Fishing villages, quiet back roads, sea views.
Neuk' is the old Scots word for corner, and the East Neuk is the name given to the area of land that runs around the Eastern peninsula of Fife. The delightful East Neuk villages, nestling amongst the natural harbours of the coastline, are testimony to the heritage of sea-fishing that still lives on in the Kingdom of Fife. Crail has one of the prettiest harbours in the area and is well known for shellfish. Dating back to 16th century, the curved breakwater was built to give it protection against the Forth and in 1826 Robert Stevenson built the straight west pier. Coming up from the harbour you find the main street through Crail. Following the road towards the golf course you pass the Crail History Museum. Shortly before the Marketgate there is a road leading down to Crail Pottery. In the school holidays the pottery puts on classes for children.
The Marketgate, now lined by trees, was once the largest medieval market places in Europe. Anstruther fifty years ago, this picturesque port was so busy with fishing boats it was possible to walk from one side of the wide harbour to the other by stepping from boat to boat. But the North Sea herring shoals disappeared, taking with them most of the fishing fleet. Today, pleasure craft moor in the harbour where the fishing boats used to unload their catches. Anstruther's association with the fishing industry has not been forgotten. The town is home to the Scottish Fisheries Museum a national museum which tells the story of Scottish fishing from the earliest times to the present day. Housed in a complex of buildings beside the harbour, displays include a cottage belonging to a fishing family as well as the history of the herring industry that was once the mainstay of the local economy. Restored fishing craft stand in the paved courtyard, with a huge anchor alongside. Tableaux, reconstructions, models and paintings are included.
Anstruther itself is a charming place. Take a walk along the cobbled streets through a rabbit-warren of little alleyways and wynds and note the dates on the buildings. In High Street many of the shops still display original signs and advertisements for companies long forgotten. There are restaurants serving local seafood specialities and Anstruther Fish Bar by the shore was voted "Scotland's best fish and chips in 2001".
There are many interesting buildings in Anstruther - one that stands out is Buckie House. The house was covered in shells by Alex Batchelor last century, who it is said, used to charge a penny to see his coffin which was also covered in shells - presumably it had yet to be occupied. Kellie Castle (National Trust) is a fine example of the domestic architecture of Lowland Scotland. The oldest part is believed to date from 1360, but the building in its present form is mainly 16th and early 17th century. It was completed about 1606. Sympathetically restored by the Lorimer family around 1878, it contains magnificent plaster ceilings, painted panelling and furniture designed by Sir Robert Lorimer. The Secret Bunker, Scotland's best kept secret for over 40 years, hidden beneath a Scottish Farmhouse, a tunnel leads to Scotland's secret bunker. 24,000 square feet of accommodation on two levels, 100 feet underground - a twilight world of the cold war. Take the opportunity to discover how they would have survived, and you wouldn't.
This part of Fife is known as the East Neuk; neuk being the old Scots word for corner. The East Neuk fishing villages are set in the natural harbours along the coast. Fishing boats these days are outnumbered by the yachts but at one time these small harbours were crammed with trawlers. Inland this an area of mixed farm and woodland with sea views and many quiet back roads.
The route starts with a linking section from St Andrews. St Andrews has a town cycle network but this is rather complex - the simplest way to get to the start is to follow the A917 to the edge of the town at which point the route is signposted. The back road is wide at first, rising gently with houses on the right.
The first two miles are a gentle climb passing strawberry fields after which the road levels off. After three miles you come to a T junction where you turn left, at the time of writing there was no sign but there is no other junction. The next couple of miles to the B9131 are fairly flat. Turn right at this junction. You pass through the tiny hamlet of Dunino. A mile after that you meet a minor road to the left and are on the circular section.
Fife Cycleways deem this part to be an orange route and you are following these markers from here to Crail. Turn left to the minor road and follow it for three miles. You start to get sea views, the church spire at Kingsbarns is visible. Near here look out for your right turn which is to a dirt track that once was a railway line. Follow this for two miles. The route leaves the rail line after a mile or so and follows farm tracks then meets the B9171 where you turn left. Turn left again for a very short distance on to the A917 then right off it to a smooth tarmac drive leading to Wormiston House. Beyond the house the surface becomes a bit bumpier, it passes a World War II airfield. Turn right on the public road for Crail. In Crail follow signs for the harbour.
Crail has a good choice of places to eat though you might prefer simply to sit by the harbour and eat your sandwiches. There is usually plenty going on and lobsters for sale though these are fairly incompatible with bicycle panniers. The harbour is possibly the prettiest of all the East Neuk harbours.
When the time comes to go you have a short distance on the A917 going north west before turning left to the B940 then left to the B9171. This is a blue cycle route in Fife Cycleways terms and these signs will take you from the B940/B9171 junction, through Anstruther and on back to the St Andrews linking section.
Don't forget to turn left for Kilrenny before the B9131. The church at Kilrenny is charming and worth looking round. You cross the A917 to Cellardyke passing a caravan site then go on to Anstruther. Cellardyke harbour is very pretty and you should stop and have a look. Between Cellardyke and Anstruther the signed route runs near the shore and you should be sure to go that way to take in the old village houses.
Anstruther is the largest of the East Neuk villages. It has a fisheries museum, an excellent choice of eating places, a bike shop and you can visit a restored fishing boat opposite the museum. At one time the harbour was so crammed with fishing boats that you could walk across it without touching the water but the boats have disappeared with the herring. The cobbled streets are bumpy on the bike but worth walking round.
Leave Anstruther on the B9131 but turn left off it to farm tracks just beyond the village. This is marked as a cycle route but you should give way to farm traffic. The route climbs gently here giving fine views over the Firth of Forth towards East Lothian. The rolling farmland is attractive and on the way you can visit Kellie Castle (National Trust). This is architecturally very interesting, it also has a beautiful garden and a tea room. There are no refreshment facilities in Arncroach or Carnbee.
A more recent military installation, happily redundant, is the Secret Bunker in Redwells Wood. This is concealed underneath an innocent looking farmhouse and was intended to be the underground nuclear headquarters in Scotland. Nowadays it's open to the public - you just follow the signs.
The last section back to St Andrews is the way you came. Not too boring I hope, the scenery is always different in the opposite direction. The last part will be fairly quick as it's downhill.