Elie and Earlsferry

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Creative Commons Licence [Some Rights Reserved]   Text © Copyright December 2019, Bill Kasman; licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons Licence.

Every publicly-accessible road, street, lane, track and path in the historic Fife village of Elie and Earlsferry

Despite its 'double-barrelled' name the Elie and Earlsferry of today is one village. It comprises the two linked villages of Elie, and Earlsferry, which were formally merged by a local government Act of 1929.

Earlsferry was the older of the two villages and its beginnings are lost in the mists of time but it is referred to by Duncan Earl of Fife who died in 1154 and there is some documentary evidence which suggests it is far older than that. By the middle of the 12th century, the Earls of Fife had instituted a ferry for the use of pilgrims en route to the shrine of Saint Andrew the Apostle in St Andrews town. The ferry crossed the Firth of Forth from North Berwick and it is this ferry which led to the naming of the village but, by 1600, the ferry had ceased and the village went into decline and vessels began using the better harbour at Elie. Earlsferry harbour was entirely sanded up many years ago although remains of the stone pier (known as The Pilgrim's Pier) are still occasionally uncovered by winter storms.

Elie was created before 1565 by Royal charter out of the lands of the Barony of Ardross and it became sufficiently important to merit the building of Elie Parish Church in 1639. Its harbour was more sheltered than that of Earlsferry and it gradually began to dominate sea trading for the two villages. Elie once had a shipyard and the Pharos, a wooden sloop, the first lightship for the Northern Lighthouse Board (and the first of several of that name), was built there. She operated as a lighthouse vessel from 1799 to 1810. In 1863 the railway arrived in Elie which by then had swallowed up the two small hamlets of Williamsburgh and Liberty (now existing only as street names) as it grew. The visitors brought by train were joined by those from a regular steamer service which developed from North Berwick and Leith and suddenly Elie and Earlsferry became a desirable destination for tourists. Although both the train and the steamers are long gone the village is still popular with tourists.

Most of the village of Elie and Earlsferry was designated a Conservation Area in 1977 and there are 168 listed or scheduled buildings or structures within that area. Despite being amalgamated these two villages are still often referred to as separate entities. Ferry Road was the original demarcation line between them and it is still an obvious separator - Earlsferry to the west and Elie to the east and, since there are separate High Streets in both Earlsferry and Elie, this differentiation is understandable and useful for identification purposes.

Today, with its award-winning curved sandy beach of Elie Bay, the village is a popular tourist destination and the harbour is used by many types of pleasure craft from sailboats to powerboats to paddleboards. Elie and Earlsferry Sailing Club, which is affiliated to the RYA, has a summer programme of various events and an active social calendar. Situated as it is in the East Neuk of Fife the village makes a good base for those who wish to explore this historic and picturesque area and the famous golf courses of the East Neuk are just a short drive away - although Earlsferry Links Golf Course is right on the villages' doorstep! The present course was laid out in 1895 but golf has been played on Earlsferry Links since the 16th century. James Braid (1870-1950), the Scottish professional golfer who won The Open Championship five times, was born in the village.

Elie has a cricket club who are based in The Ship Inn pub on the beachfront. The team arrange all their home fixtures in line with the tides and play them on the beach when the tide is out! The Ship Inn Pub Cricket Team is the only cricket team in the UK to play all their home matches on a beach. Elie is well-known for its annual Scarecrow Festival - a community effort where scarecrows are placed throughout the village by individuals and organisations. The Elie Scarecrow Festival normally takes place in May each year and it is well-worth visiting the village when the festival is on to see the variety of community-inspired scarecrows dotted throughout the village.

Note: Many thanks to Elie and Earlsferry Historic Society LinkExternal link which is the source of most of the historical or local information used in many of the image descriptions in this article.

Where is Elie and Earlsferry?

With a population of about 900 Elie and Earlsferry is a coastal village and former royal burgh situated within the East Neuk of Fife about eight miles east of Leven.

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