For many years I used to holiday in Leven every summer. I got to know the area quite well, and although we could see Ruddons Point and Shell Bay at Earlsferry I had never walked that far round, our day walks usually going as far as Lower Largo. One of the problems with coastal walks is that there is so much to see and do that I always find myself stopping all the time. Hardly a bad thing though.
It was only last year that I heard of the Chain Walk at Elie, and it immediately went on my “to do” list. Indeed it went just about to the top, and would have been done a long time ago, had all the chains not been stolen. Fife Council have fully replaced it so I got on my bike and headed out to it.
Last year I cycled from St Andrews to Markinch. On that trip I came across the A915, and found the constant climbing uphill to be too much, my knee gave out somewhere about Methil. This time I would start at Markinch and go in the opposite direction, hopefully being assisted by the wind as well.
All went well and I passed through Leven, past Silverburn, and at Lundin Links I followed the sign for Lower Largo. While scanning the map I got chatting to two recently retired men from Leven, and they told me that I would be able to get my bike along the old railway line which forms part of the Fife Coastal Path.
Almost immediately I came across a slight problem, a series of locked gates. While kissing gates allowed foot access, bikes couldn’t get through. I managed, with some difficulty to lift the bike over, using a technique where the bike was lifted upside down, balanced on the gate, and rotated forwards to be placed on it’s wheels. Farther along I found notices stating that quads and motorbikes were not allowed here, which explained the locked gates.
About a kilometre beyond Lower Largo, Carrick Villa stands alone overlooking Dumbarnie Links Nature Reserve. Recently the beach was incorrectly listed as a nudist beach, which led to one man ending up in court. Also part of the nature reserve are two WW2 pill-boxes, one of which can be accessed by the public, the other is now sealed as a bat colony.
There were numerous seabirds here, however as I made my way along to the pill-boxes a large raptor took off from just ahead of me. I could hear a bell ringing so I assumed it was an escaped falconers bird, and on asking around it appears it may have been a Lanner Falcon, a native of Africa and Southern Europe. Definitely not local.
Entering the pill box I was almost hit by swallows bursting out of the door. Inside there were a number of nests and some very disturbing graffiti…
The old railway line carries on from here, past the anti-tank blocks and the ruins of Mount Pleasant to the main A917.
I was going to cycle directly to Elie, but I noticed the minor road to Earlsferry was signposted as part of the Fife Cycle Network, so I went that way instead. Through Earlsferry then and on to Elie, a delightful little village. I dug out the GPS, which indicated that the chain walk was back in Earlsferry. I about turned and headed off, and had soon found a sign indicating the way to the beach at NT 48057 99647. I quickly passed the golf course and was on the beach within a few minutes.
With the bike locked up I began to make my way along the shore. I said earlier that coastal walks had so much to see on them, this was no exception. As soon as I set off I could hear a strange crying noise. I set off across the rocks, to find the source of the noise. It soon became apparent that it was a grey seal on a rock just off the coast. As I took a few photos another seal popped up just in front me. It checked me out for a few minutes and was then gone. I took the hint and headed off too.
The path begins along the beach at the western end.
A path can be seen heading towards the rocks, leading to a sign at Grid NT 46846 99830.
This details that there are eight chains, running either vertically or horizontally, and that you should be mindful of the tides. I’d already checked the tide times and my arrival was pretty much bang on for low tide. The weather was good, the tide was out, everything was perfect. Time to get started!
Chain No1 runs horizontally into a gully, known as MacDuffs Cave Inlet. I found this one tricky, as I’d just applied sun cream and my hands were slipping on the new chains. I put on a pair of leather gloves and this helped immensely. There are some steps cut in the rock and the technique here is to move along , crab-like, using the footholds. This chain then angles down and finished with a short length which hangs free.
Chain No2 is on the other side of the inlet and starts with a mirror image, a hanging rope chain. It then angles upwards and round the rock.
The way ahead is not always apparent and the next chains aren’t always visible. I made my way across the next rocks to a pebbled beach. At the far end, beyond some impressive basalt columns, the next chain is visible in a v-shaped cleft in the rock.
Chain No3 rises vertically to the cleft in the rock. At this point there is a metal pole to hold on to.
Chain No4 immediately drops down in two sections, the first section has small links, the second section has larger links, and there are footholds cut into the rock.
I took a slip here as the bottom is strewn with loose rock. This chain ends in a small but impressive inlet, next to basalt colums known apparently as the “organ pipes”. Moving on here, this section is flatter, known as “The Flairs”, and an old searchlight battery building stands on the cliffs above. It looks like should the tide come in there would be a reasonable escape route up here.
There are white deposits in the rock which, from a distance, fool the eye into thinking they are chains glinting in the sun. The real chain can be seen further on…
Chain No5 is a straightforward vertical climb up to another pole which acts as a handrail, and Chain 6 commences immediately from here, dropping down quite spectacularly in two stages, with an intermediate pole part-way down.
There are good footholds all the way down, which are useful as this is a fairly big drop. At the bottom is a small gap and crossing this leads to Chain No7, a horizontal chain which leads towards the mouth of a small cave. The far end of the cave is full of empty plastic bottles and old polystyrene, washed there by the tides which obviously come right up here. No refuge from the tides here then!
At the other end of this inlet is Chain No8- the final chain. It’s a short length of vertical chain hanging from a silver pole.
The path then continues over the rocks, ending at a carbon copy of the sign at the other end, at NT 46353 99741.
I carried on another few metres and clambered down to another larger cave which is worth a visit. Having come all this way I thought it would be a waste to walk along the cliff top, so I did the chain walk again- in reverse. Knowing the route it took me about twenty minutes, not including the time I waited on a school group clearing one of the sections.
I then cycled north, through beautiful well kept villages such as Kilqonquhar where a gardener was tending the flowers around the village bus shelter.
Cycling to St Andrews is certainly easier than cycling from it, with a breeze and the gradient assisting me it was quite enjoyable dropping down and seeing the coast open up ahead of me. A quick potter round St Andrews and I was off again, taking the cyclepath to Leuchars. The last time I cycled this route I made the mistake of going on the road, which is far too busy with traffic for an enjoyable cycle. The wide pavement is designated a mixed use path and is far safer, and it wasn’t long until I was at Leuchars Station. I could see the semaphore signals were off. For once my timing was perfect and the London train drew in within minutes. I settled in for the short journey to Edinburgh, thankful that the new railway line meant I would be soon home with my feet up, their coastal itch for now scratched.
A great reference for the Chain Walk is also at http://albertlawrie.co.uk/