Walk of the week: Markinch to Leslie

In the 1850s the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway, already operating in Fife, had plans to build a number of branch lines to serve other towns.
Picture: Neil DoigPicture: Neil Doig
Picture: Neil Doig

One such five-mile line, from Markinch to Leslie (with a branch to Auchmuty), was opened in 1861. The main source of income came from the paper mills by the River Leven, at Leslie and further downstream.

At first, passenger service flourished, but competition following the advent of buses for public transport led to passenger traffic being withdrawn in 1932. Closure came to most of the line in the 1960s, though trains continued to serve Auchmuty paper mills. That latter line, though now closed, is still shown on my 1996 map as a freight line. Nevertheless, paper manufacturing is still one of Glenrothes’ major employers – Tullis Russell being the largest and whose facility is the merger of two former mills, Auchmuty and Rothes.

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Although parts of the track bed have been lost to road developments and housing in the new town of Glenrothes, the route can still be broadly detected from a study of the map. What is left of the track bed is now a broad Tarmac way suitable for walkers and cyclists (part of National Cycleway 766) and, being generally well signposted, a map is not really needed. The section through Glenrothes is known as the Boblingen Way, a reference to Glenrothes’ twin-town in Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany, though oddly enough I failed to notice any such signs.

I did the walk with Rhona and my local guide Jimbo, a resident of Glenrothes, and what impressed me was how secluded it is much of the way – seclusion that is not apparent from a glance at the map.

The route

Turn left on leaving Markinch railway station and follow the old track bed/Tarmac way. Bringing back schoolboy memories of my great uncle who worked there, on the right is the former Haig’s whisky bottling plant, now a business centre. After ¼ mile a sign confirms that you are on the Balbirnie Viaduct path. Then reach Auchmuty Junction, once with a signal box but closed in 1933, from where the branch line descended towards the Leven and Auchmuty.

Passing a sign, Leslie Railway Company 1861 – also Leslie 4½m, Markinch ½m – the Leslie line rises to Balbirnie Bridge Viaduct. Next up is the section where the track bed has all but disappeared. The general direction is south-west (signposts do help).Turn left by Alburn Crescent and eventually pass under the A92. On reaching the Lomond Centre on the right, cross over a road and turn left to regain the signposted track bed, Leslie 3 miles.

The Tarmac way curves through Warout Wood, on the right of which is Glenrothes Juniors football stadium. Pass Lomond Business Park and later, on a steady descent, the Lomond Hills come into view. Cross a busy road and so to the 14 arches of the curving Leslie Viaduct, 214 yards long, high above the Leven.

A listed building, it was designed by Sir Thomas Bouch (later the designer of the ill-fated Tay Bridge). It originally had low, flat-coped parapets with cast iron railings, though these were removed as part of its conversion to carry the Boblingen Way. Beyond the viaduct the track bed continues to the former site of Leslie station. Only a few remnants of an old wall remain where a branch line came in from the nearby paper mill.

Given the railway’s demise due to buses, it is ironic that an easy return, rather than retracing steps, is to take a bus to Glenrothes’ central bus station, then on again to Markinch.

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Map Ordnance Survey map 59, St Andrews, Kirkcaldy & Glenrothes

Distance 5 miles

Height Negligible

Terrain Mostly broad Tarmac path on old railway track bed

Start point Markinch railway station

Time 2 to 3 hours

Nearest town Glenrothes

Refreshment spot Carlton Coffee House, Balbirnie Street, Markinch