This article describes the coastline around the county of Fife, as it winds along the northern side of the Firth of Forth estuary, the North Sea, and the Tay estuary. It is an incredibly scenic section of the Scottish coast, and includes wide estuaries, beautiful villages, sandy beaches and castle ruins.
Kincardine to Kirkcaldy
Consisting of numerous seaside towns and different types of industrial activity, this section makes up most of the northern side of the Firth of Forth estuary. However, it also contains mudflats, sandy bays and even a nature reserve.
The shoreline between Kincardine and North Queensferry mainly consists of mudflats, in particular at Torry Bay, where at low tide, extensive mud flats with rock outcrops are exposed stretching out into the estuary. A curious feature exists in the middle of the bay – known as Preston Island – this former artificial island was built to facilitate salt production. Now attached to the mainland, Preston Island is open to the public, and remains of the saltworks can be seen . Rocky mudflats also exist within Dalgety Bay; however, as one moves eastwards towards Kirkcaldy, sandy bays emerge, in particular at Burntisland. Also, although rolling hill slopes mainly border the north side of the estuary, intermittent craggy cliff faces are also found. In summary, this coastal stretch contrasts between bays, rugged cliffs and subtle headlands.
Numerous large towns are sprinkled along this coastal stretch, including Kincardine, Culross, Rosyth, North Queensferry, Burntisland and Kirkcaldy. Although most of these are large port towns that are associated with some level of industry, such as the small docklands and warehouses at Burntisland, and the large naval dockyard at Rosyth, ‘industrial’ does not describe each town fairly. The village of North Queensferry is incredibly picturesque, with its cottages built along the hillside around a network of narrow winding streets. Great views can be seen of the Forth Bridge that passes almost directly over the village, as well as the two road bridges that pass North Queensferry to the west . However, the 16th and 17th Century village of Culross is incredibly scenic. Consisting of numerous white, rose and yellow-coloured cottages, Culross also contains a Renaissance-era palace that was built by George Bruce, a wealthy merchant and engineer. This is open to the public, and contains wonderful ceiling paintings, pine panelling and a beautiful garden .
Kirkcaldy to Tayport
This coastal stretch is more rural and historical than the section between Kincardine and Kirkcaldy. The southern portion borders the outer reaches of the Forth estuary, whereas the eastern side is adjacent to the North Sea. Although several seaside towns rest upon the coastline, there are also extensive sections of rugged coastline, exposing rocks and tidal sand flats during low tide. The picture-postcard university town of Saint Andrews also looks out upon the North Sea.
The town of Kirkcaldy overlooks the outer reaches of the Forth estuary – with a lengthy modern promenade flanked with chain shopping outlets, even with the sandy beach bordering the town centre, this may not appeal as a resort town. Along the northern suburbs is where history can be found, including Ravenscraig Castle, the remains of which are over 500 years old . The historic Dysart Harbour, just to the north-east of the town, is lined with scenic picture-postcard cottages . Other towns between Kirkcaldy and Tayport include the quiet village of East Wemyss and the port town of Methil.
A string of old-fashioned fishing villages line the southern coasts of Fife, known as the East Neuk. Anstruther is one of these; containing beautiful stone-clad buildings overlooking the mouth of the Forth estuary, the town also includes the Anstruther Fish Bar, a restaurant that has won a number of awards, including the UK Fish and Chip Shop of the year award. The Scottish Fisheries Museum is also located here, showing how proud the town is of its fishing heritage. However, another beautiful and traditional town along this part of the coast is Saint Andrews. Consisting of many old and beautiful townhouses, this small town is home to the University of Saint Andrews – founded in 1413, this is arguably one of Britain’s most prestigious universities, which includes members of the British Royal Family amongst its many alumni . Located on the Fife coast, the historic university building, along with the ruins of an old cathedral and an 800-year-old castle, overlook the North Sea.
This coastal stretch does not feature many towering cliffs; instead, it is characterised by low hills that slope down to rocky and rugged coasts. Low headlands are interspersed along the coastline, including Elie Ness, upon which a lighthouse looks out over the sea, and Fife Ness, a promontory that marks the line between the mouth of the Forth estuary and the start of the North Sea. Large expanses of sand also sprawl along sections of the coast, such as at Largo Bay, where an 8 km (5 mile) long extent of sand arches along the rocky shoreline. However, Tentsmuir Sands particularly stands out – this rather wide expanse of clean sands is backed by sand dunes and a large woodland. Popular with tourists, part of the beach is also used as a nature reserve . Tentsmuir Point, just to the east of Tayport, divides the North Sea to the east from the Tay estuary to the west.
The Tay Estuary
With rolling tree-lined hills sloping down to the shoreline on the southern side of the estuary, and a large expanse of flat land lined with saltmarshes to the north, either side of the estuary contains distinctive features. As well as the port villages of Tayport, Newport-on-Tay and Newburgh, the southern side also contains two abbeys. One of these – Balmerino Abbey – was founded in the 13th Century. Although this abbey only consists of old ruins, the remains create a rather atmospheric feel .
The vast expanse of mud flats prevents ports from being built on the north side of the Tay, at least along the upper reaches of the estuary. However, as soon as the mud flats cease, the abundance of flat land on the northern side of the estuary allow a large port to be situated here – Dundee. Consisting of a cathedral, a university, docks and a modern promenade thanks to a recent regeneration project, Dundee is a popular tourist destination. Once a centre of much industry, some of the docks are today used for harbouring historic ships, such as the RSS Discovery that allowed Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton to voyage across the Antarctic, as well as the HMS Unicorn. Dundee is also a centre of arts and design, and it was designated a UNESCO City of Design by the United Nations in 2014 . To the east of Dundee, the coastline passes the seaside towns of Broughty Ferry and Monifieth, soon reaching Buddon Ness – a sandy headland containing a Ministry of Defence training ground that marks the northern boundary between the Tay estuary and the North Sea.