East Neuk Swimming

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The East Neuk is the eastern corner of Fife, overlooking the northern part of the Firth of Forth, stretching roughly from Kincraig Point in the south to Babbett Ness in the north. Decaying sea pools in Cellardyke, Pittenweem, and St Monans inform us that sea swimming once was popular here. Nowadays, though, only few people venture into the water, for largely unknown reasons. The water temperatures may play a role. In the summer, the sea is rarely warmer than fifteen degrees, while in the winter the water temperatures frequently dip below five. The old university town of St Andrews is the gateway to the East Neuk and the starting point for many expeditions.

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. Even further north, the Tentsmuir Sands are wide, broad, exposed and tricky for swimmers.

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, but is fairly busy. If you prefer not to be seen, this isn't the place. 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 may be 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.

Salt Lake


Between the mouth of river Kenly and the wild rocks of Babbet Ness are a few spots suitable for secluded swimming, right around a ruined bothy. At high tide, the lovely tiny beach named Salt Lake is a good spot, shallow and protected. It may be called Pitmilly Beach. Further east is another small sandy bay. In between lots of opportunities to climb into the water from shallow rocks, when the tide is not playing along. The grassy spur right in front of the bothy is a great spot to hang or dry out. Access either through the woods from Boarhills following the coastal path, or down a well maintained farm track from Pitmilly.

NO5814 : Sunset at the Salt Lake by Aleks Scholz NO5814 : Small bay east of Salt Lake by Andrew Curtis NO5814 : Dramatic sky at Salt Lake by Lis Burke

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, or, even safer, in the old harbour itself, when the tide is high. 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


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 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

Kilminning


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

Crail


The ancient harbour village of Crail has multiple convenient swimming spots, but all are compromised in some way. Roome Bay features a very shallow tidal pool at the south end, and a sandy stretch of beach in the north. In between are puddles and pebbles and pools. Most opportunists go for a swim from the steep steps of the harbour walls or, at high tide, from the harbour beach itself. If the sea is clear, this is probably perfectly fine, but once the muck around the harbour is stirred up, swimming becomes an iffy proposition. You can try to swim from tip of the the natural sandstone wall that projects from the castle into the sea - the one that is inhabitated by Fulmars. Access here is difficult and wild seas will put a stop to this kind of adventure. In any case, swimmers in Crail will be on public display, most of the time.

NO6107 : Crail Bay and Harbour by Oliver Dixon NO6107 : Crail Harbour by Michael Garlick NO6107 : Tidal pool, Crail by Richard Sutcliffe NO6107 : Roome Harbour by Richard Sutcliffe

West Ness


Just beyond Crail, the coastal path towards Cellardyke passes a shallow inlet with a crude beach. A small sandstone face on one side of the beach offers some protection. At high tide, the inlet works almost like a bath tub (and the name Tub Sands is therefore much more appropriate). At low tide it doesn't work at all. The ground of the tub is rocky and uneven, and if not familiar with the place, it is best to only use it when the water is clear and still. The inlet is protected, but can still get strong currents with winds from the east or south-east. The most elegant access is probably from the rocks on the left side, which offer several natural stepping stones, but require care when it's wet, windy, wavy. Parking at the end of the road to West Braes is very limited, best to walk from Crail. Swimmers who prefer to have some privacy may have a look at the old brick hut, a remnant from the last war. On the southern side of Tub Sands is another rocky bay, named Pan Haven on some maps, and less suitable for swimming.

NO6106 : Almost like a bathtub by Aleks Scholz NO6106 : Beach, West Ness by Richard Webb NO6106 : The end of the boom by James Allan NO6106 : Looking out over Pan Haven by Gordon Brown

The Pans


Further down the path, ten minutes walk from the end of Crail, another ruined bothy marks a good swimming spot. A sort-of beach with large pebbles provides easy access into the bay. The rocky spur on the left has a convenient platform and some natural steps to gain access to deep water. This spur is very exposed and slippery when wet. While the bay itself is often calm (and somewhat murky), waves will be breaking at the end of the spur. If you want to swim out, watch the breakers carefully for a while, and then swim to the right of it, where a channel leads to the open water. The bay is a jellyfish trap (like all protected inlets) - check from the shore for big red stingy lion's manes before venturing into the water.

NO6006 : The Pans by Jim Bain NO6006 : The ruined cottage at the Pans by Sandy Gemmill NO6006 : The coastline south of Crail by Aleks Scholz

Leopard Rocks


On the far side of the Pans, beyond the stone wall and the kissing gate, is a monumental rock spur that projects into the sea. It forms a small pool on its steep landward side, which is filled with water around high tide, a safe and calm spot for a dip. Access is difficult, it requires scrambling over a jumble of boulders and balancing around the edges of the spur. It is possible to swim on the sloping seaside of the spur, in deep water, but even moderate waves leave a lot of energy when collapsing at that rock - best to try out when the sea is calm. When the tide is very high or the easterly winds are driving the sea, the entire cliff can be overwhelmed with water and becomes inaccessible. But under slightly more peaceful conditions it is one of the most spectacular places in the East Neuk, wild, exposed, and with views from Anstruther to Fifeness.

NO6006 : View along the rocks by Aleks Scholz NO6006 : Leopard Pool by Aleks Scholz NO6006 : Rocky shore by the Pans by Jim Bain

Cellardyke harbour


Beyond the old pool at the northern end of Cellardyke, not maintained, but still used occasionally by swimmers, is the ancient harbour. With easy access, deep water, and for the most part no unpleasant smell this is a safe and convenient swimming spot throughout the year. The harbour leads to a rocky and picturesque coastline, but swimming out of the harbour is only recommend for the experienced or when the water is calm. Limited parking around the harbour. Bonus feature: the pub right next to the swimming spot.

NO5704 : Cardinal's Steps by James Allan NO5703 : Cellardyke harbour by Gordon Hatton NO5703 : Entrance to Cellardyke Harbour by Richard Sutcliffe NO5703 : Cellardyke Harbour by Richard Sutcliffe NO5703 : The Haven, Anstruther Easter by Maigheach-gheal

The Pittemweem Pool


An artificial tidal pool on the west side of Pittenweem, currently not maintained, but plans to refurbish and clean it have sprung up in recent years. It is south-facing and sees a lot of Sun. With extensive concrete structures, it is a good place to hang out and put the feet in the water, or even to swim for a bit, when the tide is right.

NO5402 : Tidal pool in Pittenweem by Aleks Scholz NO5402 : Salt water swimming pool at Pittenweem by Oliver Dixon NO5402 : Another "No longer maintained" bathing pool by Gordon Brown

The St Monans Pool


Among the East Neuk pools, this one is probably the least useful for swimming. Fairly detached from the sea and only reached by high tides, it is not maintained and shallow for the most part. West facing concrete structure provide shelter in certain conditions. It can be used as a wading pool or as a place to cool off the dogs. With the old windmill and adjacent salt pans the location does invite lingering.

NO5301 : St Monans bathing pool by Aleks Scholz NO5301 : Sea swimming pool (no longer maintained) at St Monans by Gordon Brown NO5301 : The windmill and the bathing pool by Richard Law

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