The Fife Coastal Path – Elie to St. Monans (24 Jan 09)
Elie rubies are what they called them, but they weren’t really rubies at all. They were in fact low grade garnets but it would be unkind to deride such a myth. Unlike gem hunters of past years we hadn’t come in search of blood red crystals but a gentle stroll from Elie, eastwards along the coast to St. Monans.
What we did find in the unsurprisingly named Ruby Bay was the remains of a dead porpoise. The Fatdog was interested. It was dead, it was meat and it smelled awful. As far as the Fatdog was concerned all the ingredients of a jolly good meal were close on hand.
A Fatdog on steroids is a remarkable creature. The dead porpoise made me think about the problems environmental health experts complained about when having to dispose of a dead whale. I recall instances of them being blown up (the whales that is). These people obviously had never owned a Labrador. Chomping through many hundreds of times body weight would just not be seen as an obstacle to a marginally peckish fatdog. Come to think of it a whale is possibly the only creature on God’s earth with greater fat reserves than your average lab…other than possibly the Americans.
Having successfully steered the wanabe vulture away from the rotting carcase we left Ruby Bay and strolled towards the lighthouse at Elie Ness. Built in 1908 the squat but gleaming white tower overlooks the entrance to Elie harbour.
Today FD was proving to be particularly recalcitrant when it came to posing for the camera. Normally she’s only too happy to model for the odd shot or to but I suppose being dragged unceremoniously away from the decaying porpoise was still foremost in her mind.
A few hundred metres further east we reached another landmark, “Lady’s Tower”. The structure was built as a summer house for Lady Janet Anstruther of Elie House in 1760. Apparently when she went swimming a bell man would walk the streets of Elie warning the proletariat to keep away. Whether this was to protect Lady Janet’s modesty or to protect the local peasantry from the sight of a disrobed Lady Janet is not recorded. The tower looks to have been restored (if not rebuilt) but I couldn’t help but think that it looks too new… I like my ancient remains to look ancient.
Next stop the beach. Even though it was high tide there was enough sand for the Fatdog to practise her stick digging. Same as last week I watched as she frantically scraped at sand and stick alike. I am still no further forward in determining the purpose of this particular exercise, but I’m sure in her head it fits into the grand scheme of things. Alternatively…maybe she just likes digging in the sand.
Just before we reached the 14C remains of Ardross Castle we passed a cove heaving with birdlife. On the shore Redshanks and Oystercatchers prowled the edge of the water whilst patrolling the boundary between farmland and seashore stonechats and other small birds nipped onto the tide strewn seaweed for interesting morsels.
Bird identification for me is, in the main, a retrospective operation. I put the 70 – 200 lens on the camera and snap away at unidentifiable dots in the distance. Unless I take my reading glasses out of the pack I have no chance of seeing what I have caught on the photograph so once I reach home the magic of Photoshop takes over. Then at last all is revealed. Well…it is after I consult the DK “Eejits Guide to Burdz”…and sometimes even then I’m mystified.
I had intended to do a trial geocaching exercise at Ardross Castle. Unfortunately I am still becoming acquainted with the basics of my GPS and whilst I knew the coordinates of the cache and the coordinates of my position (according to the GPS), relating the two was not as easy as I thought it would be. I think I need to study the manual.
We passed through the ruins of the castle and dropped once more towards the shore. A large misshapen rock caught my eye and there followed a fairly futile attempt at achieving the correct exposure. This exercise taught me that I have another manual to read.
St Monans was now clearly in sight past the headland holding the ominously perched Newark Castle (15C). There was a brief delay to our walk as I attempted to photograph a hovering kestrel but my attempts were thwarted, not for the first time today, by a sudden influx of fellow coastal walkers. The kestrel took one look at the assembled masses and decided that any prey that might have been around would have legged it by now. The frustrated raptor swooped off, no doubt in a strop.
FD and I climbed the trail up to the precarious remains of the old castle where we spent a little while exploring the various black openings into chambers whose purpose will forever remain a mystery. I do however like to think of them as potential dungeons where we will be allowed to chain the ELFs who persistently ride their trail bikes along long peaceful beaches. I suspect I won’t be lucky in this particular whimsy.
A short distance beyond the ruins on the cliff edge, a well preserved/renovated 16C “doocot” (dovecot) proved an irresistible attraction. It seems odd to me that no matter how dark or dingy the inside of a building looks from the safety of an open door, there is always the inexplicable urge to enter. This is generally followed by the less inexplicable desire to leave as soon as possible. And so it was with us. A few quick snaps of the masonry-work and we were out of there!
We were now a stone’s throw from St. Monans and below us the ancient St. Monans Church, extensively rebuilt in during the reign of David II (14C), welcomed us to the little harbour town.
Depending on location, we had swapped between the high and low tide routes throughout the morning, but the tide was on the ebb and I opted for the more interesting route into town. At the foot of the town’s sea wall a narrow walkway sat a couple of metres above the shore offering an interesting way into the town. It was too much of a temptation to miss…so off we set not knowing if we could reach the other end with dry feet/paws (delete as appropriate). Only a couple of metres away from meeting a connecting footway…it stopped and a sloping section of stone pitching had to be crossed. Many years of footsteps had worn some of the pitched cobbles flat, providing easy steps…for a human. Unfortunately Fatdogs sometimes don’t have an acceptable level of problem solving and will carry on regardless. Paws windmilling on the slippery slope the Fatdog battled for purchase on the cobbles as she endeavoured to reach the safety of the footway. Panting from her exertions she eventually lurched onto the tarmac ready to stroll nonchalantly onward as if nothing embarrassing had just happened.
The old town was a maze of twisting lanes and narrow winding streets. Brightly coloured houses lit up in the low January sun lined our way to the small harbour.
The harbour was quiet with the only movement a photographer hauling his tripod around, hoping to catch the mid afternoon light.
On the far side of town a solitary windmill sat on a grassy bank above the preserved remains of the old salt pans.
I looked along the coast towards Pitenweem but my legs and my watch were telling me it was time to head the 3 miles back to Elie. This proved to be a bit more of a slog than I would have liked.
As we reached the west end of St Monans the road through the town took a sharp right up a steepish hill. This is the moment I realised my minor sciatic problem, which has proved an irritation for the past year or so, was about to put in an unwelcome appearance. As the hill steepened the legs tightened from the lower back down and soon I was grinding down through the gears from tortoise pace to snails pace. At least I had only about 2 miles to go.
I was feeling relieved that I’d decided not to go hillwalking today. It was going to be a bit of a trudge back. And so it was to be. Every time the trail rose…I slowed. Not that I was much quicker on the flat!
I stopped a few times as we walked back along the coastal path to Elie. With the tide on its way out the oystercatchers and redshanks were busy on the freshly exposed sand checking out what the tide had left for tea.
I sat on the concrete defence wall with camera in hand watching the gathering of gulls on the offshore “islands”. In groups upward of four at a time they flew in from all directions. As the colony grew, breakaway factions moved to the next “island” no doubt for a bit of peace and quiet. We left them to their colonisation process. For the benefit of the Fatdog I walked along the ever expanding beach for as long as my legs would allow but eventually sought the firm ground of the well trodden path. FD didn’t appear to object and plodded amiably alongside.
On a spit between bays waves charged in, tripping over the tide on its way out. I stood fascinated by the tails of spray billowing behind as they rushed incessantly towards the beach.
But these interludes were putting off the evil moment when I would have to make the legs work and push on towards the car park above Ruby Bay. Then I had a piece of good fortune. I had spent so much time taking photographs and watching the wildlife that my normal sense of time vs distance was well out of kilter and we were in fact only a short distance from the lighthouse where we first started. As we arrived at the car the sun dropped down on the river Forth. I had been hoping for a fine sunset but there was an ominous grey blanket gathering in the west which masked the sun’s final wave.
The photographer I had seen at St. Monan’s harbour arrived with his tripod but he was definitely out of luck. The gold fringe on the horizon to the west suddenly melted into a band of dark grey, so I switched on the headlights and reversed.