April can be an odd month weather wise. In the week leading up to the coach trip with Glasgow HF Outdoor Club, he weather had been fairly hot for the time of year, before turning steadily for the worse. Cold east winds chased the heat away so that by the time Saturday rolled around it was chilly with a forecast of rain. Not the ideal forecast for a day beside the seaside. Buckets and spades were struck from the kit list, as were the sunglasses and suncream.
Just over thirty of us headed up to Fife on the coach, and three walks were to take place, a shorter walk from Largo to Elie, and two longer walks of around 10 miles from Leven to Elie. I was leading one of these which was to include Scotland’s Via Ferrata, the Elie Chain Walk. Even though I was leading this I had never walked the whole way, having only did sections at either end. The short section from Dumbarnie Links to the start of the Chain Walk was to me, as yet a mystery.
Our coach dropped us off on the front at Leven, and two groups set off on our respective parallel paths along the coast. I stuck initially with the road to get to our first checkpoint- public toilets! Having gotten this important operation out of the way we hit the beach and began to head along the coast. I used to walk along this beach as a child and the trip from Leven to Largo would take hours it seemed. Stopping off at old military bunkers and rock pools, or playing in the sand and jumping on the old anti-tank defences, a short walk with an elastic timeframe. Now, leading a group of walkers who had no interest in playing in rock pools, despite me wanting to, it is easily done in under an hour.
Navigation on the Fife Coastal Path can be fairly straightforward for most of the time. We kept the sea on our right and the land on our left and followed the signposts. We passed through Largo, past Alexander Selkirk’s house and the odd looking totem pole which decorates a small garden on the front. At the far end of the village a yacht regatta was in full swing, and we made this our first stop of the day. At Largo we met up with David, another club member who lives nearby. Club members come from far and wide and this was a rare home fixture for him.
We set off again, firstly along the beach, then onto the high water coastal path which follows the old railway line to Dumbarnie Links nature reserve before it weaves along through dunes, and on past two more relics of the war. These defensive bunkers hold a commanding view along the coast, although they now serve a more peaceful purpose, serving as a nesting place for swallows and a roost for bats. The path now undulates along the top of the sand and marram grass dunes. The area is teeming with bird life. We are accompanied at a wary distance by a Stonechat, while further on Lapwings cavort in the air.
Before reaching Ruddons Point the path suddenly turns inland. The way is barred by a small tidal basin and at low tide the Cocklemill Burn. Two footbridges help you cross without wading. This area is littered with tidal debris, and is regularly scoured by the sea, giving it the look and feel of a piece of semi-derelict industrial wasteland. Up ahead, tucked into the trees are the C party, already having lunch. It’s a decent spot, sheltered from the wind and affording us a view back along the route we have just come. The cloud has lowered now, and Largo Law has disappeared into the murk.
The rain paid us a fleeting visit as we walked through Shell Bay caravan park. At the end of the park we pick up the coastal path again, and it’s not long before we see a small path branch off downhill to the start of the Chain Walk. A quick inspection reveals that the tide is still too high, there’s no way we can do it as a large channel of surging water lies in our path. As we have a fair bit of time on our hands I suggest we go along the clifftop coastal path before approaching it from the other end, and we agree to give it a try. Some of the group decide to leave and carry on with the other party, as it could be a bit more risky than they thought.
Now down to five, from the original ten, we approached from the Elie side. The tide is still in, but I think it’s passable. I set off along the horizontal chains, the slack causing me to hang back from the rock. It’s hard going, the waves rushing at my feet. I’m fully aware that should I lose my grip I’m heading for a small narrow channel where the tide is pushing and pulling, and my equipment would make it difficult to swim. I grip the chain and shuffle along, before finally planting my feet on the shingle. he rest of the group follows on behind, until one by one we are all across. The rest of the walk is a lot more straightforward, vertical chains being far easier to handle than horizontal ones. The rocks are still wet though, and its not all plain sailing, with plenty of scope for slipping if we aren’t careful. By now the tide has gone out sufficiently that we can walk along a short section which lies at the foot of columns of basalt. The pebbles here are black when wet, drying to grey, and they make a strange cracking sound as the tide moves them around, rolling around in the sea as though trapped in a huge washing machine. Having negotiated all the chains bar one, we found ourselves at the channel which first blocked our way. It’s now just passable, and our patience is rewarded as we negotiate it and gather at the sign marking the end of the Chain Walk.
At this point we are joined by a group which followed hard on our heels, and discover that they are led by Jamie Smith, club development officer for the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, of which Glasgow HF are affiliated. We chat for a few minutes, and after taking a few photos of his group to email to him later, we are on our way along the cliff tops for the second time, passing more remnants of the Second World War. Much of these defences were built by Polish troops, and as we pass through Elie I spy on an impressive plaque gifted to the town by Polish paratroops. The promised rain puts in a brief appearance, but too late to dampen our spirits, and we march on.
Having had to wait for the tide we are now tight for time. The coach is due for a five o’clock departure, leaving only time for a quick beer as the football results roll in, in a bar decorated with photos of the town when the railway was still here. Perhaps it will return. I’m sure I will.