Seeking adventure? Sign up for the Fife Chain Walk
EVEN a hillwalker enjoys a coastal walk, especially if the weather on the high tops is bad. So how about a scramble round a rocky headland in Fife, and a walk to see the remains of wartime fortifications?
The Fife Coastal Path, completed in 2002, runs from North Queensferry to the Tay Bridge - yet one short unofficial section is the most challenging, allowing the adventurous to discover Fife's best-kept secret, the Elie Chain Walk. The Chain Walk goes round the base of Kincraig Point amid a jumble of volcanic rock pools and caves washed by the sea at high tide. Unlike the way marked path, this detour has chains to direct the way below dramatic cliffs and distinctive basalt columns. A modest head for heights is required as you negotiate a series of carved steps, accompanied by vertical and horizontal chains.
All eight chains are stainless steel and bolted to the rock, but trying to get a good grip with bare hands in cold weather could be painful or even dangerous. For this reason I suggest this traverse as an autumn walk - on a warmish day. There is another snag. Don't attempt the walk when the tide is coming in, for it would be easy to get stranded. Go when the tide is on the ebb, to maximise the time available. At low tide it is possible to walk some distance without needing all the chains, but it would seem a pity to do so. A compromise could be to make the traverse then return along the beach and coves, giving time to explore the caves and rock pools. Check tide times in The Scotsman and pick a calm day. If in doubt, phone the coastguard on 01333 450666.
There is a mystery about the origins of the Chain Walk. I like to think of smugglers using it, scouring the base of the cliffs for cargo from a shipwreck. The chains and steps may have been built between the wars, perhaps in the late 1920s. No-one really seems to know, but maybe that is how it should be.
For more information on the Fife Coastal path call 01592 414300, or try the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust on 01333 592591.
You will need Ordnance Survey map 59, St Andrews. Kincraig Point lies to the west of Elie, from where the short walk goes west to Earlsferry. From Earlsferry Links, take the path south-west through the golf course towards the coast. You will see the signpost highlighting the Fife Coastal Path, which you now join. Turn right by the side of the golf course, above the beach, for a lovely grassy walk by the sand dunes. Go towards the headland, and a good stepped path starting at map ref 473000. A signpost at this point shows the way to the left (west) by the beach to the Chain Walk, but save that delight for the return. The path climbs only some 50m, and with ups and downs later, the total climb for the day is no more than 100m.
Once on the headland, examine the remains of the fortifications, but also enjoy the views especially south, over the Forth to the Lothians. It may be surprising to see how wide the Forth is at this point. Continue over the headland, descending gently until around map ref 463997, looking for a grassy path that leaves the official path and goes down to a cove. This drop is short but steep, so take extra care if it's wet.
The start of the Chain Walk is at this small rocky inlet, with the sea surging towards a cave, and as the inlet is mostly under water, the rocks can be slippy. Some experience of very easy scrambling could be an advantage. All the pitches are short and the steep ones have footholds dug into the rock, some of which have been eroded over the years by the tide. The safest way of tackling the descents is to face into the rock, holding on to the chains with both hands. The first move over the edge may seem difficult, facing in and trying to find the foothold steps. Oddly enough, the more vertical the descent, the easier it is to tackle, with minimal overhangs.
The last section is the most interesting, with a slanting diagonal chain, and an awkward step to a raised rib of rock, leading to a cave. Then there is a horizontal chain. The rock overhangs slightly and the chain is a bit too slack, such that pressure is put on the arms in leaning outwards. Unless it is almost full tide, one can walk over the pebbles and rejoin the chain later, but you wouldn't want to do that, would you?
A short stroll along the beach leads back to the official path.
Map Ordnance Survey map 59, St Andrews
Distance 3 to 4 miles
Terrain Quiet road, good path and beach ... then the Chain Walk
Start point Elie
Time 3 to 4 hours, depending on the time you take to explore
Nearest town Elie
Nearest refreshment spot A choice in Elie
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Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east