A classic adventure

23rd August 1996 at 01:00
Walks, The Fife coast

David Budge and his father follow in the footsteps of the real Robinson Crusoe. Pierce Brosnan, star of the soon-to-be-released film version of Robinson Crusoe, is unlikely to affect a Scots accent that's as thick as a Fife fisherman's jumper. But in the interests of authenticity, perhaps he should. For the real-life castaway, Alexander Selkirk, on whom Defoe based his hero was as Scottish as Jimmy Shand.

9(5col) = Defoe wrote his classic adventure story after meeting Selkirk in Wapping, where all the best stories are still retold. So it was apposite that I should set off from Wapping to walk along the Fife beaches that gave Selkirk a taste of desert island life long before he was marooned on Juan Fernandez, an island off the coast of Chile.

The coastline between Selkirk's picturesque home village, Largo, and the fishing community of Pittenweem is dotted with the beaches that I also knew as a child. I return to them often in my mind's eye, but being able to do it for real, with my 71-year-old father as a walking companion, was a privilege.

Our walk along part of the Fife coastal path began in Largo on a warm June morning. Cormorants were stretching their wings to dry on the rocks near the seafront Cardy Bay carpark. To the south, the glass office blocks of Edinburgh were glinting in the sunshine across the Firth of Forth. But we were headed north-east to Elie via Kincraig Point, the rocky promontory that juts out into the Forth like a terrier's chin.

The first section of the seven-mile walk to Elie runs parallel with the East Neuk railway line that the Beeching axe lopped off in 1965. Back in the early Sixties, my friends and I would interrupt our games of football to watch trains steaming along this line to St Andrews. But now the rabbits and dog roses had it all to themselves.

The path is not clearly delineated at first because last winter's storms took gluttonous bites out of the shoreline. But that poses no real problem. You can either follow one of the tracks through the dunes or walk along the sand.

After three miles of sand-dancing, we had to jump across the shallow Cocklemill Burn then skirt a caravan park before following the bluebell and sea thrift-lined path around Shell Bay to Kincraig Point. Macduff is said to have hidden from Macbeth in one of the caves beneath the cliffs in the 11th century, but this headland is redolent of more recent history, being littered with Second World War pill boxes.

As we passed one at the top of the cliff, my father suddenly motioned for me to stop. A weasel had robbed a gulls' nest and was nudging an egg along the path just ahead of us. For a few seconds it continued with its task, then saw us and disappeared into the long grass.

In this part of Fife, however, the objects that you are most likely to see disappearing into long grass are golf balls. Elie and Earlsferry, the two villages immediately to the east of Kincraig point, were once dependent on fishing, but now water sports, tennis and golf are the main "industries". During the week they are comatose rather than sleepy settlements, but at the weekends Edinburgh professionals arrive to blow the dust off their holiday homes.

On the far side of Elie, just past the Ship Inn, an ideal place to shake out the sand at lunchtime, is the Lady's Tower. It's said that the lady in question, an 18th century beauty, used to bathe beneath the tower and ordered a nearby village to be razed when a local lad was caught watching her. But the sea haar seems to have obscured much of the history of not only the Lady's Tower, but of Ardross and Newark castles - the two ruins that sit on the three-mile path from Elie to St Monance.

It's worth spending a little time ambling round St Monance, watching the sea spray drench the skull-and-crossbones fishermen's gravestones in the old kirkyard, studying the crow-stepped gables and pantile roofs of the Fife fishing villages or simply listening to the locals talk. But Pittenweem, which is three, clearly-signposted miles north of St Monance, is more interesting still. It's by far the busiest of the Fife fishing ports and has its share of juggernauts. But if you turn up any of the wynds that lead from the harbour to the old high street you snap back in time and the clock slows down. The bank only opens two days a week and the fish and chip shop still has "for your throat's sake, smoke Craven A" adverts on its wall. But 100 yards away, near the Tolbooth where witches were once imprisoned, is an even rarer historical curiosity - the cave that St Fillan lived in during the ninth century.

It's a dank, gloomy place but St Fillan apparently worked away quite happily in it for years because he had a luminous left arm. Defoe could have written a good story about that too.

Start - Cardy Bay car park, Lower Largo

Finish - Pittenweem

Distance - 13 miles

OS map - Landranger 59 Kirkcaldy

Tourist Office 01334-472021

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