Introduction to the East Neuk
Lying South of St Andrews, the East Neuk area has long been associated with farming and fishing as the principal industries for over many centuries. Although coal mining became a major industry in Fife, this was less true of the East Neuk area. The Coal Farm pit located near St Monans employed just thirty-four miners to provide fuel for the water pumps used at the nearby salt pans. Shipbuilding was a major source of employment during the past but, like the salt pan industry and coal mining, this has also disappeared from the locality.
What remains is a coastal strip steeped heavily in tradition and where serenity and a wondrous mix of historical buildings range from old castles to a former nuclear bunker restored into one of the most unusual public museum exhibits in Scotland. There are some great sandy beaches on this coast and where many of the local towns rank tourism as an important part of their revenue.
During the nineteenth century, the East Neuk was an exceptionally popular destination for many Scottish City dwellers using the railway link which followed this coastline between the towns of Leven and St. Andrews. Alas, this link was severed during the 'Beeching Axe' cuts begun in the 1950s and expanded in the 1960s. The coastal rail line between Leven and St Andrews was closed in 1965 and the rail link from Leven to Thornton near Glenrothes was closed in 1969.
In some of the coastal villages, it is still possible to see what were open air swimming pools that were popular for many years and using the basic principal of letting the incoming tide flood an area before closing a valve and retaining the sea water within a wall when the tide receeded. Some of these were still in use as late as the nineteen seventies but are no longer supported as viable establishments by the local council.
Although much has changed in recent years, it's virtually impossible to get less than a perfect 'fish supper' in the East Neuk! Even a huge proportion of the crabs, lobsters, prawns and other fish consumed in the Scottish capital City of Edinburgh typically come from this region with refridgerated vans commonly observed on our roads and headed towards that destination.
Elie & Earlsferry
It became known as the Earl's ferry or Earlsferry and remained in regular use until a particulalrly violent storm in 1766 drowned seven local men and filled the harbour with sand. Ferry services were subsequently switched to the wider and better weather protected harbour at nearby Elie, the name of which is alleged to come from Eilean Ardross and where a farm called Ardross still exists to the immediate east of the town.
Ruins of Ardross Castle lie immediately adjacent to the main farm buildings and atop sea cliffs and amid ferns and long grass. The castle has little remains of historic or even cultural interest but there are remains of a small Pictish dwelling close to Ardross Farm and discovered circa 1923 when a tractor wheel fell through its roof.
As you can see from the aerial photograph above, Elie and Earlsferry is blessed with some of the best and widest sandy beaches in this part of the region and which is why it became a very popular resort and especially when it had an operational rail station. In wartime, many Polish soldiers resided in the town and were responsible for the fifty-ton concrete sentinels designed to stop invasion tanks from leaving the beach if such a German invasion had taken place. The photograph showing these blocks is an old one to show how they were before some began to fall down the hillside due to coastal erosion. Polish soliders rebuilt the Earlsferry town hall and one remained to operate the local post office for many years after the war was over. Today, the wide sandy-base harbour is typically home to many yachts, marine cruisers and other leisure craft. The old grannery, once a prominent feature of the old pier, was pulled down years ago to make way for a new clubhouse and restaurant.
Although the harbour was widened to cater for different interests from about 1850, the more offbeat interest of this article relates to the small promintory south of Elie and close to the modern automatic lighthouse nearby. It's called the 'Lady's Tower' and was built circa 1750 on the solid rock as a special summerhouse for Lady Janet Anstruther who resided at Elie House on the outskirts of the village. It was built on the promintory with where the tall arched windows pemitted magnificant views of the sea. The structure had a form of 'central heating' driven by boilers housed in the adjacent structure of which little remains today due to coastal erosion.
Of the 'Lady' herself; it seems she enjoyed bathing naked in 'Ruby Bay' located below the tower and where a small cave served as a changing room. Before bathing, legend has it that a bell ringer would wander the streets of Elie and Earlsfarry to warn residents to steer clear of Ruby Bay. It's said that her political and local power caused a small community to be removed because it 'spoiled her view' from nearby Elie House.
Just so you know, the name 'Ruby Bay' is actually a is a misnomer and refers to garnets sometimes washed into this narrow enclave.
St Monans (formerly known as St Monance).
Until fairly recent times, this community was commonly known as St Monance and where it shared many common traits of the neighbouring villages and particularly in association to its small fishing fleet. More importantly though were the boat building and construction yards owned by Millers and whose company had been building ships there for more than two centuries. It had four major facilities and provided the bulk of employment in the town. No. 4 shed always had the most spectacular launches because the vessel had to drop several feet into the harbour even at high tide and thus creating quite a splash! Sadly, Millers Boatbuilding yards closed in 1992.
Although still quite a small place, it has a fairly magnificent parish church dating back to the fourteenth century and there's a bit of a 'ghost story' concerning this old building that I heard about many years ago from different people but, like all tales, it's hard to prove whether it ever really happened. It goes like this;
"There was a young man who had to rise early in the morning in order to light the boilers in the old church and well in advance of the congregation due to arrive later in the morning so they would be warm. On one particular day, however, and having performed his duties, he ventured into the main area of the church and saw a bright light descending from the roof. As he approached, facial features appeared within the light!
The man was so scared that he ran towards the Laird’s house located at Abercrombie; a distance of nearly two miles, and where, upon admittance and seeing a painting upon the wall, swore that the image in the picture was the face he had seen in the light! Variants of the story say that he died from fright and exertion and that the picture was that of the Laird's late wife!"
Since no other accounts of this kind have been reported since; I’m inclined to stick with my original dubious assertion unless somebody knows otherwise! One source was adamant that there is a old book in the Waid Academy Library in Anstruther describing this story but I haven't had time to follow up on this. In a similar way, I'd dearly love to rediscover the 'shadows and light' painting by Lorimar at Newark Castle near St Monans!
This was where colleagues and I, as youths discovered a yellow torpedo washed up on the beach below the castle and where, upon informing the local police constable at the nearest police station in St Monans, the constable was initially sceptical but then went into 'Captain Mannering' mode upon seeing it with his own eyes. Luckily, it was a training device recently used by the Royal Navy during an exercise in the Firth of Forth and completely harmless. Lord knows he might have reacted in a real emergency!
Like many of these coastal villages, St. Monans had a substantial caravan site and a tidal swimming pool of the type described above and where many day trippers from several nearby cities would alight from trains at the local rail station. This rail station was larger than most on this coast since coal was often brought here by rail and distributed by local coal sellers.
As mentioned above, the coastal rail line was discontinued in the late nineteen sixties as partof the Beeching Cuts but shortly before official closure, a local farmer with a passion for steam trains bought the 'Union of South Africa' express locomotive and where it travelled to St Monans before being offloaded onto a huge low loader and transported to Lochty Farm. It ran short journeys on a private railway for some time and the owner was a senior executive of Scotrail some time later.It was about that same time when the old signposts came down and the village became known as St Monans.
Formerly and while the coastal rail line was operative, motorists had to contend with an 'S' bend crossing over a railway bridge but this bridge was dismantlled to produce a straighter approach to Elm Grove and with the town lying south of this route. A small farm lying eastwards of the Manse was later converted into the small Nethergate Industrial Estate that exists there today.
Looking back about fifty years ago, there was a large deactivated spherical shaped mine painted in red and white with a brass plate and a coin slot in which voluntary contributions helped to support the important work still conducted by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). One assumes that corrosion ultimately led to its removal.
Before closing this short overview, it's sad to relate that a 'travel web site' representative recently visited the village before writing a dismal review on his website and finding fault with the charity shop, visiting the local windmill in which the visitor was granted the opportunity by collecting a key and much else besides. Without going into detail, the writer obviously forgot that charity shops are manned by volunteers and where pressing issues of a family kind may be deemed more important on occassion. As regards, additional distance to collect a key too see the interior of the windmill, I can't see any problem with that because there was a trust issue involved and any stranger given such an invitation should have been grateful rather than using it to generate unwelcome resentment. In many ways, it actually says more about that travel website than the village of St Monans! Being offside to the main coastal road means minimal through traffic and safer streets for young children and residents as a consequence.
The caravan site mentioned before still exists albeit smaller than before and without the services of the tidal swimming pool or rail station but there are great coastal walks to be had in this area and a wonderfully cosy hotel and public bar than many would envy. St Monans is ideally suited to visit many other attractions based in Fife and beyond.
The place name ‘Pittenween’ is derived from the old Pictish language and translates as ‘the place of caves’ and perhaps with reference to St Fillan’s Cave and others. For centuries, the village has always had a close association with the sea and fishing. In olden times, and while the men were at sea, the women were often engaged in the job of repairing damaged nets.
The harbour developed in several stages and where, initially, boats were hauled onto the beach but as the harbour developed, and the vessels grew larger, the harbour became a vitally important asset of the town. In current times, the local Fish Market forms a significant and major part of the local economy and where fishmongers often obtain their stock before heading into many nearby cities and towns. It’s hardly surprising then to learn that the local ‘fish and chip’ shops in both Pittenween and nearby Anstruther are typically finalists or winners of many awards from the Seafood industry.
Pittenweem is another East Neuk community that used to have an open air swimming pool and the remains of this structure can still be seen.
Anstruther and Cellardyke
Although often associated with the family surname of Anstruther, the place name actually translates as ‘Little Stream’ from the old Pictish language and perhaps in reference to the Dreel Burn that runs through the village. It was this stream that once provided a power source for the local mill via a waterwheel. In local and modern parlance, the name, Anstruther, is often contracted and locally referred to as ‘Enster' in regular and local parlance.
Like so many other villages along this coastline, the origin of Anstruther started as a fishing village and in the early 1930s, the harbour was so crowded that it was actually possible to walk from one side to the other, jumping from boat to boat, without getting wet feet! Sadly, the herring stocks in the Forth Estuary became over fished and as the number of boats declined, many skippers preferred the harbour and market at nearby Pittenweem.
The Royal National Liftboat Institution (RNLI) has its main local lifeboat based in Anstruther and where awards for gallantry have been received on five separate occasions; a truly magnificent record for this station and where a lifeboat service has been operating for one hundred and sixty years.
The Scottish Fisheries Museum is based just across the road from this station and where, in recent years, the musuem has been engaged in the restoration of several old vessels like the one hundred and four year old drifter ‘Reaper’. The museum was opened in 1969 and contains largely set pieces, models and includes a chapel where the names of fishermen lost at sea are recorded on brass plates.
The local school of Waid Academy was initially established with a view to teaching the children of fishermen and where nautical skills like navigation featured highly in the old curriculum. The school is named after Lieutenant Andrew Waid (1736-1804) whose last will and testimony envisaged such a school but whose legacy proved inadequate. Later, with accrued interest and aided by the Educational Endowments (Scotland) Act of 1882, his dream became possible and Waid Academy became one of the first new and pioneering learning centres to benefit from the new rules. In 1959, a Coat Of Arms, approved by the Lord Lyon was granted to Waid Academy. It reads, ‘Multi Perransibunt Et Augebitur Scientia’ which roughly translates into modern English meaning that ‘many will pass through and knowledge will be increased'.
These days, the closely located and neighbouring hamlet of Cellardyke can be effectively regarded as having merged with Anstruther and where this older part of the conurbation retains narrow streets and the popular Dutch style of several centuries ago. Known formerly as Nether Kilrenny (Scots for ‘Lower Kilrenny’) and since it was part of the Kilrenny parish or else Sillerdyke, a reference to sunlight glittering off fish scales trapped in fishing nets while the nets were hung out to dry on the walls (dykes) of the Skinfast Haven harbour. In time, this translated into Cellardyke.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Cellardyke was a booming town with about two hundred fishing craft using the small port at peak times and where there were about fifty local boat owners. Much of the catch was salted, smoked then sent to London. Much of the fleet met with disaster during a storm during 1898 and village never recovered from that. What remained soon relocated to Anstruther harbour.Today, Cellardyke harbour is home to a few shellfish fisher and small pleasure craft.
Close proximity and expanding population automatically led to merger and where the current population of about three thousand five hundred residents isapproximately double that of other East Neuk communities and where the only sizeable supermarket in the East Neuk is located.
The picture on the left is definitely the oldest presented on this web site. It's one of my late grandfather competing in plough trials held at Kirkmay Farm near Crail soon after the conclusion of World War One.
Although uncertain of the exact date, I'm led to believe it was between 1918 and 1921 and where he was an employee on that farm at the time. It’s also where my late father spent much of his youth before joining the Royal Air Force as part of his 'national service'.
The village of Crail has always been quaint, serene and about as far from modern day pressures as anyone can find. It represents an oasis of Olde World charm where even the hardest pressed executive can rediscover the wonderful benefits of relaxation and silence.
Perhaps the best-known feature about Crail is the tiny harbour and where some have arguably claimed it to be the most photographed small harbour in the World. Obviously, that’s quite a boast, but it is true that over many years, pictures of this harbour have appeared have appeared in television commercials, on book and magazine covers and in many countries. television commercials. The harbour entrance is parallel to the small sandy beach beside it and meaning that pilots of any vessel approaching the harbour must first steer into the small cove before turning ninety-degrees starboard before entering the harbour. To help with this during adverse weather or at night, there are two tall concrete towers built at different heights in the village, each with a light on top. When observed from the sea and aligned vertically then steering towards them brings the seafarer safely into the cove.
The number and size of the boats in the harbour today is small with most regular users being creel fishermen who fish for lobsters and crabs and with a ready local market to hand in the local hotels and restaurants in the area.
What might seem incredible is the huge tonnage of potatoes shipped out from this tiny harbour in the immediate wake of World War Two to feed starving citizens in Northern Europe and particularly in the Netherlands. During the war itself, two villas were bombed and destroyed by fleeing aircraft of the German Luftwaffe after a failled attempt to destroy the Forth Bridge. Although there were no casualties in Crail, another bomb demolished a house in nearby Kilrenny killing all but one of the family. I mention this since 'Lord Haw Haw', the traitor and propagandist, tried to put a positive slant on the event by saying that the 'industrial city of Crail had been destroyed!' and I sincerely doubt whether anyone has ever generated a truly better oxymoronic sentence since that time!!
A mixed seafood platter with fresh fish and locally grown vegetables are often cooked by highly regarded chefs in some of the larger hotels.
Crail is fortunate to have emulated St Andrews with one of the oldest golf courses in the World and where designers of the famous old course also applied their skills to this nearby location. As such, both courses share similar challenges and weather. This is golf at its best where onshore and offshore winds compete in differing degrees according to season and make this course more unpredictable than most. Being lesser known brings the blessings of ample car parking and a less formal clubhouse. From an honest and practical perspective, visitors to the area have a much higher chance of playing at Crail than at St Andrews and are thus likely to benefit from the experience. More details about this gold course appear elsewhere on this web site.
Driving to Crail Golf Course means driving past the former HMS Jackdaw airbase (aka HMS Bruce between 1956-1958) closed in 1958 and where, during wartime, aircraft launched from this base provided aerial protection of shipping sailing to and from Leith near Edinburgh and Methil in Fife. In addition, Consolidated PBY Catalinas flew air-sea rescue missions and 'watchdog' missions concerning the location of the battleship Tirpitz, sister ship of the more famous Bismark, and largely confined to moorings in Norway. Tirpitz was ultimately destroyed and sunk without ever firing a single shot at a British warship!
Crail lies close to St Andrews and where a number of other unique locations of interest are located nearby and including the Secret Nuclear Bunker described in far greater detail elsewhere on this web site. Crail is also located close to Kellie Castle and a new golf course at the closeby hamlet of Kingsbarns.
Photographs by Chris Schubet, Jim Bain, Sandy Gemmell and Alandon. Graphics by Advision ProServe. Text by Alandon.