A Good Walk for a Cold Wet Day This Spring!! - Culross, Fife
Please visit Fife Council's page on core paths to find maps for this route.
After the dreadful weather we have had to date this Spring, many of our core paths and routes are pretty wet underfoot. Totally unavoidable and there is nothing that can be done, but it is a bit frustrating for those who like to get out and enjoy the scenery and places of interest in Fife. This is a walk that I have frequently used either when I just need a quick bit of exercise and a short walk or when I am looking for somewhere my feet aren’t going to get really wet and muddy.
Location: Culross in south west Fife
Access: Drive along the A985 from south Fife, or the A994 from Dunfermline, heading west. At the major roundabout to the west of Cairneyhill take the B9037 and drive through the villages of Torryburn, Newmills and Low Valleyfield to reach Culross after around 6 kms. In the summer months the floral displays in Low Valleyfield are most impressive! I prefer to park at the eastern car park just before the primary school [recycling facilities here, so take your empties along!], which is quieter than the western car park, especially in the tourist season. Culross is serviced by Stagecoach buses via Dunfermline. This route goes partly along the Fife Coastal path and is very accessible for bikes.
Fife Core Paths Plan: Map 30 OS Sheet 65 Falkirk and West Lothian [trust me – this walk is in Fife!]
Core Paths: 767, 769, 768. These are all off-road and gravel surfaced for multi use. They are level and the route as described is around 5 kms [about 3 miles] long. There is no livestock and this route is suitable for responsible dog walking.
Refreshments: You will need to go into Culross for this, or visit Newmills on the way home. In Culross you are spoilt for choice. There is Bessie’s tearoom at the NTS property of Culross Palace, the excellent wee cafe above the craft gallery, and the Red Lion Hotel. In all of these you can usually sample the locally made ice cream.
Route: From the east car park walk south for a short distance and reach the coastal path. Head east on a tarmac surface until you reach the pedestrian gated level crossing over the single rail line. Cross carefully – the line is very quiet but it is in use for coal freight going to Longannet power station. From here you have an amazing view – to the east to the Forth bridges, to the south over the Linlithgow hills with the industrial areas of Grangemouth in the foreground, on a good day you can see the Stirling hills to the west, and to the north there is a good viewpoint over Culross and the Abbey. There is also an interpretation board here. The bay on your right is part of the Firth of Forth SPA [Special Protection Area], and is a site of European significance, covered by the Natura 2000 and Ramsar designations, on account of the overwintering birds that use the estuary. If you want to see some of the range of birds then you should bring binoculars and come at low tide when they should be feeding on the extensive mudflats. Also to your west the power station sends up lots of steam, and this sometimes creates unusual photogenic cloud shapes above it – especially on a still sunny day when wind turbines aren’t turning so we are all relying on a very busy Longannet for our electricity! You may also notice a faint brown stream of gas coming from the plant, which becomes browner as it drifts away, due to the nitrous oxide gases in the power station’s emissions becoming more oxidised with time.
You now have a choice: this route can be followed in a clockwise or anticlockwise fashion. I tend to take the anticlockwise option – probably because I am usually here on windy days and it’s preferable to have the wind on one’s back rather than to walk into it. The advantage of the alternative is that late in the day you can often walk into glorious sunset views. The choice is yours!
Whichever way you go, the land you are now walking on is man-made, created from ash pumped along pipes as slurry from the power station. The ash settles and fills the intertidal lagoons. Indeed the ash lagoons are still being filled [and will continue to do so while the power station is in operation] and are constantly changing, this is why you will not have access further inland while the spoil heaps are being distributed by heavy machinery. The level of the lagoons is being built up to avoid involving even more reclamation of the intertidal area and this is why there is high ground on your left as the machines build up the levels. Assuming you have taken the right hand option, this is a long pleasant stretch alongside the estuary, and there are frequent seats for a rest or to use to take in the views or watch the shipping activity in the Forth.
Eventually after around 2 kms, path 769 turns north and passes Spencer Island. This is an interesting historical spot and the interpretation boards describing their eighteenth century industrial past are fascinating. In fact, on my 1975 OS Sheet 65, the site is still shown as an offshore island! The path now goes north towards Newmills and then west back to Culross through some pleasant woods. The energetic could go into Newmills and enter the Valleyfield Woodland Park following path 773 and return to Culross along path 766 or 765, especially during the snowdrop season when the woods are well worth a visit. This diversion would add around 3kms to your walk.
Culross of course is always worth a visit; there is an excellent community garden opposite the primary school, lots of old streets and houses, and the NTS properties are open noon to 5pm from 23rd March, [but not on Tuesdays or Wednesdays until June] so you could combine the walk with some refreshments and a cultural visit to the Palace and its heritage produce garden.