The Fatdog and I had a glorious day on the Fife Coastal Path on Saturday with the walking taking a backseat to the great weather and an opportunity to use the camera a bit more than normal. Starting off from Lower Largo, the home of Alexander Selkirk on whom it is thought Defoe based the book Robinson Crusoe, we headed off across a vast expanse of “deserted” beach to see what adventure would come our way.
The way the Fatdog launched herself onto the beach suggested that the deep mid-winter lull in our walking programme had been too long a break. She charged across the damp sand tormenting the local molluscs, rattling them round with her teeth before spitting them out again. After a fruitless few moments attempting to remove the hard packaging she decided that she preferred her moules a la marinière and went looking for a stick to play with…they were so much more reliable. As FD searched for a decent lump of driftwood I looked along the broad expanse of beach to the distant headland, Ruddons Point. From the map I knew we would be travelling past the point and across Shell Bay to Kincraig Hill where, perched on the high cliffs, we would look down on the coastal town of Elie.
This was my second visit to the Fife Coastal Path, a walking trail following the Fife Coast from the Forth Rail Bridge at Inverkeithing to the Tay Bridge just across the River Tay from Dundee. Today’s walk would be a round trip of about 12km from Lower Largo to (hopefully) somewhere near Elie and back again. We started from the car park at the east end of Lower Largo immediately taking to the beach to make the most of the low tide.
The Fatdog was by now even happier than a few minutes before, she had found a stick…thousands of them! Unfortunately fatdogs are not particularly decisive when faced with choice and will happily spend all day dithering over the selection process. I left her to her happy conundrum and strode off across the sand to the nearest rocks looking for something to photograph. It was a perfect January day with a low, strong, sun and deep shadows, perfect for someone as inept as me with a camera in hand. All I had to do was take enough photographs and at least one or two should be half presentable. At least I had the bag for the job.
My new backpack is a Kata, a pack designed for camera equipment but which, with some minor modification to the Velcro held internal panels, is ideal for carting around basic walking gear as well as the camera and spare lens. It certainly provides a much improved ease of access to the equipment compared with my hill packs. I can’t see me using it in the wilds but will be ideal for low level walks. J tells me it’s the one favoured by the paparazzi. I pondered over this wondering whether I was liable to be pursued by less than bright celebrities demanding to rip offending film out of my digital camera? While my photography could certainly be considered offensive, mainly by photographers, I was now unsure whether I had to stake out a hill, waiting for something to happen, or whether I was to scream up beside hillwalkers on a trail bike whilst sticking a camera lens in their face bawling out the usual pleasantries like…
“C’mon luv, this way…give us a smile!”
…which, on the whole, might be a bit of a mistake if it’s a bunch of beer swilling, hairy a***d, ice climbers, with paparazzi dissecting implements.
I shook myself out of my musings and looked back across the rocks to Lower Largo.
The Fatdog was by now digging furiously having developed her own game of “bury the stick…then dig it up 2 seconds later”. It’s a fast moving game but I’m buggered if I can work out the rules.
We moved on. As the rocks started to run out we hit the “boulderfield” and what appeared to be the remains of some type of anchorage.
“Maybe it’s where they chain the paparazzi before they stone them to death.” I considered gloomily. This is Fife after all. I began to think the glamour of this photography thing was getting to me…just a wee bit. Then I spotted the concrete bunker up in the Dunes…and a few minutes later we were admiring the remains of coastal defences from previous wars.
While I’m sure the bunker would have functioned admirably I’m not so sure about the single line of concrete blocks which ran from a few hundred metres inland across the dunes and straight out to the low tide mark. It didn’t manage to stop this irritating ELF (Evil Little – use whatever F word comes to hand) on his incredibly noisy putt-putt from blitzkreiging his way up and down the quiet serenity of the beach, so I have my doubts about its ability to hinder a full blown sea bourn invasion. It was a good 30 minutes before he gave up his mindless assault and thankfully disappeared.
Spot the Fatdog tracks, my tracks and the ELF tracks.
Near the end of the bay the path veered off the beach, through the dunes and over a series of bridges crossing a tidal stream. On the crest of the dune a wooden signpost leaned heavily, all 3 of its arms carrying the same destination…Fife Coastal Path. Given that there were only three possible routes I struggled a bit with the usefulness of this particular sign but I liked it anyway, no matter if its existence was a bit superfluous.
As I photographed the sign two very unusual birds with exotic plumage flapped across the sand to the waves beyond.
I must admit I would never have associated this area with kite surfing but that’s what these two guys were up to. A third appeared from the direction of the bridges, board in hand. We chatted for a good 10 minutes and I discovered that when a decent westerly is blowing this particular stretch provides ideal conditions for the sport. The down side is that the water quality is awful. Still, you’re not liable to make so many mistakes knowing what awaits one false move. I’d hoped to take photos on the way back, but unfortunately they’d gone by that time. I had to make do with a shot of a piece of disassociated fabric fluttering above a dune.
We had reached the eastern limit of Largo’s long, sweeping bay and crossed through a gap in a narrow band of pines which ran along the headland towards Ruddons Point. The scenery changed dramatically. Instead of a continuation of the beach and dunes we found ourselves in a well tended caravan park. At this point the coastal path appears to follow roads within the park but with numerous well worn trails through the managed dune grass reserve between the caravans and the shore, we chose a path at random and legged it away from civilisation in the general direction of Shell Bay.
The sand held rhythmic patterns of wave movement in between the lines of black rock streaking the shore. Dramatic shadows were cast by the low sun with individual grains of sand gleaming brightly beside dark dipping troughs.
Shell Bay was alive with sea birds but the glare from the low winter sun was making it impossible to determine individual species. At the east end of the bay the Fatdog had at last found a supply of fresh water in the form of a fast running, shore bound, stream. It had been a long, salty, couple of hours for a creature who prefers to “fuel up” at the start of a walk.
The path now climbed gently out of Shell Bay towards the start of Kincraig Hill. To our left recently ploughed fields were ready for the coming year’s crops and only metres to our right waves crashed and sprayed over dark gnarled rocks. Once again out came the camera and the Fatdog and I clambered down the sandy slope to “catch a wave”.
The Fatdog looked at me reproachfully.
Looking back across Shell Bay.
You may have noticed that I spent a fair bit of time with camera in hand. A good chunk of our walking time had now gone and a decision would have to be made soon regarding the limit to today’s expedition. It was now unlikely that we could walk as far as Elie and make it back to Lower Largo before dark. I opted to finish on Kincraig Hill which would, no doubt give us a decent view towards Elie before turning back.
Back on the trail the path began to climb steeply up rough steps to overlook flat shelves of rock projecting into the crashing waves below. We were now in clifftop territory and it was time for the Fatdog to be hooked up.
As we neared the hill’s summit more of the old concrete defence bunkers appeared. Kincraig Hill is a natural viewpoint overlooking the beaches east and west as well as out over the Forth Estuary. It is not hard to imagine why such a strategic point had been heavily fortified. The one closest to the summit looked as if it had taken a direct hit but there was no indication if it was damaged during times of conflict or whether it was time itself which had led to its collapse.
Looking over Elie
“Are you looking for the King Eider?” an exceedingly polite female voice inquired from behind. Binoculars around her neck my surprise visitor bent down to give Maisie a clap.
Then, looking the Fatdog straight in the eyes she asked.
“And what is one’s name?”
Given the fact that I knew it might be some time before she received an answer I decided to intervene. The Fatdog beamed happily.
It transpired that, in bird watching circles, a King Eider (duck) had been seen in this vicinity and was a bit of a rarity, it being a native of such chilly parts as Iceland and Greenland.
I normally recognise duck by its proximity to the pancakes and Hoisin Sauce and by now the Fatdog was raking through the pack for the bowls and chopsticks. I resolved, on returning home, to look up my big DK book, “The Eejit’s Guide to Burdz”, and see what a King Eider looked like.
Having been astounded at our general lack of knowledge on the subject of ducks our bird watching acquaintance started dejectedly on her way home. Another glance at the watch told me it was time for us to have a very quick snack and make our own way back to Lower Largo via the same route as we had come.
We only made it as far as the rocks overlooking Shell Bay when the camera was hauled out again. I had noticed Eider Ducks and Oystercatchers below and just within range of the bigger lens. The Fatdog sighed and sat patiently as I scoured the shore waiting for a decent photo.
Eiders and Oystercatchers
I looked at my watch. It would be about 4.30pm before we reached the car, if we left now. I sighed…it was time to go. With a great deal of regret the big camera was stuffed back into my paparazzi bag for the last time and we headed off back to the car as if pursued by a posse of celebrities’ oversized minders. It was almost dark as we completed the last section of the coastal path back into Lower Largo.