By Robin McKelvie
Almost every Scot and most visitors to Scotland at some point have bashed across the world famous Forth Bridges. Far fewer people, though, actually take time to enjoy or are even aware of the delights that lie sprinkled around the banks of the lifeblood estuary. Join us now as South Queensferry resident and travel writer Robin McKelvie lets you in on his insider tips for a wee autumnal day out around the Firth of Forth.
1. The Fishing Villages of the East Neuk
The eastern extremities of Fife are blessed with a beguiling necklace of little towns and villages. Think whitewashed old fishermen’s houses with orange tiled roofs lining the waterfront and wee harbours where plenty of boats still bob around. You will find superb beaches in or near them too so take your pick from the likes of Anstruther, Elie, St Monans and – the pick of the lot for me – Crail. Crail is very much the archetypal Fife fishing village and one of Central Scotland’s prettiest villages to boot. Walkers can make their way between the various villages on the Fife Coastal Path, while the main roads get you around fairly quickly and quieter lanes await cyclists.
2. Historic Firth – From Blackness Castle to Hopetoun House
Blackness Castle was dramatic and rugged enough to star in Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet and it is a real secret that few people know about. It once sat proudly on the banks of the Firth of Forth in a grand role as the seaport for the burgeoning town of Linlithgow. Today it is a half forgotten fortress that casts a striking presence on the Forth like a giant battleship brooding on the south bank. After visiting you can ramble or cycle along just back from the Forth on the trail east to Hopetoun House, which is part of the brand new John Muir Way. You’ll eventually reach Hopetoun House, which for me is the finest stately home in Scotland, a sort of dreamy Adam brothers meets Versailles. The interior is as spectacular as the exterior. They do a mean afternoon tea here too, which you can reward your efforts with.
3. Fish and Chips Ahoy!
Fife is famous for its chippies and indeed the Anstruther Fish Bar regularly stars in the lists of the best chippies not only in Scotland, but across the whole of the UK. The famous fish bar tends to have some more unusual options alongside the more traditional cod and haddock. I actually, though, prefer the Wee Chippy just along the street. Others swear by chippies in Elie, Buckhaven and Kirkcaldy, but it is the Wee Chippy that does it for me when I have a craving for a proper fish supper.
4. The Heritage Wonder of Culross
Culross is almost impossibly pretty. The first time I went there only a few years ago when I was researching the National Geographic Guide to Scotland my first feeling was one of serious regret that I had never been before. It is a total timewarp, which has been brilliantly preserved by the National Trust for Scotland. Walking around the ancient cobbled streets of this old royal burgh I half expect to bang into medieval merchants en route to do trade with ships coming from the Baltic or the Low Countries. The Town House (with its tollbooth and witches’ prison) dates back to 1626, while the Palace is even older, dating back to 1597. I’d recommend relaxing in the tearoom at the latter. The Scots Dumpy hens you see waddling around supply eggs for the tearoom.
5. South Queensferry
I’m not being biased putting my hometown in here, honestly! I think that this royal burgh is one of the most underrated places in Scotland. It boasts a trio of great country houses on three flanks (Hopetoun House, Dalmeny House and Dundas Castle) and the Forth on the other. Its cobbled High Street is awash with historic buildings that date back as far as the 17th century and at its western end is the oldest Carmelite church still in use in the UK today. Then there are the myriad cafes, bars and restaurants. If that is not enough there are boat tours out to Inchcolm island and you can walk across the Forth Road Bridge, which offers a sweeping view of both North Queensferry and South Queensferry, as well as out towards many of the hidden gems we’ve covered in this blog.