For some reason I've never walked along the Fife section of the Firth of Forth coast west of the Forth Road Bridge. I think it's a combination of some perceived public transport issues (no train stations) and the fact that I drove that route as part of my journey from Glasgow to Dalgety Bay for over 2 months a good few years back - every day, back & forth, and didn't enjoy the journey at all. However now that the Fife Coastal Path was fully open and since I'd seen some good reviews of pubs along the coast, I decided it was time to make the effort.
View Culross in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows:-
Train: Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Haymarket
Haymarket to North Queensferry
North Queensferry to Rosyth
I had a bit of time to wait for my connection to Rosyth, so decided to do this at North Queensferry rather than Haymarket - I think the views from North Queensferry station are most definitely easier on the eye.
My reason for getting off at Rosyth was to minimise my time walking along that busy (and boring) main road between the Forth and Kincardine Bridges. Instead I was able to take an almost diagonal route along Primrose Road and then continue on the traffic free path along Primrose Lane to the entrance of Douglas Bank Cemetery. Here I crossed the main road and joined the Fife Coastal Path heading towards the shoreline. From an elevated position on the Path I was able to get a great view of the Rosyth Naval Base complex with the huge crane that was going to assemble the aircraft carrier sections which had been built at Govan and then transported around the northern coast of Scotland to Rosyth.
I followed the Coastal Path towards the shoreline and after about an hour's walk from Rosyth I came to the small village of Limekilns with its quiet harbour and sandy beach.
At the start of the Main Street in Limekilns is The Bruce Arms, a quite elegant building, and today both customers & the owners were soaking up the sunshine on the outside tables at the front.
Inside was a single room bar and lounge area, common to many small hotels, and I think there was a beer garden out the back for use in the evening. I was happy to spy Black Sheep Bitter on the single hand-pull and they also do old fashioned bar snacks at lunchtime (soup, sandwiches, toasties, etc...).
Across the main corridor from the bar/lounge was something I hadn't seen before in a pub - a full size table tennis table! Now I don't mind playing darts or pool during an evening out, but I think I would struggle with something as coordinated as table tennis after a couple of pints.
I finished my Black Sheep out on one of the benches and then headed along the Esplanade, past where a 'Raft Race' was being setup for later in the afternoon, to the white-washed Ship Inn
The place has a definite reputation for food and with this being the height of lunchtime the dining area was packed. However I was quite happy to sit at the bar, order some soup and quaff my pint of hoppy Stewart Edinburgh Festival (Kelburn Misty Law & Deuchars IPA were the other choices), with the pump-clips on the ceiling giving the indication of a lot of changing guest ales.
They certainly have gone to town with the nautical theme in the place - lots of prints of ships & seascapes, model boats, all sorts of knots, steering wheels, clocks, bells, a vintage Hudson's soap box and a brass ship's engine order telegraph bolted to the bar - it all works really well, especially in the (very snug) snug.
Whilst slurping my strongly favoured Broccoli & Stilton soup (very nice) I found out from the friendly bar staff that the Raft Race consists of a paddle out to a couple of buoys in the Forth and then a paddle back again, normally in Pirate fancy dress, and with some likely skulduggery between the rival Limekilns and Culross teams. Then everyone heads to the Ship Inn for beer, BBQ food and live music - well deserved after a soaking in the Forth!
I left the Ship Inn & the preparations for the Raft Race and headed further along the coast and up a short incline into the centre of Charlestown. This is an 18th Century equivalent of a New Town with the cottages for the workers of the adjoining limekilns and coal mines being constructed by one Charles Elgin to further his own wealth, rather than by the State. In fact the initial groups of cottages were laid out in capital 'C' and capital 'E' formations, quite visible from the tops of the surrounding hills or (nowadays) from the air. The photo shows the row of single-level cottages along the bottom line of the 'E'.
I headed down a signposted path to the harbour and the site of the limekilns at the base of the cliffs above Charlestown. The path was partially overgrown with thistles & brambles and, since I was only wearing a T-shirt & shorts, probably wasn't my most sensible decision of the day (I have the scratches to prove it). The 14 limekilns were finally closed down in the 1950's, but there's been some restoration recently and you can get a slight sense of the scale involved and what the claustrophobic, hot and and filthy working conditions must have been like.
I clambered back up the the village (wearing my long cagoule this time - why didn't I think of that before), and decided to go into The Elgin Hotel (named after - you guessed it!).
They were playing 1973 by James Blunt when I entered and I think that was quite appropriate for the place - it's somewhat old fashioned with lots of dark wood tables & chairs, patterned carpeting, a small bar with Carlsberg, Guinness & Belhaven Best on draught and a somewhat elderly clientèle in for a late lunch. Having said that the view from the bright conservatory restaurant across the Forth to the Pentland Hills is great, the staff were more than welcoming & my imported bottle of Birra Moretti quite acceptable.
Charlestown was certainly an interesting place to visit and I'm glad I had the chance to have a wander about. The Fife Coastal Path next took me back to the main road and the village of Crombie before returning to the Forth and the low greens & mud-flats of Torryburn and Newmills. Just past Newmills Bridge I came to a footbridge over the railway line which led me to the partially man-made Preston Island. This was originally used for both coal and salt pan mining, but the works are now being filled in with waste ash from the nearby Longannet Power Station. It's a bracing 2 mile circular walk around the island with views of some derelict mine buildings, lots of wildlife, the Lothian coast across the Forth and land in the process of being reclaimed from the sea.
After this it was a short walk into the conservation village of Culross, with its historic buildings and cobbled streets. On the main street is the brightly coloured 'Palace' or Merchants House which was visited by James VI.
Whilst slighter further up the hillside is Culross Abbey, where St Mungo (Patron Saint of Glasgow) was educated.
There are a couple of craft shops & cafes (with some great local ice cream) in the village centre and also the Red Lion Inn.
This is a really low ceilinged place with wood clad walls & ceilings and consisting of a couple of dining rooms and a busy, efficient bar area with Inveralmond Inkie Pinkie on the single hand-pull. I ordered a pint of this and sat down in one of the corner tables to take in all of the Scottish prints, murals and bric-a-brac on the walls.
This was all quite impressive but the stand-out features are the incredible painted ceilings done by local artist Douglas Cadoo. In the bar the ceiling is covered with images of old (and more modern) beer and whisky labels, pump-clips and adverts. Because the ceiling is so low it's really quite distinctive & attention grabbing.
In the dining room the images on the ceiling tell the story of Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped with short descriptions on the beams, whilst in the Gents (I can't believe I've taken a photo in the Gents - again!) there are some more biblical images.
I eventually ended up out in the beer garden adjacent to the car park with a Staropramen and a packet of Bacon Flavour Fries taking in the view across the Forth in the afternoon sunshine with a gentle breeze coming off the water - can't argue too much about that to end the day.
And in contrast to my travelling woes of last week, the bus from Dunfermline to Falkirk came right on schedule at Culross and dropped me off with enough time (after a somewhat lung-bursting fast walk up the hill) to get the express train at Falkirk High back to Glasgow.
Bus: Culross to Falkirk (Stagecoach in Fife 28, 17:12)
Train: Falkirk High to Glasgow Queen Street