Crail, Fife

Having been busy with work related things for the last month it was great to make the most of a cold crisp Autumn day with a trip to the coast.

I had visited Crail on the coast of Fife several years ago, and I know that I had gotten some great photos from the harbour area. I had longed to revisit with a little more time and hopefully some blue skies to make make the most of the contrast between the buildings and the sky. As the day dawned cold and clear in Edinburgh, and with snow forecast in the Highlands meaning it was going to crisp and bright towards the east coast, now seemed a good time to make the trip.

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Crail is the most easterly settlement along the south side of the East Neuk of Fife and it known for its shellfish; especially crabs and lobsters. These provide an excellent focal point of harbour photography and are frequently utilised for coastal images in much of Scotland.

Only ten miles from St Andrews, it has a much more relaxed feel, and it is probably as much now a holiday or weekend retreat as anything else. Settled back before the 800s it became a Royal Burgh in 1310, thanks to Robert the Bruce. It was once the bane of the Church as it held a Sunday market for many years in spite of their protestations and attempts to move it to a weekday.

The town is fairly interesting, but similar to a lot of small Fife coast towns, and it is the harbour that holds the main attractions for the photographer.

The harbour is best reached on foot after parking in the town centre, and this will involve a fairly brisk descent, although the cobbles can be avoided by taking the Castle Walk where you will get great views out to sea.

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It’s worth watching for seals and birdlife. Here a Grey Heron is trying his luck
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Visitors on Castle Walk as seen from the harbour cobbles

Although Castle Walk remains, sadly the castle itself does not. Cleared away in 1706, it is, from a purely photographic point of view, a bit of a disappointment not to have it to add into the scene. But, there are still a lot of wonderful opportunities for photographs around the harbour and town.

There is almost an element of film set about the harbour, and the quaint houses leading to it are appealing in themselves. The cobbles and painted buildings also appeal.

A number of small on-shore fishing boats still work out of the harbour, and there is a ready supply of crab and lobster which can be purchased. The town also boasts a number of small cafes as well as the fish and chip shop, mini-marts, and butchers.

It is a perfect retreat location that is ideal for a romantic getaway, or a day trip, and it convenient to Edinburgh and most of Fife itself.

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Moray Coast Trail – Hopeman to Covesea

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The Moray Coast Trail, or Moray Coastal Trail (not even the council can decide what it’s called) stretches from Cullen in the east to Findhorn towards the west, along the coast of the Moray Firth.

Officially, it’s 50 miles but there are some arguments about that…

…anyway, over the past few months we, as in Patches and I, have been tackling it in nice bite sized sections at the weekends. Patches is a mature gentlemen, with a touch of arthritis, and so those bite sized chunks range from five to around nine miles. This is a bit of a misnomer though, as we walk each section as a there-and-back, so we might only cover 2.5miles of the trail, but we do it twice, in both directions seeing it from both views.

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Some sections are easier to walk than others, as it shares the route with sections of cycle trails and on disused railways, so sometimes a nice wide flat path is provided and sometimes you are on the “walkers path” and therefore going around the cliffs (and up and down thin tracks being scratched by scratchy shrub).

I had been looking forward to yesterdays section very much, because the map has the words ‘caves’ printed on it all the way. It did not disappoint, although the scratches from the scratchy bushes on the very enclosed sections might take a few days to heal.

All along the route there are coves and bays, some sand and some pebble. Some are easy to get to, and some are definitely not.

The whole route gives excellent views across the firth to the coast on the other side, depending on the weather of course, and you can often see dolphins, seals, and a large variety of birdlife.

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Not marked on the map is the old Coastguard lookout station, which you get to see from quite some distance when walking west to east, but then it pops up over the gorse and undulating cliff top at you if on the route east to west.

It is a shame that you can’t go in it, or that it hasn’t been co-opted into a bothy like the one on Skye. I image the view from the balcony at the top would be quite something.

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The route does indeed take you past a number of sandstone caves and rock formations, as promised on the map. These ones (above) are not far from the active quarry and are reasonably accessible, although two of the three paths down are much steeper than the west most one and great care is needed.

Popular with photographers, mainly due to the natural arch you can just see at the bottom of the photo (above), and the array of weather worn large round rocks which form a stunning collection of geological complexity (below), it is unlikely you’ll be alone here for very long.

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At weekends, it is possible to park near to the quarry entrance and just visit these caves, although this is certainly not recommended on weekdays when the lorries are going in and out, and care should be taken not to block access at ANY time.

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The quarry produces some very large pieces of sandstone, and whilst it may be a bit of a blight on the landscape, it does facilitate the degree of weekend parking which is helpful, as well as offering much needed employment.

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Towards the Covesea end of the walk, which can be extended easily to Lossiemouth if desired, there is the Sculptors Cave. This feature is clearly marked on the OS maps in the serif type usually reserved for ancient monuments so there is a deeply historical context, obviously. It isn’t actually possible to see Sculptors Cave from the walk, as you’re actually walking over it, but nearby natural arches and caves that you can see give you a teaser of what it could be like.

Luckily, the wonderful Canmore website can shed more light on this;

‘Finds from the Sculptor’s Cave dating from the Bronze Age to the 4th century AD, and including Iron Age pottery, are in the Elgin Museum.’

‘The most striking feature of the cave is the (formerly) substantial assemblage of human remains that was revealed in both programmes of excavation’

‘The possibility may be considered that there were two periods of deposition….the deposition of the remains of children, with some emphasis on the placing of heads at the entrance, and….the remains of several decapitated individuals. Concern with the removal, curation and display of human heads is a persistent trait across prehistoric Europe…’
(edited, removing technical references for ease of reading, by the photographer)

This exciting site certainly warrants a further expedition to photography the carvings at a later date.

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The caves and natural arches extend along the seaward side of the cliff and also under where the photographer is standing.

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The coast of the Moray Firth is still able to enchant and interest, even after more than 13 years of living beside it. The geology itself is varied and interesting, and the human history of the coast is just as fascinating.

The eastern side of Scotland is often overlooked by the rush to the west coast and the isles, and whilst this keeps it from being unpleasantly crowded, it is a disservice to what is a very worthwhile destination. The weather of Moray is far more stable, and frequently warmer and drier than the west, although the residents will still bemoan the lack of a “decent summer”. It also suffers considerably less from the issue of the Highland midge than it’s opposing neighbours.

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Although the walk was only around 5-6 miles in length, ignoring some exploratory detours, Patches certainly enjoyed the outing as much as I did.

Update Sunday 8th October: attempted today to get down to the Sculptures Cave from the cliff above. It was difficult is distinguish the right path and I tried finding a way down and back to it from different points. In the end I found what seems the most logical path but I was only brave enough to tackle the first section and was slipping in the mud from the last few days of rain. As I peered over the precipice and contemplated the leap across the missing rock section onto the second path I am afraid that I bottled it. The caves remain unexplored until I can tackle them from the bottom having walked there from the beach at the far Lossiemouth end. For this, I would want to be there as the tide was going out rather than after it had turned and was heading back in, as being cut off is a very serious proposition. Another time…