Monday, 26 June 2017

Adventures Begin at Home

The Fife Coastal Path provides some fine riding and if you are into fat bikes some excellent beach riding to rival anywhere in the UK. I've ridden it end to end in various day rides of various durations however I've always had a hankering too do it as an overnighter as there are numerous great bivi / camp spots along its length. The opportunity came at midsummer with an early depart for the train to work in the gloom and drizzle. That said it was a fine forecast for Friday afternoon / evening and the following morning so my hopes were high.
What better way to end the working week than to depart the office on your bike into the evening sunshine, great trails ahead and no particular destination.
From an earlier trip - don't worry there is a nice grassy path just off the beach!

Fife sits between Edinburgh and Perthshire and is generally only known for St. Andrews with its posh uni and golf courses. The coastline is a mix of flat sand and rocky shorelines which catch a lot of migratory birds heading north and south and so has earned a number of conservation designations and is actually a particularly fine place to be. The Coastal Path runs from Kincardine to Newport. Between Kincardine and Leven its all pretty easy going but thereafter gets progressively more interesting. Your never far from civilisation but the sections in between feel much wilder and remoter than the distance suggests.

On this occasion my plan was to join it at West Weymss and head round the coast to near to Newburgh then turn in land back home. Normally I would choose the fat bike for this route but a lot of the north section is on trail and back road. The forecast was for hard westerlies therefore I elected to go for 29+ to make the return ride a bit easier. There are several sections of the FCP which follow the beach but high tide alternatives exist making this a route suitable for all bike types.
After some easy gravel paths the route takes you through Buckaven, Methil and Leven. Not the most scenic of places but towns of character in their own way and all played a part in the considerable industry that grew up and then died in this part of Fife. Beyond you hit the first of many golf courses. A quick check for low flying golf balls and shouts of "fore!" and its into Lower Largo - a very different place from the previous towns with vast houses and far too many posh cars. I think I prefer Methill.... 
Beyond Largo is where the fun starts with a nice length of sandy singletrack to Shell bay caravan park. I took a diversion off the coastal path here to pick up some woodland single track and an easy farm track to miss a section of path with lots of steps. If your ever walking this section don't miss the Elie Chainwalk. If you think your hard enough, take your bike - the Fife branch of the CTC Rough Stuff Fellowship did it in 2004!

The fun continues beyond Elie and I was making good progress with the stiff tailwind. You then tick off St. Monans, Pittenweem and finally Anstruther. These places still have a fishing industry of sorts (Shell fish mainly) but are the dictionary definition of "Quaint". Anstruther has a fine Fish and Chip shop but as usual it was queued out the door so I pushed onto Crail. Crail provided an excellent chippy and the Bikepackers best friend, the Co-op. 

Caiplie Caves - one of many wacky rock formations along the route
I grabbed food and drink for the rest of the trip as I wasn't sure what would be open when. Between Crail and St. Andrews the coastal path is pretty hard going. Its definitely worth doing as far as Boarhills on a Fat bike as there is some good sections of beach and rocky shore riding but it can be a bit fiddly on a normal bike as there are two sections on the beach with no high tide alternative. No big deal but best follow, as I did this evening, the cycleway which follows farm tracks then a short section of disused railway, a back road and then a core path link to the coast just south of Boarhills.

You can't see it but in the distance is the Bell Rock Lighthouse - some 20miles off shore!
The Coastal path is easy here and its worth doing this bit, particularly the woodland single track by the Kennly Water.
From Boarhills the Coastal path is a series of short climbs and descents, all with stone steps. I've done it but its not really worth the hassle so I jumped onto the A917 and buzzed into St. Andrews the quick way. I must scope out a better alternative to this but at 9.30pm there was little traffic on it.

St. Andrews was ridden straight through as I didn't fancy risking my bike outside any of the pubs. From St. A to Guardbridge its all surfaced cycleway. The light was starting to fail but slowly, slowly so close to Midsummer. Leuchars follows Guardbridge, once an Airbase but now home to the Royal Engineers. All was quiet as I rode past the airfield and out towards Tentsmuir Forest. 

This is another nice section of the Coastal path with a mix of grass single track and bog spanning boardwalk. I was now looking for bivi spots but a brief pause in the trees confirmed my worst fears - the midges were out in force. The wind from the west was still blowing strong so I went up the west side of the forest in the hope of finding a suitable spot that was nice and breezy. Sure enough in amongst some spaced out trees just in the boundary of the forest was a perfect spot. The time was 11pm and I'd clocked 85km.

Now part of the purpose of this trip was to get some bivi bag time as I've been meaning to get some more use out of my Rab Ascent bag for ages. I'm too much of a wimp for it to be honest and much prefer the sanctity and security of my not much heavier tent. The speed of getting it out and getting into it impressed me however and the midge beating breezy and clear evening made it a fine choice. Sleep took a while but I finally nodded off at about midnight.
Tayport looking back to Tentsmuir Forest at 6am
4.30 am and my bladder got me up and out. A quick brew of the stove made porridge and a cuppa and then I was off once more. This was all to the good as it meant I'd likely not meet a soul on the path and would be home for a late breakfast. Less good was the hard westerly wind but at least most of the route along the coast would be sheltered. Out of the woods and through a sleeping Tayport, then more surfaced cycleway to Newport. The Tay Bridge was empty of traffic and the railbridge gleamed in the morning sun, freshly painted to match the silvery Tay. Beyond Wormit the coastal path hugs the wooded slope above the shore line. Its good and bad - some great sections of singletrack but some annoying kissing gates and a couple of stepped climbs and descents. 

At Balmerino there was a surprise - a new section of route continuing along the shore following an old Right of Way. This was fabulous - a narrow winding path through the trees with no steps or gates. Eventually the coast was left as the route climbed on path, track and then road to the foot of Normans Law. Fortunately the Coastal Path follows a route that is really quite sheltered so good progress was made despite the strengthening wind. I departed the FCP above Newburgh and then followed a fine mix of farm and forest tracks to Auchtermuchty and then Strathmiglo.
Gathering clouds and wind - in the Eastern Ochills above 'Muchty

Thereafter it was me and the wind - no hiding just a steady grind straight into its face. One last section of dirt down to and round Loch Leven then it was more headwinds and back roads home to a large fry up. Total distance 170k.

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