The Fife Coastal Path stretches 187 kilometres along the coastline of the Fife peninsula around the Firth of Forth, the North Sea coast and the Firth of Tay.
When it was first opened in 2003, this long-distance route stretched from North Queensferry (near Edinburgh) to Newport-on-Tay (near Dundee) but was extended at both ends in 2012 to run from Kincardine to Newburgh.
Designated by the Scottish Natural Heritage as one of Scotland’s Great Trails, the walking is relatively straightforward, but the terrain is fascinating with evidence of lava flows and limestone strata containing marine fossils.
There is history everywhere you look, from coal yards to castles, prehistoric carvings to ancient universities and a handful of golden beaches in between.
Despite being close to major cities, the path has remote sections and challenging terrain with whitewashed fishermen’s cottages, castles and ancient churches scattered along the way.
On the whole, the gradient is quite flat, making it perfect for people who are relatively new to long-distance hiking.
- Varied walking along cliff tops, grassy paths and woodlands, an abandoned railway and sand dunes.
- Get your fill of history with everything from geological formations to architecture spanning eight centuries.
- Enjoy the many nature, woodlands and wildlife reserves.
Visitors can reach the start from Glasgow or Edinburgh, and depart from the end via Dundee or Perth – depending on whether you opt for either or both extensions.
The nearest international airport, and major train hub, to the route is Edinburgh. From here there are regular buses, the fastest option of which is to take the X54 from Edinburgh to Dunfermline, then the X24 towards Glasgow.
Alternatively you can take a train or a bus from Edingburgh to Inverkeithing then a 71A bus to Kincardine.
Due to the roundabout route, these journeys will take one and a half to two hours, a long time for a journey that takes about 45 minutes by car.
Driving from Glasgow takes about 35 minutes but again, well over two hours by public transport, which is why many people choose to drive to Kincardine and then leave the car.
Leaving from the end point at Newburgh, you can get a bus to the train station at Dundee with frequent services to Edinburgh Waverly. Alternatively you can catch a train straight from Newburgh to Calsay Gardens then change again at Ladybank for Edinburgh. Trains from Edinburgh run to key cities around the country and down to London.
The full extended route of 187 kilometres takes nine or 10 days to complete, but many people opt for the original bridge-to-bridge route (North Queensferry to Newport-on-Tay), which is doable in seven days.
Be sure to allow an extra day for the Isle of May boat trip.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
The route is well waymarked and offers straightforward walking with some muddy and sandy sections.
The stretches between Crail and St Andrews, and from Balmerino to Newburgh, are long and relatively remote, making them the most difficult sections.
There is an overall elevation gain/loss of 1,865 metres but generally the climbs are not steep. The key challenge here is the sustained distances, walking day after day.
The terrain underfoot ranges from rocky and sandy beaches to a disused railway trackbed, and from golf courses to forest tracks, keeping things interesting throughout.
Note that some sections of the route are not passable at high tide and you will have to wait until the tide recedes and the path is clear.
No previous walking experience is necessary but for as any long distance route, a reasonable level of fitness and some advance training will add to your enjoyment.
It is also important that you (or someone in your group) is able to read tide times to ensure you can plan your route accordingly.
There are no permits needed or fees to pay to walk the Fife Coastal Path or any subsection therein.
Guided or Self-Guided
Most people choose to do the Coastal Path self-guided thanks to its gentle gradients and frequency of towns and accommodation.
Signposting along the path is generally good, even in terms of the alternate routes that need to be followed at high tide.
That said, it is worth bringing a map or ensuring you have GPS on your phone in case you choose to (or accidentally) wander off route to look at some of the historic attractions.
For those who would prefer to take the hassle out of their trip, there are plenty of companies that offer guided tours and will sort your accommodation and baggage transfers for you, as well as shuttles to and from the end of the route.
For a one-week trip, a guided hike with luggage transport and packed lunches will cost somewhere around £700.
As for most UK-based walks, the ideal window to hike the Fife Coastal Path is between April and September. In the summer the days are longer and warmer but you’ll have more crowds to contend with.
April/May is a good time to go and although the North Sea in spring may not offer tropical temperatures, Fife is the sunniest place in Scotland, with lower annual rainfall than Rome.
Around this time the rocky shore has a fringe of wild flowers and abundant wildlife.
For those tackling the full route, a typical itinerary would be:
Kincardine to North Queensferry – 27km
North Queensferry to Burntisland – 18.5km
Burntisland to East Wemyss – 18.75km
East Wemyss to Lower Largo – 11.5km
Lower Largo to St Monans – 14km
St Monans – Anstruther – 5.75km
Anstruther to Crail – 6.75km
Crail to Kingsbarns – 9.5km
Kingsbarns to St Andrews – 13.5km
St Andrews – Newport on Tay – 29km
Newport on Tay to Newburgh – 28.5km
It is also possible to do a side-trip to the Elie Chainwalk – a rock scramble above the waves with chains as handholds – or a boat trip from Anstruther to the Isle of May, to see the puffins, seals, monastery and lighthouse that reside there.
The stretch of coastline that hosts the Fife Coastal Path is littered with towns and villages for most of the way, with good services and accommodation available throughout. Depending on your budget and flexibility with dates, it is a good idea to book your accommodation in advance during summer months or public holidays.
In each of the villages listed in the above itinerary there are a mixture of hotels and bed and breakfasts, as well as plenty of cafes, pubs and restaurants. There are also shops for those who need to restock on supplies or make up packed lunches.
However there are none between Crail and St Andrews, which is also the section with the most challenges from terrain and tides.
Start your trip in Edinburgh and soak up some history at the incredible castle or head up Calton Hill for the stunning cityscapes you see on postcards. It is an easy 20-minute walk from Old Town and is a good alternative to hiking up Arthur’s Seat, particularly if you want to catch sunset.
If you want to get your legs warmed up, hike to the top of Arthur’s Seat – an extinct volcano with outstanding views of Edinburgh. The hike is moderate, taking two or so hours. Otherwise just unwind in one of the many pubs, enjoy afternoon tea as you roam the city on the fully licensed Red Bus Bistro, or visit one of the traditional kilt-makers and kit yourself out like a local.
Fife’s coastline near Edinburgh offers everything from the cobbled lanes of Culross to the harbour at Dysart. The area of wild cliffs and fishing towns south-east of St Andrews are equally outstanding and there are lots of places of historic interest along the route.
These include Aberdour Castle, Macduff’s Castle near East Wemyss, and Pitmilly, a former estate associated with the Moneypenny family. On the southern bank of the river Tay between the historic rail bridge, scene of one of the greatest rail disasters in Britain and the 1960s road bridge, lies the historic town of Newport.
En route you’ll likely catch sight of any number of animals, including porpoises, dolphins, puffins, red squirrels and more.
Plan in a rest day at Elie, a perfect location to relax and recharge on one of the sandy beaches. If you fancy a thrill, take to the Elie chainwalk mentioned above, sometimes referred to as Scotland’s secret via ferrata. The route should only be used during low tides and by people of a decent physical ability.
Stop off at the Harbourmaster’s House, in Dysart, which was used as a location during the filming of Outlander and now houses a visitor centre and cafe, or savour St Andrews – famed for its golf courses, castle and dungeon or the infamous ancient university.
Wherever you choose to stop, coffee and cake or a cold beer are never too difficult find in the town centre, and there are 15 Seaside Award beaches and a host of charming coves along the Coastal Path where you can cool off.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Difficulty||2/5 - 3/5|
|Starts at||Kincardine, Alloa, UK|
|Finishes at||Newburgh, UK|
|Length of route||187 Km|
|Average time to complete||260 - Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||260 metres|
|Equipment needed||Trekking gear, walking boots|