Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Magic Kingdom

Greetings once again, blog-followers.  It's been a wee while since I last updated this, sorry about that, I had stuff going on, but can now, in true soap opera style, catch up by pretending it was all a dream.  You may remember that the last part of the journey stopped at the town of Leven, which, by some divine co-incidence, was where the next leg started from!

So, as has become my wont, I shall commence with the tale of the tape, for all you budding statisticians. Sadly, at the moment, I won't be able to add in the now traditional screengrab of the app I use to record time and distance, but I will add that in at a later juncture (Edit - 15 June - as you can see, it's been added now!).  But, to the numbers...

Time: 3h 7m 17s
Distance: 9.09 miles *
Blisters: 1. It was, however an absolute swine of one, right on the area of my heel popularly known as the Achilles.  I have no idea why a blister has suddenly decided to present itself there, but it did, so I now have to be aware of that too!
State of me at the end: The closest I've ever been to just giving up the ghost and falling down into a ditch.

* - This doesn't include the distance between my house and the street where Ian picked me up and dropped me off, nor does it include the distance from the bus station in Leven to the car, so combined I think those would be worth about another mile.

This leg of the journey was the hardest one yet.  Partly because we decided to eschew the actual path in favour of the sandy beach, the traversing of which took more out of me than I initially realised, and partly because the last part of the walk included the now obligatory mountainous ascent of Olympian proportion.

I have come to the conclusion that the Kingdom of Fife truly is magical. It must have some kind of morpheous geology which seems to know when I am out on a walk, and reconfigures itself to ensure that the last part of the walk is a climb of ever increasing severity, the more tired I am, the more severe it makes the gradient.

Leven Beach
So, this leg of the trail commenced from the town of Leven, the Vegas of the North. I must admit, I will always have a bit of a soft spot for Leven, as I child I loved the place, for, every now and again, my parents would take me there for a day out.  It was far enough away from Dunfermline to be interesting, close enough for it not to be a trek.  The main factor in Leven's favour was it's shorefront, which was home to (at the time) 3 or 4 amusement arcades.  Sadly only one I think remains along the front, with another still going along by the bus station.

Leven seems to trace it's origins back to Pictish times.  In the old Pictish language 'leven' meant flood, and the local Loch Leven is a flood lake.  The modern settlement of Leven is of 16th century vintage, but it wasn't until the arrival of the train in 1854 that Leven started to make a name for itself, quickly becoming a tourist resort, most of it's travelling trade coming from the west coast during the Glasgow fair.

Leven built on this fortune by developing the aforementioned shorefront and including a links style golf course, the Leven Links (I wonder how much marketeers would charge for creating that name today!) which is used as one of the qualifying courses for The Open Golf Championship.

Selkirk's statue
As we wandered our way out of Leven, the next brush with civilisation came in the form of Lower Largo, home of the somewhat famous Alexander Selkirk.  I know what you are thinking, Alexander Who??  Well, if I was to tell you that Mr Selkirk was a sailor who wound up a castaway on an island, where he wound up meeting and befrending a native, before being rescued, would you think to yourself "hmmm, that story sounds familiar...". It should, as it was turned, by Daniel Dafoe into Robinson Crusoe.  Unsurprisingly, Selkirk is Lower Largo's only claim to fame!  It's a pretty little village though, I'll give it that!

Now that we are winding our way out along the East Neuk of Fife, the coastal path truly lives up to it's name.  There are some absolutely captivating views to be had along the way, so much so that we decided to forgo the actual path itself for a few miles, and walk long the beach pretty much from just past Largo until we neared Earlsferry.  Unfortunately, a lot of the beach was fairly soft, and after a couple of miles, it was starting to take a bit of a toll.  Sadly, being a gentleman of rotund stature, I have a fair amount of mass with which to impress the sands, making the beachfront going, at least for me, somewhat heavy. However, if nothing else, it made sure that I had to work hard for my money, to paraphrase the late Donna Summer.   As an aside, am I the only person who sees a certain irony in Robin Gibb shedding his mortal coil not too long after an advert started playing on the TV promoting the Bee Gees' 'Staying Alive' as the ideal tempo to employ when administering hands only CPR...

The end point of the jaunt was Elie and Earlsferry.  Once two separate villages, Elie and Earlsferry were formally merged in 1930. Earlsferry it is said, is where MacDuff, Earl of Fife crossed the Forth whilst fleeing from King MacBeth, who I think someone once wrote a play about... Elie and Earlsferry are both staggeringly pretty.  Rows of painted houses, some amazing shoreline scenery, I would say it's probably my favourite part of the East Neuk.  It also has an automated lighthouse and the ruins of a tower, both of which are cracking locations for photoshoots, and both have been utilised by me in the past.  I can thoroughly recommend them!

The only down side about Elie and Earlsferry is the amount of effort it takes to get to them from the coastal path! To get there you first have to climb a coastal hill, steep, slippy and, one feels, constantly ready to slip something under your feet to cause havoc with your extremities! Strangely, getting up the one side is only half the battle.  Once you have crested the hill, you then go down the other side, for a spell.  It's a testimony to how brutal this hill is that even the downhill sections are uphill!! Once you have finally reached the end of the mountaineering section, you are still caught in an uphill nightmare as you cross the golf course, before finally finding tarmac on the way through the Earlsferry part, on your way to the Elie part.  As you have probably guessed, this is all, also, uphill. By the time we had reached the terminus of our jaunt, I was giving serious contemplation to the immediate amputation of my feet to spare me from ever having to do that again.

The worst over, or so I thought, we boarded the bus to take us back to Leven, where we had left Ian's car.  It wasn't a long trip, but it transpired it was long enough to ensure that when I tried to move again to egress from the charabanc, I'd already started to seize up, adding weight (if you pardon the pun) to my desire that exertion of this magnitude is never repeated! That said, despite the abject misery if found myself in, and despite the pain I felt, the next day, when I reflected back upon the trek, I actually felt a little bit proud, mostly because I made the trip, hills and all, without stopping for a breather, the first time I have managed that. I guess I am slowly getting a little fitter!

I was encouraged to send a link to my blog to the people who are responsible for the Coastal Path, and I got a very nice email back from them, telling me they enjoyed the reading thereof, and giving me a bit of information about why the path takes the rout it does in some areas, which was very interesting reading.  I want to take the chance to say to these guys, thank you.  Thank you for all the work you do in promoting, maintaining and developing the Coastal Path.  I think this is a real jewel in Fife's crown, and I don't for a second doubt the amount of hard work it's taken to get the path to the consistent quality it is.  If I am critical of the path, it's generally very minor in nature, and is, really, a testament to the fact that 99% of the path is exemplary, to the point where anything less than that is noticeable, but only when compared to the high standard that the path generally maintains.

The next leg of the journey will see us hit Anstruther, a part of the journey I've really been looking forward to. Not just because of the world famous Anstruther Fish Bar, but because it will give me a chance to relate one of my favourite snippets of historical information pertaining to the Kingdom.  The tale of The Beggar's Benison.  Stay tuned, you really won't want to miss this one!

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