped around churches, cliffs and rocky outcrops, many of which were inaccessible at high tide. The tide favoured me and the high path diversions weren’t required. Hence I mainly stayed off-road along that proper coast path again. Nothing really took my breath away today, yet nothing disappointed me. Everyone I met was friendly, yet nobody was chatty. There were loads of walkers, but no hikers. The scenery was always pleasant but not what I would call spectacular. Everything was just gently interesting. Maybe, just maybe, I was spoilt a bit further North and West.

Stage 183, 23rd September: Leven to Kinghorn

I was beginning to wonder if Fife could actually support any more golf courses.  I wasn’t to be disappointed as I woke to the metallic ping of a driver launching another white ball skywards and along the fairway abounding the campsite at Leven. With this apart, the sheer number and density of golf courses just had to dwindle as suitable links land dissipated with every Southwest step up the Firth of Forth.

I soon escaped the rather peculiar prison like feel of a campsite trapped within an unbroken chain-link fence barring access to a pleasant sandy beach below. The coastline was gradually but surely becoming built up and busy as the Methil docks with its huge wind turbine drifted over my shoulder to be replaced by the former mining towns of Buckhaven and East Wemyss. The prettier village of West Wemyss came and went too quickly and enticing sandstone caves were fenced off with ‘danger’ signs.

Instead I was drawn to Dysart, a fully recognised conservation village and suburb of Kirkaldy, with its elegant Dutch influenced housing on the sea front. The whole village was nearing the end of a five-year regeneration project and had retained a delightfully individual character in an area which was beginning to become a little predictable.

From Dysart I was soon around the headland and into the long town or ‘lang toun’ of Kirkcaldy. For me the town arrived with a huge flour mill at the North end and curved gently around a sandy cove with a familiar array of shops and amenities providing what looked like a thriving central amenity town and hub for Fife. It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t dull either and for the perfect chickening reason that a good friend was born there and that I might get a slap, I wouldn’t dare say a nasty word about Kirkcaldy. At least I got to see Stark’s Park, Raith Rovers football ground too. Apparently they play in blue and white.

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