Fife Coastal Path: Leven to Lower Largo

When I was younger, family holidays were spent in Fife. For the two weeks of the Glasgow Fair, along with what seemed like most of Airdrie, we would pile on to a coach and head for the coast, as in the mid 1970’s and early 1980’s few people owned their own car. Without a car much of the time was spent out walking, to Silverburn estate and it’s abandoned house and walled gardens, or to the ruined Lundin Tower, hidden away on the edge of Lundin Wood. Other days would be spent in Letham Glen, with it’s sunken gardens (once open air swimming pools), wishing well and various animals, including for many years a three legged deer, which lived far longer in the park than it could have survived in the wild. On one occasion the park was packed with people, the bandstand surrounded by people trying to see Hercules, the famous bear, wrestling with it’s owner Andy Robbins on the stage. This wouldn’t happen today of course, for a number of reasons. Health and safety for one thing, and the demolition of the bandstand being another. 

A bear called Hercules

Many of the streets in Leven were as familiar to me as the ones at home, visiting year upon year. Once, when we were walking from the caravan park up towards the chip shop on Scoonie Road, we witnessed a Dalek, yes, a DALEK, coming along the pavement on the other side of the road. Open mouthed we watched as it passed by, revealing as it went a hatch and a wee pair of legs propelling it along. 

Leven beach

Then there was the beach. Many hours were spent there playing in the long grass or digging in the sand. At least once every trip we would walk along the shore to the village of Lower Largo, famous as the birthplace of Alexander Selkirk, the real life inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Over the years I’ve been back to Leven and to Largo, but I hadn’t walked this stretch of beach in around 25 years. I decided to put this to rights and headed off by train to Markinch, and then by bike for the last few miles through Milton of Balgonie and Windygates, passing the Diageo distillers which mark the outskirts of Leven. I passed through a side street, home to Dorianos shop. Until only a few years back his distinctive ice cream van sat on the front. Sadly I haven’t seen it for a while. There have been big changes here in recent years. The power station is now gone, the bus station has been modernised, and like the rest of Scotland, Woolworths is now a poundshop. Time has not been kind to the town centre, with many shops boarded up. I didn’t linger. 

The caravan park of yesteryear is no more. The wee shop which sold milk and bread is gone, and the hotch potch of caravans is now replaced with neat rows of identical green ones. The easy access to the beach or the golf course is also gone, a wire fence surrounds the perimeter. Not as friendly as it once was. 

A threatening sky

I locked up the bike and made my way down onto the beach. For the last few years it has had blue flag status, losing it earlier this year. Signs posted nearby warn that dogs are banned from here during the summer, but the dogs can’t read. I wonder if their owners can. Hopefully it will recover it’s blue flag, and that the dog muck, litter and broken glass of my youth will be consigned to history’s pedal bin. I made my way along through the marram grass, pausing to subtly withdraw a geocache from it’s hiding place while a party of golfers argued over which hills they could see across the Forth. This is part of the Fife Coastal Path, and at low tide you can walk along the beach, while at high tide you can walk along the edge of the golf course. Having seen some of the shots from the golfers a few minutes previously I thought the beach the safer option. North Berwick beach… 

 

Anti tank defences

 

Still in place 70 years later

This part of the coast is lined with concrete blocks, designed to keep the Nazis at bay. 70 years after they were installed they remain, and 25 years after I last did so, I jumped from one to another, like giant stepping stones. How I managed when I was smaller I’ll never know.

Inside the bunker

Pillbox

 

Passageway

As I approached Lundin Links Golf Club I could see what I had come to see, a pair of machine gun bunkers from the Second World War. I had wondered if they had perhaps been demolished or bricked up, but they were still here. Like Wagon Wheels, they were smaller than I recalled, was that because I had grown or was the sand perhaps higher? Like the town centre, time hadn’t been kind, the concrete cracked in places. One bunker was almost completely blocked by sand, but I managed to get into the other with little difficulty. Sand, rubbish and graffitti: no surprise there. I was surprised at the tiny hole for a machine gun. It would have a very limited arc of fire, I would be surprised if both bunkers could interlock fire. Thank goodness it never saw battle. 

This stretch of beach would be covered by machine gun fire

The Wagon Wheel effect seemed to apply to the rocks as well. We used to spend ages here looking in the rock pools, slipping on the damp weed as we went. I photographed a few seabirds, while looking in vain for seals.

Before I knew it I was at the harbour, looking at the hotel with it’s backdrop of the old railway viaduct. Small boats lay beached on the bank, waiting for the returning tide to re-float them. 

Lower Largo Harbour

Normally I’d have a wander through the village, but I had one eye on the tide, so didn’t want to hang around. I set off uphill, looking for the path down to the beach, where I could make my way back. The sky was darkening now, but the beach was still busy, behind me a few Tornadoes from RAF Leuchars were like me, heading home. Going faster than the speed of sound, I thought they might edge it.

Weather warning- expect Tornadoes

I made my final call of the day, the remains of the old Shell House which is just off the front. This used to be quite a magnet for visitors, but only a few walls remain.

The Shell House

With the rate at which the town is changing who knows if anything will remain on my next visit. Apparently the local council are planning on turning Silverburn estate into a crematorium. I look forward to visiting the pick-your-own fruit farm just downwind of it…

4 Responses to Fife Coastal Path: Leven to Lower Largo

  1. Isobel Loughridge says:

    Like you I used to spend the Glasgow Fair in Leven. I was there during the fifties and sixties. We lived in Coatdyke then Airdrie. I am sure that to begin with we travelled by train. We had the added incentive that my father had been born there.
    I have lived for the last forty or so years in Aberdeen. Family history research took me back to Leven recently and as you say it is much changed. I have really enjoyed looking at your photos of the landmarks. I had told my husband many times of the idyllic summers spent there.
    First thing in the morning you would gauge the day’s weather by looking at Largo Law. Evenings were spent walking along the beach to Lundin Links or walks in Letham Glen. I always thought it would be magic to stay in the hotel at Lundin Links. On our recent visit we went for dinner. I suspect it too has changed.
    However Lundin Links and Lower Largo have preserved their charm. The locals I questioned about family history were unbelievably helpful. It was like being home in Airdrie.

  2. Jim Cassidy says:

    Glad this brought back happy memories Isobel. I have a book somewhere with old black and white photos of Leven and it’s surprising how much of that seems more familiar to me than it is now.
    The caravan park, the power station, Woolworths and the bus stands have all gone,retail parks are creeping in, but there are still spots which have hardly changed at all. It’s fun trying to find them though.

  3. Sheila & Dee says:

    Thanks for lovely photo of Shell House remains! We both have happy memories of same …

    • jester1970 says:

      I have a book somewhere with photos of old Leven, which If I recall correctly has photos of the Shell House in all its glory. If I ever find it I’ll try and post some of the photos.
      Cheers,
      Jim

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