MY TOP TEN ABSOLUTELY FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO AND SEE
The perfect location for a Scottish seaside escape
Here are my top ten absolutely favourite things to do and see when visiting the East Neuk and St Andrews area. These are sure to keep you happy year round, whether you’re a couple, family, group of friends or golfing party.
1. BROWSE THE PICTURESQUE FISHING VILLAGES
Take your pick from East Neuk’s wonderfully picturesque fishing villages
Our closest village, Crail is probably the East Neuk’s most photographed village with its picture-perfect harbour. It’s also great to walk around, visit the Crail Pottery, galleries e.g. the artist-run The Crail Gallery, fishing harbour (you can buy live, fresh or cooked crab and lobster at the stall in season) and beaches followed by a coffee, cake or panini outdoors overlooking the sea at the Crail Harbour Gallery (Tel: 01333 451896, open 7 days), with its magical views over to the Isle of May. (Map and more info on About Crail website).
Pittenweem is sublimely pretty too with its harbour and hills, cave, craft shops and galleries and The Cocoa Tree (9 High Street, Tel: 01333 311495, 10am-6pm) – a Chocolat-style chocolate shop and cafe which does the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted and is much-loved by our guests. Just next door is St Monans, smaller and quieter with a real unspoilt, vintage vibe. Visit its landmark windmill, old salt pans, welly garden and relaxed, culinary gem in the form of the East Pier Smokehouse (East Shore, Tel: 01333 405030). Elie and Earlsferry are well-heeled and famous for a stunning beach (complete with beach huts) and country pubs. Anstruther (known to locals as Anster) is the biggest and busiest with its marina full of boats, lighthouse, shops (don’t miss Harbour Interiors, 3 Shore Street), local music venue Dreel Halls and most famously fish ‘n’ chips at the Anstruther Fish Bar. This is also the home of the Scottish Fisheries Museum and the boat to the Isle of May – more on these below. Just alongside is quiet, arty Cellardyke. It’s too hard to pick a favourite so you are best to visit all of the villages! Luckily they are close together so this is easy. To get from one village to the next use your own wheels, the no. 95 Stagecoach bus or better still your two legs via the Fife Coastal Path…
2. BEAUTIFUL BEACHES AND SCOTLAND’S LONGEST CONTINUOUS COASTAL PATH
Who doesn’t love a beautiful beach?
Our favourites can be found at Kingsbarns, St Andrews and Elie. There is also a huge, wild beach in Tentsmuir Forest (near Leuchars at the beautiful Eden Estuary) where you can see seals in low tide.
Enjoy the beaches while getting some exercise with the Fife Coastal Path, Scotland’s longest continuous coastal path (117 miles in total). I particularly recommend four walks on this spectacular walkway: (i) Kingbarns beach to Crail (ii) Crail to Anstruther (iii) St Monans to Elie (followed by a drink in the Ship Inn pub – AA Pub of the Year for Scotland 2016-2017) and (iv) From Earlsferry up the hill towards Shell Bay for great views, then back to the 19th Hole pub in Earlsferry. There is an option to walk one way then get the Stagecoach No. 95 bus back.
3. TAKE A BOAT TRIP TO THE ISLE OF MAY NATURE RESERVE
It’s like being inside a nature programme!
This genuinely unspoilt island with its wonderful wildlife including seals, puffins, rabbits and generally thousands of sea birds makes for an unforgettable day trip. It’s like being inside a nature programme! The boat trip (Tel: 01333 311808 or 07908 996725) to the Isle of May takes up to about an hour each way from Anstruther harbour (April-September – April-July is best for puffin and other seabird viewing) and you get around 3 hours on the island. Practicalities: Take warm layers, waterproofs and food and drinks with you as there is no shop on the island, although you can buy refreshments on the boat. There are toilets on the boat and island. One sailing per day except some Tuesdays.
New from August 2015 is a daily boat trip from Anstruther to another great coastal town right over on the other side of the Firth of Forth: North Berwick. It’s a quick catamaran crossing which only takes 45 minutes and makes for a fun day trip. There’s no extra charge for taking bikes or golf clubs with you either. Full details in my blogpost.
4. GOLF, GOLF, GOLF TO YOUR HEART’S CONTENT AT SOME OF SCOTLAND’S BEST COURSES
This really is the place to be if you’re a golfer.
As luck has it the legendary links courses at Crail (Tel: +44 (0)1333 450686, firstname.lastname@example.org), Kingsbarns (Tel: +44 (0) 1334 460860 or 1-800-441-1391 toll free from US and Canada, email@example.com), Elie (Tel: +44 (0)1333 330301, firstname.lastname@example.org), one called The Old Course you may have heard about (!) and numerous other fantastic golf courses (see the Fife Golf Trails for more information) are all easily played from Rose Cottage. If you prefer your golf a little on the crazy side try The Himalayas – the public putting green in St Andrews, so named because of its challenging hills! Or there’s lots of fun to be had playing old fashioned hickory golf, 1920s-style at Kingarrock near Cupar.
5. A DAY (AND A NIGHT OUT) IN ST ANDREWS
One of Scotland’s most scenic historic towns has something for every visitor
Stroll along the endless sandy beaches, pier and harbour, enjoy the boutique shops, have some Jannettas ice cream, visit historic sights like the Cathedral (including views from the top of St Rule’s Tower) and Castle, peak into the imposing University buildings, visit the Aquarium or museums, enjoy the tranquillity of the Botanic Gardens, Lade Braes walk (1.5 miles one way) or the adventure parks and rides at nearby Craigtoun Country Park. A great way to take it in is on foot starting at the Cathedral, walking through to see the harbour and pier then back along the Scores past the Castle, University buildings and Old Course to West Sands beach. Then back to Market Street to explore the town centre. After your walking tour relax, while enjoying views of the Old Course and sea, with a coffee or something stronger at the British Golf Museum cafe, Jigger Inn or Roadhole bar, Old Course Hotel.
The St Andrews shops are great – lots of the best national clothing chains for casual wear are here, such as Joules plus lots of great one off shops, such as Bonkers gift shop (doesn’t really live up to its name, just a nice gift shop) and Farmore Interiors. Give yourself some time and wander along South Street, Market Street and the two main streets in between (or also down to Golf Place for golf shops) and enjoy browsing.
As many a university student can testify, St Andrews is also lots of fun by night so if you fancy a night out in St Andrews try The Adamson cocktail bar for some glamour, The St Andrews Brewing Company’s Brewpub to discover craft beer and cider, The Criterion or Central Bar for a traditional pub and Forgan’s for a fun ceilidh (traditional Scottish dancing) night.
See the Visit St Andrews site for more details or download their app from the App Store.
6. STEP BACK IN TIME AT HISTORIC HOUSES, CASTLES, GARDENS AND AN UNDERGROUND BUNKER
Home of Scottish kings and queens of old
Just 20 minutes’ walk (or 5 minutes’ drive) from Rose Cottage is Cambo House (on the B917 near Kingsbarns, Open daily year-round 10am-5pm. Charge for adults, kids free. 01333 450313) with its lovely walled garden, woodland walk, pigs, plant shop, and popular seasonal events (e.g. “Snowdrops by Starlight” and “Cambolicious” craft beer festival.) 5 miles from Rose Cottage is National Trust of Scotland’s Kellie Castle, where you can visit the castle, lovely gardens, café and woodland walks and even buy some of the seasonal veg they grow (Garden and Estate open year-round, Castle and shop April-October, Tel: 0844 493 2184). Around 30 minutes’ drive away is National Trust of Scotland’s Hill of Tarvit Edwardian Mansion, which is well worth a visit for its display of antiques and paintings, old-fashioned hickory golf (on the 9-hole Kingarrock course) and plethora of fun activities for all of the family (croquet on the lawn anyone?) as well as woodland and hilltop walks (Garden and grounds open year-round, Mansion, tea room and shop April-October, closed Tuesday and Wednesday except in July and August, Tel: 01334 653127). Slightly further afield again (about 40 minutes drive) is Falkland Palace, home of Scottish kings and queens of old. The palace, gardens and beautiful surrounding town of Falkland are well worth a day trip. Finally check out the new Angus-Fife Gardens Trail or visit the lovely gardens at nearby, privately-owned Wormistoune House, Wormiston (just a 5-10 minute walk from Rose Cottage) year round by arrangement – email the Head Gardener, Katherine Taylor on email@example.com or phone 07905 938449.
Or for a unique Cold War experience go underground into Scotland’s Secret Bunker, only 3 miles from Rose Cottage on the B9131 (Open March-October 7 days 10-5. Tel: 01333 310301). This is where the chosen few Scots would have come in the event of a nuclear attack during the Cold War and where Scotland would have been governed from. Don’t miss a visit to the tea room to complete the experience of being in a bygone era. Open March-October.
7. GET AN ADRENALINE RUSH
As well as walking and golf there are lots of outdoor activities in the area for every age
For cyclists there are lots of cycle routes – see the Outdoor Fife site for details. If you prefer four legs to two wheels there are various stables which offer horse-riding e.g. Kilconquhar Castle Estate Equestrian Centre, near Colinsburgh (Tel: 01333 340501) or Barbarafield Riding School, Craigrothie, near Cupar (Tel: 01334 828223). For all types of watersports there is East Neuk Outdoors in Cellardyke Park, beside Cellardyke Harbour (Tel: 01333 311 929). There’s go karting / dragster racing in Crail – on the road to the golf course. You can also sail on the West Sands in St Andrews – land yachting which is like a go kart going along the beach with a huge sail attached – with Blown Away Experiences (Tel: 07784 121125).
8. RECHARGE YOUR BATTERIES WITH SOME SPA TIME
Unwind with some R&R time
Feel all of your stresses melt away with some spa time at the fabulously indulgent Kohler Waters Spa at The Old Course hotel, St Andrews. Enjoy the rooftop Jacuzzi pool, indoor pools, sauna, steam rooms, spa café and a wide range of the latest treatments.
The Fairmont Hotel just outside St Andrews is another excellent and family-friendly spa option – we love a post swim lunch in the Clubhouse with its amazing vista of the St Andrews skyline and coast.
New on the St Andrews spa scene is the Eden Spa (featuring my favourite UK beauty brand, ESPA) at the new 5 star boutique Kinnettles Hotel, 127 North Street. No pool but the Jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and nail bar look great from the photos and this is next on my must try list!
9. HAVE A LOCAL TIPPLE OR NIBBLE
Our new neighbour is a whisky Distillery!
Newly opened and just 10 minute walk from Rose Cottage is the Kingsbarns Distillery – tours are available and there is a free exhibition plus a shop to purchase blended and malt whisky, gin and wine and a nice café if you prefer a hot chocolate. If you prefer beer there are brewery tours at The Eden Mill, Guardbridge Mill, near Leuchars (£7.50 including free tasting, booking required, Tel: 01334 834038) or sample The St Andrews Brewing Co’s craft beers in their excellent pub on South Street in St Andrews – Mr ENB and I love their “Crail Ale”. Eden Mill now also produces gins created from locally sourced botanicals (we adore their “Love Gin”) and single malt whiskies, which I’m looking forward to sampling. One to watch is Daftmill Distillery, Cupar – it’s one of Scotlands newest and smallest malt whisky distilleries but their whisky is not yet ready. It’s busy maturing in their bond so they’re asking us to be patient in the meantime.
As for nibbles, a lot of great food is produced in Fife so there is an abundance of excellent farm shops and delis selling delicious local produce, such as the St Andrews Farmhouse Cheese Company near Anstruther, Ardross Farm Shop near St Monans, and Allanhill Farm and Balgove Larder near St Andrews. Discover delights such as Anster cheese and juicy local strawberries and find out what a “Sair Heid” is at a local baker’s shop like Barnett’s or Fisher and Donaldson.
10. GET INTO THE THRIVING LOCAL MUSIC SCENE
Discover great new music at the lively local concerts
Keep your eyes peeled for local concerts to experience the real East Neuk and the remarkable wealth of musical talent it and the wider Kingdom of Fife have produced (some are also posted on my Events page or in my blogposts or try Dreel Halls or Alter Ego Trading Company). My top tip is to check out the regular Thursday and Saturday night live local music nights at the bar at the East Neuk Hotel in Crail. Favourite acts include King Creosote (a regular performer at the East Neuk Hotel), Lidh and James Yorkston but lots of others are also great and all best experienced live with a pint of local beer in hand. The book “Songs in the Key of Fife” (see my Local Books page) is worth a read for a fascinating insight into the lives of local musicians.