Slighe Chladach Fìobha
The Fife Coastal Path awaits...in your living room and just outside your backdoor.
The town of St Andrews is such a gem, with so much to explore with regards to architecture, local cafes, historic golf sites and beautiful beaches, that one might mistakenly forget about the unique Fife Coastal path, which shockingly spans 117 miles, covering the coast of Fife right through the East Neuk. This past Sunday, I decided I needed some time away from DRA and outside of St Andrews, but I was not about to get in a taxi or on a train for a last minute trek into a loud, busy city. I was craving some peaceful fresh air and quickly remembered a mini documentary series advertised over the summer in which the Fife coastal path is the star of the show. So, I decided to have a look at it before packing my backpack and lacing up my hiking boots.
This new series, Slighe Chladach Fìobha, Galeic for “Fife Coastal Path,” which premiered on BBC ALBA in July, is the first of its kind to travel along with Edinburgh native Lagan MacNeil as he hikes all the way from Kincardine to Newburgh, exploring Scotland’s Gaelic background, history, geology, and unique landscapes as he journeys up the east coast of Scotland. I have only hiked about seven miles of the path myself, heading south from East Sands along the windy, grassy trail through wooden gates and rocky beaches before hopping across tide pools. But, just from this section, I know I want to see more of it, and the show only inspired me further, as an international student, to learn more about this small part of Scotland we call home for four years. The series, like the path, is split into sections: the first episode details MacNeil’s walk from Kincardine to Limekilns; the second features Kirkcaldy via Aberdour and Burntisland; the third highlights Dysart to Elie; and the fourth and fifth episodes conclude the journey through the East Neuk, visiting Elie, St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther, Cellardyke and Crail before finishing the walk to Newburgh. MacNeil says that “following the path was the ideal way to learn of Fife’s contribution to the world from lime kilns, linoleum and golf to reinvigorated industries such as whisky distilling and salt production which will help to sustain these coastal communities.” Indeed, the path passes through numerous towns including St Andrews where MacNeil talks to locals along the way. One episode even features Dr Peter Mackay from the University of St Andrews English department as he and Lagan speak in Gaelic about Guardbridge and the founding of the university. The host completes the chain walk across a rocky cove to get to a cave, explores distilleries, speaks about Scottish history, walks through beautiful seaside towns and open, rolling hills, encounters seals and famous bridges all while narrating in Gaelic, the language he grew up speaking.
Wildlife is abundant on the path, which is not overly stamped in or guided. The trail is worn with the repetition of footprints but not cleared or sculpted out of the ground. It blends, as more trails should, into its surroundings. Maybe because I live in a suburb of New York City, but I really do believe that the Fife Coastal and St Andrews have some of the crispest, freshest air. It is almost painful to take a deep breath of it after I spend holidays back home, like that first sip of ice cold water after a hot day outside, and there is no better feeling. If you need some respite from studies this deadline and exam season, grab some layers, a water bottle and some gloves and give this scenic, history- rich trail a try. It is an easy walk, and you will find you could just keep going and going because it is so inviting. But I do not blame you if, cold and wind-tired, you turn around after a bit with The Cheesy Toast Shack on the brain.
I highly recommend this series if you are interested in hiking, Fife, nature and/or history. It will inspire you to get out on the trail itself or if it is an especially blustery day outside and you feel like having a cozy winter evening inside but do not want to rewatch your go-to Netflix show for the fiftieth time, it is a really unique watch and I guarantee you will learn something new to share with your friends and family this winter holiday.