by Ali Wyllie
Run the Sights
Cath and I took to the Fife Coastal Path for a 12-mile run, and to quench my desire to visit some cherished family memories. Naturally my super fit, Hungarian Vizsla dog; Princess Jasper, also joined us.
Before I tell you about this amazing running route, let me explain why Elie (the start of our run), is so incredibly special and personal to me.
My Granny was always immaculately presented and well spoken. She was a stern but loveable lady. She had 6 children and 15 grandchildren, and having lost her husband at an early age, she raised her family as a single mum, in a generation that did not favour a strong female. She was the family spine and matriarch. She is the inspiration behind a string of strong ladies following in her footsteps.
Granny ruled at Breakwater House in Elie, this was the family hub, the place all the cousins would congregate; willing away the hours, playing on the beach, whilst the adults did boring adult things. In Elie, I was a feral child with sea salt and sand perpetually in my hair and bed.
I found running a couple of years before Granny passed away. My last memory of this wonderful lady is one I cherish and hold very dear. I was about 16 years old, and by this point, Granny was in a home, at Braids Nursing Home in Edinburgh. Seeing her confined to a small room, was like seeing a magnificent eagle caged. Here was a lady who soared the skies, never missing a beat, but her wings had been clipped. By this point though, she was tired, she wasn’t fighting and she was perfectly content on her perch, as if resting a while, before taking to the skies again.
I had raced in a cross-country race in the borders, my first race out with the school environment. I was buzzing. I bounded into Granny’s room and yapped on and on about my race. She was proud as punch and pulled out the sherry. I had never had a drink with my Granny before, and here I was sipping on a sherry and talking about running.
My Granny wasn’t a runner, but she listened and was enthused by my energy. During this conversation she had a glint in her eye and a softness I hadn’t seen very often.
She didn’t last long after this and I am still grateful for this precious moment with her; to share a running story with her and feel her warmth and pride. I’m not convinced she understood why anyone wanted to run for fun, but she was chuffed to bits for me, and I can still feel her support today.
A little over an hour from Edinburgh, Elie rests on the Fife coastline. You will find the best car park for the Fife Coastal Path (FCP) on the east side of the village, behind the harbour road and conveniently close to the amazing Ship Inn. From here the FCP is well marked.
The first point of interest along the way is Lady’s Tower, built in 1760 for Lady Janet Anstruther (renowned for her physical beauty and flirtatious character), to use as a changing room prior to her morning skinny dips. Tragically Lady Anstruther met her death by drowning in the waters below the tower. I remember many a walk to gaze out to sea, with Granny by my side at this very point, as she told me tales of Lady Anstruther.
The route then skims past the ruins of Newark Castle, an ancient 13th century building, believed to have been the residence of King Alexander III during part of his childhood.
With twisting and undulating, single track, sandy terrain this section of the route is laugh out loud fun! It is heaven for trail running legs.
The view towards St Monans is breath-taking. Like most of the small villages along the coast, St Monans is an old fishing village. One of the most eye-catching features is an old windmill situated on the coast as the FCP leaves the village. This windmill was historically used to power the salt-panning industry.
Then out of St Monans and on to Pittenweem, with a population of over 1,700 and a thriving fishing industry, the harbour in Pittenweem can be a hive of activity. The FCP brings you into the village past rows of stunning white stone cottages with red roofs, then on through narrow alleyways. These surroundings and the smell of the sea, leaves you feeling you could almost be in a hot European coastal village.
Dotted along the trail at this point are various bikes, decorated beautifully and sometimes amusingly for the entertainment of the FCP users.
Finally, for this run, we arrived at Anstruther where we were due to turn around and retrace our steps, taking in all the same sights but from a different perspective. Anstruther is the largest of the coastal communities along East Neuk. Whilst it still has a bustling harbour; tourism is massive here.
We ran past numerous cafes, with patrons spilling out onto the street. Perhaps Anstruther’s most famous acclaim is the Anstruther Fish Bar, which professes to be Britain’s best fish shop (caveated by the word “probably”, after this claim).
Upon returning to the car and stretching off, I had to drag Cath over to Granny’s old house. Perched on the breakwater, taking pride of place. Oh the memories! I was initially taken aback to see a mobile café and seating area taking up a large part of the breakwater; Elie Beach Café, oh how Granny would turn in her grave at the sight of this. But times change and with the onslaught of tourists and the mad coffee craze that seems to have swept the UK over the past decade, there is a real demand for this service.
It turned out the owners of the Café also live in, and own, Granny’s old house - Breakwater House - they very kindly offered me a nosy next time I am in Elie. As kind as this offer is, I feel that would be too much, I can look at the same old familiar shell from the outside. But the heart of this house has changed several times over, I would rather remember it with the sounds of my family and the smell of my Granny.
To me, this running route has everything. Beautiful sights, interesting history, amazing running terrain, fresh sea air and on a personal level - heart-pounding nostalgia. Running on routes like this is exactly why I run. Go on - seize the day and experience as many running adventures as you can, see the world on the run, live life with adrenaline and endorphins pumping through your body. No running adventure is ever a waste of time.
One day I will do the full Fife Coastal Path over a weekend or even in one full stint – running through the night. Anyone care to join me?
EXPLORE SCOTLAND ON THE RUN | RUN THE SIGHTS | RUNNING TOURS FOR EVERYONE