Winter Travel in the Kingdom of Fife
...with a self-catering stay near St Andrews
Coastal Winter Breaks in Fife
Deep winter is threatening in Scotland as dark skies, high wind and torrential rain have given us a fair battering over recent weeks. The whisky cabinet has taken a pounding, the walking boots less so. But, during the odd break in the cloud, the opportune traveller must pounce and the Kingdom of Fife is one of my favourite winter playgrounds. From the utterly charming East Neuk to the multi-faceted St Andrews here’s a look at some off-season inspiration, excellent self-catering accommodation and food for thought for 2020 travel planning….
St Andrews and Kingsbarns Distillery
The ancient town of St Andrews remains forever popular with students, golfers and your typical Scotland-loving tourists alike. Even in the depths of winter, there’s an above-average buzz about the place as the old-world aura collides with the palpable enthusiasm of freshly-graduated youngsters. Take a reflective wander amongst the ruins of the Cathedral, drink in that history and air of melancholy that has hung over this vast ruin since the Reformation’s destructive wave and consider the countless historical pilgrimages made to reach this very spot.
South and east of St Andrews you’ll find one of Scotland’s top new distilleries, Kingsbarns. Only around five years in existence (I remember its launch well), its still-shiny appearance and very thoughtful layout give the foundations for a first-rate tour. Relying on high-quality local Fife barley as its stand-out production characteristic, it’s a terrific advert for the often-far-too-hastily-dismissed Lowland whisky range. Embodying lots of the classic Lowland flavour notes, its very young malt dishes out lots of tropical fruit with a sharp peppery ginger kick to finish. The best is yet to come from this place I suspect.
The Villages of the East Neuk
This uniquely appealing stretch of Scotland’s coastline can be a busy wee place in the summer months, yet delightfully deserted at this time of year. ‘Neuk’, an old-Scots word for corner, has fortunately been retained in its description. For this distinctive perimeter holds all the charm of continental European architecture, the classic sense of Scottish coastal remoteness and the bustle and excitement of fishing ports where the promise of a lobster catch is never far away.
Half a dozen of these villages dot the coastline, with Crail the most photographed. Its pristine little harbour, littered with fishing apparatus and vocally overpowered by squawking gulls, is one of Fife’s must-see spots. Meander your way to neighbouring Anstruther next for a must-eat fish supper next and, in tourist season at any rate, contemplate a boat trip over to puffin-hangout the Isle of May from the harbour. Pittenweem, St Monans, Elie and Earlsferry continue this extremely appealing coastal jolly, each with their own subtle and gentle allure.
Winter Walking in the St Andrews Vicinity
The gigantic Fife Coastal Path can be tackled in its entirety or, as is more likely, in small chunks for those that lean towards low-lying what’s-that-island-on-the-horizon terrain. Take a wee look at the newly published Scottish Island Bagging book by the Walk Highlands team to whet your appetite for those potential island adventures in the Firth of Forth. The likes of May, Bass Rock, Fidra, Craigleith, Inchkeith and Inchcolm are all reviewed in what is a comprehensive but digestible overview of Scotland’s myriad island collection. Don’t be surprised if the East Neuk’s viewpoints tempts you out to at least one of them.
Hilly options in the predominantly flat Kingdom of Fife are a little limited, but the Lomond Hills are a very obvious exception. Both East and West Lomond peaks are ideal for these short winter days, delivering a 2-3 hour leg-stretch that’ll suit most abilities. Snuggly nestled beneath the hills is the Outlander-frenzied village of Falkland. Doing a damn fine job of bringing the East Neuk’s quaintness inland, it’s a place of whitewashed houses, tearooms and red pantile roofs. Not to mention the magnificent Falkland Palace, the long-term favourite retreat of Mary Queen of Scots.
Self-Catering in St Andrews, with a bit of Luxury
In continuing with my desire to praise those accommodation providers that are operational year-round and that keep our industry afloat, here is another top suggestion. Ten minutes outside of St Andrews and around the same distance from the East Neuk coast, you’ll find Morton of Pitmilly.
Self-catering but very much in the luxurious sense (think underfloor heating, bathrobes, fresh lobster available to order etc), this large family-owned holiday resort of 16 properties across 150 acres of Fife countryside makes for a perfect base for coastal exploration. Families, groups of friends, couples, dog owners….it’ll suit all alike. Comfortable, spotless, practical and with terrific rainy-day options in the form of their pool, steam room, spa range and comprehensive indoor sports facilities, I’m appalled that this place is only now coming onto my radar. Allowing the flexibility to come and go around the clock from a home from home, it’s of the kind of standard that all in the industry should be aspiring to.
Although invited to review Morton of Pitmilly as a guest, I am very selective when reviewing providers of any kind and the positive review given is based wholly on authentic, recent experience. Offering very high standards in all elements of my stay and ideally situated for exploring this chunk of Fife I have no hesitation in recommending them to fellow travellers.
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