Do you ever get stuck in a holiday rut where you end up packing your suitcase to head back to the same places over and over again? When it comes to UK staycations we have fallen into the habit of heading South-West in search of Cornish beaches, cream teas and the opportunity to potentially spot Poldark indulging in some topless farming. However this Easter we headed North rather than South of the border after a chance conversation with my Sister lead me to discovering a secret the Scots have been keeping under their Sporrans: the East Neuk of Fife. This stretch of coast between Leven and St Andrews is where well heeled Edinburghers come to spend their Summers drawn by the miles of sandy beaches, gorgeous little fishing villages and some of the best food and drink in Scotland.
Granted you may have more chance of spotting Gordon Brown paddling in the sea with his trousers rolled up than Poldark tending a field with his top off but that is pretty much the only drawback of visiting this beautiful part of the world. We travelled up from London by train (which takes about 4.5hrs) and then hired a minibus from Edinburgh for the final hour or so of the journey. Before you start thinking that I am a secret mormon with enough children to fill a bus I should point out we were travelling with friends so there were 12 of us in total. I would highly recommend getting the train as the stretch of the journey north of Morpeth runs alongside the sea and includes coastal views stunning enough to cause kids to look up look up from their I Pads.
Where We Stayed
There are four or five different places to choose from as a base on this stretch of coast. St Monan’s, Elie, Anstruther, Crail, Pitenweem and St Andrews itself are all charming. We chose Elie after I lucked out and found a stunning contemporary house right on the beach. For all of you who asked for the link click here. Midrock House sleeps up to 12 and has a wonderful open plan layout downstairs with floor to ceiling windows to take advantage of the stunning views out over the beach.
There are polished concrete floors throughout, an open plan kitchen/diner, five double bedrooms, three bathrooms, three living rooms, a utility and boot room. Everything is built around the stunning views which in the Winter you can enjoy snuggled up inside in front of the beast of a log burner.
There is an amazingly well equipped kitchen at the centre of the living space that had every pot and pan you could ever desire and then there is a gorgoeus (and enormous) vintage farmhouse style table for dining at. This is positioned to take full advantage of the views and in the Summer there is an outdoor seating area on the terrace that runs the width of the house that is steps from the beach.
Upstairs the bedrooms have been designed to take full advantage of the view. The decor is fresh, white and neutral but huge picture windows flood the rooms with light and offer an outlook over the bay and beyond. I can’t tell you how soothing it is to fall asleep at night with the blinking light of a lighthouse reflecting at you over the sea. There is almost an annex/separate wing of the house that is designed as a cool kids crash pad with four single beds and a separate living space with its own tv.
Five things to see and do
We chose Elie as our base mainly because the house just completely bowled me over but when we got there I realised it was actually a great choice for a number of other reasons as well. If you come out of Midrock House and turn right you come to the huge, flat main beach and, most importantly, The Ship Inn. This lovely pub has great interiors that have just the right amount of nod to the nautical and is the place to eat in Elie. The menu majors on amazing locally caught seafood and they have just added a new outdoor Gin Bar for 2019 which means that you can sit outside, drink in hand watching the sun go down whilst the kids play happily on the beach just metres from you.
The house itself looks over the second beach which is the more sheltered Ruby Bay (so called because garnet stones have been known to be found on the beach). And beyond Ruby Bay you can follow the coast around to the lighthouse and explore a ruined temple. For the more adventourous (who do not have a toddler hell bent on throwing himself in the sea) there is the Elie Chain walk. We didn’t do it because of aforementioned toddler but is basically a bit like coasteering but with chains to help you navigate the rocks.
The Bowhouse Market
Ten minutes up the coast from Midrock House is the Bowhouse. A monthly food and craft market in a super cool converted agricultural building that gathers together some of the best local food and drink producers and adds in some great local designers and makers so that you can chow down on a freshly baked Creme Egg Brownie whilst perusing locally made ceramics and jewellery. There is a brilliant atmosphere with lots of great stalls. The are big communal wooden tables to sit, live music and some great food demonstrations. It is an absolute must visit
Hands up anyone born between 1983 - 1986 who considered popping St Andrews on their University application form to have a go at #WinningaWindsor. Prince WIlliam is long gone but this great little town is definetely still worth visiting. It has great beaches, oodles of lovely architecture, golf if you are that way inclined but most importantly of all in Janettas potentially the best ice cream parlour I have ever visited (and I am a veteran #parlourpurveyor).
Scotland’s Hidden Bun ker
Whilst the Fife Coast is Scotland’s sunniest spot this is still Scotland so you will get the odd overcast/rainy day. In which case this place is defo fun to visit. Declassified in the 90s it turns out that in a non descript field in the middle of nowhere there is in fact a huge underground bunker built to withstand a nuclear attack from which the cold war was being fought. Well I say fought, it mainly seemed to involved lots of men looking at maps and practising their morse code every now and again. If you are used to London Museums where the cafe is part of the attraction you may want to adjust your expectations before visiting though as the err facilities are more of the formica table and vending machine than avocado on toast and filament bulb variety. Although the vending machine did sell Wham bars which I am pretty sure may have been outlawed some time around 2003 on account of their e-number account but which I would still happily lose a tooth to eat.
Craigtoun Country Park
If you are, like us, in possession of kids who seem to share their DNA make up with Labradors and thus require exercising everyday in wide open spaces then Craigtoun Country Park is great. It is about 30 mins from the house and great to combine with a trip to St Andrews. There are loads of different adventure playgrounds and activities to choose from as well as the park itself being rather beautiful and it is the number 1 visitor attraction in Fife for good reason
There are lots of lovely villages to explore on this stretch of coast with lovely fishing harbours, sandy beaches and pastel and sand coloured houses but Anstruther might just edge prize of the prettiest. It has some nice indepdent shops and an award winning fish and chip shop (the Anstruther Fish Bar) right in the beach to round off your visit.
Best Places to Eat and Drink
I should probably caveat this heading as best places to eat and drink if you have kids with you who have a maximum restaurant concentration time of 25 mins. Any meal that takes long than that to arrive and be eaten usually ends in carnage so unfortunately I am not able to offer my review of some of the more fine dining establishments ( Seafood Restaurant and Craig Millar @ 16 West End both look amazing). However the beauty of this stretch of coast is that there are loads of great farmshops so even if you are not eating in restaurants you can still fill you tum with fabulous food. One of the best is Adross Farmshop and it is just five mins from Midrock House. Here is my round up of my favourite places we chowed down
Cocoa Tree in Pitenweem
It doesn’t look very promising from the outside and the decor does have a slight feel of Mystic Meg’s dressing room but this is the best place for a Hot Chocolate for miles around. It is part chocolate shop part cafe run by the Pitenweem Chocolate Company so you are guaranteed an amazing chocolate experience. They have a stove in the winter that creates a cosy feel and a sheltered courtyard garden to enjoy in the Summer and the owners were extremely friendly and accomodating of our party which included 6 kids between us. Pitenweem itself has a lovely little fish harbour and pretty pastel houses and buildings.
The Cheesy Toast Shack
Mr Malmo tends to take a back seat when it comes to our holiday planning but every now and again he comes up with a gem out of the blue that makes me think he would make a very good substitute #ModernRusticJudith Chalmers were I to retire. The Cheesy Toast Shack is one such gem. A chance read of a Jay Rayner review in the Observer led 20 of the best minutes of my life sat in a steamy mini bus looking out to sea whilst eating a macaroni cheese filled toasted sandwich which may have furred my arteries but was worth every ounce of cholesterol. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. No pretty flat lay for you of this one just a full frontal shot of the melted cheese magic.
The Ship Inn
I have mentioned it already but I am going to mention it again because we had such a great meal here. If budget had allowed I would happily have eaten here every day of our stay. Seriously amazing food in a lovely relaxed atmosphere. In the Summer the Ship Inn also organises beach cricket tournaments with a barbeque. No pressure but they have been known to attract ex professional cricketers from the West Indies so make sure to pack your cricket A game.
The Millhouse Pizza Company
Whilst the Bowhouse market that I mentioned is only on once a month, there is a permenant woodfired pizza restaurant in the same building that is open 6 days a week and serves up the most delicious pizzas in a gorgeous beamed ceiling space. They also do coffee and cake if you are not in the mood for pizza (if that is even possible).
So there you have it my round up of the best of the Fife Coast. I would put this in out top 5 holidays of all time. I loved it that much and we are already planning a return trip next year having spotted these amazing looking Cath Penny Safari Lodges just outside Elie. We also added a night in Edinburgh into the mix on the way back which I would highly recommend. Although I would probably not recommend climbing Arthur's Seat with a toddler who (within 1 minute of starting the ascent loses all of the power in his leg batteries).