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A Fishy Trail in Fife

A linear coastal walk through the villages of Fife's East Neuk.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 49ft (15m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Well-marked coastal path, 3 stiles

Landscape Picturesque fishing villages and extensive sea views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 371 St Andrews & East Fife

NO 613077NO 569034

Dog friendliness Good, but keep on lead near cattle

Parking On street in Crail

Public toilets Route passes plenty both in Crail and Anstruther

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1 From the tourist information centre in Crail, walk down Tolbooth Wynd. At the end turn right and continue to the garage, where you bear left (a sign says 'no vehicular access to harbour'). You'll now walk by the old castle wall to a lookout point, which gives you a good view of the picturesque harbour. Bear right and walk on to the High Street.

2 Turn left and walk along the road, passing the two white beacons, which help guide boats into the harbour. Turn left and walk down West Braes, following the signs for the Coast Path. When you reach Osbourne Terrace bear slightly left, go down some steps, through a kissing gate and on to a grassy track by the shore.

3 From here you follow the path as it hugs the shoreline. You should soon see cormorants perched on rocks to your left and will also get views of the Isle of May. Go down some steps, over a slightly boggy area, and continue walking until you reach two derelict cottages - an area known as The Pans.

4 Walk past the cottages and continue along the shore, then hop over a stone stile. You'll now pass flat rocks on the left, which are covered with interesting little rock pools. Cross the burn by the footbridge - you'll now be able to see the Bass Rock and Berwick Law on your left and the village of Anstruther ahead, and will soon reach some caves.

5 Pass the caves, then cross a little stone stile on the left-hand side and go over a footbridge. Your track is narrower now and takes you past fields on the right, then some maritime grasses on the left. Big stepping stones now take you to another stile, which you climb over to reach Caiplie.

6 Go through the kissing gate by the houses, follow the wide grassy track, then go through another kissing gate to walk past a field. The path now runs past a free-range pig farm and up to a caravan park.

7 You now continue along the shore, following the tarmac track to reach a play area and war memorial on the right. Maintain direction now as you enter the village of Cellardyke - often known as Anstruther Easter - and continue to reach the harbour. Pass the harbour and The Haven restaurant and continue walking along John Street and then James Street.

8 At the end of James Street maintain direction, then follow the road as it bends down to the left. You'll walk past a guiding beacon and will come into Anstruther's busy little harbour. You can now either walk back to Crail or take the bus which leaves from the harbour.

Scotland's James II described the East Neuk (nook) of Fife as 'a fringe of gold on a beggar's mantle.' This corner of the east coast is dotted with picturesque fishing villages, which nestle close together yet retain their own distinctive character.

Crail, where your trail begins, is perhaps the prettiest village, with a neat little harbour, which attracts many artists and photographers. It was once the largest fishmarket in Europe and, like all the East Neuk villages, used to trade with the Low Countries and Scandinavia; you can see the Dutch influence in the houses with their crow-stepped gables and pantiled roofs. Today Crail's main industry is tourism.

Further down the coast is Anstruther (known locally as 'Enster'), the largest and busiest of all the villages and home of the local lifeboat. Fishing has always been the focus of life here. The village was the capital of the Scottish herring trade and the harbour was once so busy that you could cross it by stepping over the boats. Look at the houses as you pass and you'll see that many of them have spacious lofts with a pulley outside - designed to store fishing gear and provide an area for mending the nets.

Fishing dominated the lives of people in the past and each of the East Neuk villages was a closely knit community. It was rare for people to marry outside their own village and women were as heavily involved in the work as the men. They prepared the fish, baited the hooks, mended the nets and took the fish to market for sale, carrying enormous baskets of herrings on their backs for miles. They also used to carry their husbands out to sea on their backs so that they could board their boats without getting wet.

Fishing has always had considerable dangers and many local superstitions are attached to the industry. Women are never allowed aboard when a boat is working, and it is considered unlucky to utter the word 'minister' on a boat - he had to be referred to as 'the fellow with the white throat' or 'man in the black coat' instead. Other words that have to be avoided are 'pig', 'rat' and 'salmon'. These are known as 'curlytail', 'lang-tail' and 'red fish' (or 'silver beastie') respectively. If these forbidden words were spoken on a fishing boat the men would cry 'cauld airn' (cold iron) and grab hold of the nearest piece of iron - even if it was just a nail in a shoe. It's the equivalent of touching wood and is meant to break the bad luck.

What to look for

The Lifeboat Station is often open to visitors. The local lifeboat, manned by RNLI volunteers, is regularly called into service and over 300 lives have been saved since one was first established here. The harbour is drained at low tide, so to be launched, it has to be pulled from the shed by a tractor and dragged to the water.

While you're there

The Scottish Fisheries Museum opposite the Lifeboat Station is full of information on the local fishing industry and tells its story from the earliest times to the present day. There are models of fishing boats and some old vessels in the former boatyard. You can also see a reconstruction of a fisherman's cottage and learn about the life of the fisherfolk.

Where to eat and drink

There is plenty of choice in Anstruther. Try Anstruther Fish Bar, on Shore Street by the harbour. Brattisanis, also by the harbour, sells great ice creams, while the Ship Inn sells bar meals. For more substantial meals, try the Dreel Tavern.

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