Fife Coastal Swimming

Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright March 2020, Aleks Scholz; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.
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In the north between the mouth of the River Tay and St Andrews, the coast is dominated by extended beaches and dune systems. The Tentsmuir Sands are wide, broad, exposed and tricky for swimmers. The more convenient beaches are the two classics in St Andrews.

West Sands, St Andrews

This seemingly endless beach is in fact only about three kilometres long. The most convenient swimming spot is near the old course. Park at the West Sands Cafe and take the bridge to the beach. In the summer, a lifeguard hut is sometimes installed here. West Sands is a quite shallow beach, and unless the tide is very high, it will take a while until the water is deep enough for swimming. As a east-facing beach (despite the name), it does not work well for strong easterly winds. Beware of cross currents. Avoid the sandbanks and tidal currents at the very northern end of West Sands at the mouth of the River Eden.

NO5017 : To the beach by Russel Wills NO5017 : The southern end of West Sands by Aleks Scholz NO5017 : West Sands, St Andrews by Oliver Dixon

East Sands, St Andrews

East Sands is the default swimming spot in St Andrews. The short beach is east-facing, and less exposed than West Sands, protected by the harbour wall and the natural coastline. It remains swimmable in almost all weather, with the exception of strong easterlies. The easy entry point is at the slipway in front of the sailing club, roughly halfway down the beach. Some parking and a small cafe is available. High tide is recommended, but the water remains fairly accessible even at low tide. Lights on the shore provide safety in twilight or darkness.

NO5116 : Slipway, St Andrews by Maigheach-gheal NO5116 : Swimmers at East Sands by Aleks Scholz NO5116 : East Sands by Euan Nelson

From St Andrews the coastline runs southeast to Fifeness, the tip of the peninsula, and then swerves by 90 degrees to the southwest, until it hits Elie. St Andews, Fifeness and Elie form the corners of a fine triangle. Between St Andrews and Elie, the only two major beaches are Cambo Sands and Balcomie. The rest of the coast is an interesting mix of rocks, pebbles and small hollows. This is the East Neuk dipping paradise.

Cambo Sands, Kingsbarns

Almost a mile of beautiful golden sand, overlooked by Kingsbarns golf course. The coastal path runs along the entire beach. A minor road leads from Kingsbarns to the car park and the picnic area. When swimming, beware of submerged rocks. The easiest way to swim is to enter the water on the right side of the disused harbour, where the beach is mostly free of rocks. Another option is to go in slightly further north, beyond an old disused pipe, at the large rock beneath the tees for hole 3. This place is locally known as Jims Tee. Here, some natural rock steps provide a gentle way of accessing the water, at least when the tide is high and the sea is calm. The bay in front of Jims Tee is protected against the breakers. Waders rest on the rocks, and birding while swimming is a distinct possibility.

NO6012 : Pipeline west of Kingsbarns harbour by Aleks Scholz NO6012 : Cambo Sands, Fife by Alan O'Dowd NO6012 : Beach and Harbour at Kingsbarns by Les Hull


Fifeness, the tip of the peninsula, is a wonderful spot to hang out. At high tide, a small beach and former harbour in front of the caravans on the north side offers potential for a pleasant, shallow, and somewhat murky, dip. Right at the lighthouse, in front of the WW2 bunker, a small rocky channel also can be swum, best when the sea is behaving, but beware of submerged rocks. Also check that you are not disturbing any birdwatchers in the hide, or, more accurately, the birds they are watching. The favourite spot here is around the corner on the south side: A small bay, protected by cliffs on one side and a small tidal island on the other. To the left of the island gently angled rocks lead into a deep channel that works quite well until mid tide. Access is difficult, over slippery rocks and deep grass, as is the swimming when the sea is wild. But on calm days, the circumnavigation of the island is a great expedition.

NO6309 : Fife Ness Harbour by Oliver Dixon NO6309 : Eastern extremity of the Kingdom by James Allan NO6309 : Coast at Fifeness by Aleks Scholz


At Fifeness, the sea changes. It is not unheard of to find wild waves on one side, and calm water just around the corner. The next mile down the coast is Kilminning, rocky, wild, and probably as far away from civilisation as you can get in Fife. Kilminning offers a couple of low tide swimming spots. One is a pool, separated from the sea by a rocky spur that is overrun at mid tide. The pool is watered from one end through a sort of waterfall. When the conditions are right, one can swim here endlessly against the steady current. Climbing down into the water can be a challenge. Leave the coastal path on the highest point in Kilminning and stumble down to the grotto. The other spot is in the channel on the left side of the island in front of mighty Kilminning Castle. Only when it is calm, folks. Ignore the smell of laundry.

NO6309 : Tidal pool at Kilminning by Aleks Scholz NO6308 : Kilminning Castle by Greg Fitchett NO6308 : Kilminning Castle by Jim Bain

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