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A love for the great outdoors

BASED UP IN THE LOMOND HILLS, NATURE NUT AND HILLWALKER BEN DOLPHIN IS ALSO A WRITER. BEING A COUNTRYSIDE RANGER GIVES HIM PLENTY OF INSPIRATION AND THROUGH HIS WRITING, PHOTOS AND VIDEO BLOGS, BEN USES HIS ENCOUNTERS TO ENTHUSE PEOPLE ABOUT THE NATURAL

04 April 22

Fife Ambassadors

What does Fife have to offer?

There’s more to Scottish wildlife than just our iconic species and there’s more to Scotland than just the Highlands & Islands….which brings us to Fife. Famous for once having a mining industry, spawning the Proclaimers, its award-winning fish & chips, and some golf courses at St Andrews…but is Fife famous for its wildlife and natural assets?  Probably not.

Fife can surprise, however.

This wedge of a county stuck between the Tay and the Forth is almost an island, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a stunning 117 mile coastal path to walk. A summer stroll along the south and east coasts with their whitewash cottages, sandy beaches and blue sea gives you grandstand views of gannets and terns plunging into the water. The north coast offers you a marked contrast: quiet, sparsely populated and little visited, with expansive views out across the muddy and sometimes shimmering Tay. Beautiful ancient woodland hugs the rugged coastline between Balmerino and Flisk – oddly reminiscent of North America’s lush Pacific northwest, it’s one of Fife’s best kept secrets.

The seabird paradise of the Isle of May lies a few miles off Anstruther, where people flock daily in summer to see the 90,000 puffins go about their business. Seals bask all around the coast, even within sight of Kirkcaldy promenade as trains trundle past, and their mournful cries as they haul out on the sandbanks add a certain something to any coastal walk.  And of course, white-tailed eagles, the largest bird of prey in Britain are regularly seen soaring over the Tay Estuary.

If trees are your thing then large stands of pines, spruce and larch dot the landscape. Largest of these Forests are Tentsmuir and Devilla, the former with its shifting sand dunes along an enormous sweep of beach, and the latter with four exquisitely beautiful lochs and more history crammed into it than your average museum. Fife’s conifer forests are a valuable refuge to its beleaguered red squirrels, but also to the resurgent pine marten…which appears to be reclaiming its old haunts in the west.

Inland we have the fertile, rolling farmland that characterises much of the Kingdom. This isn’t the place many people head in search of natural diversions but, again, you’d probably be surprised at how many lochs, woodlands, crags and dens are squeezed between the fields. Nature reserves are plentiful such as at Bankhead Moss (by the Peat Inn), a rare lowland raised bog where you’ll find the sundew, one of Scotland’s carnivorous midge-eating plants!

Slap bang in the middle of the Fife peninsula are the Lomond Hills. My home. This isolated range rises almost sheer from the Howe of Fife in the north and more gradually from the south, but whichever way you approach them from they eventually end in two peaks (or paps) connected by a high plateau that make up the highest land in Fife.

The hills are upland in nature but range from the urban periphery of Glenrothes to the barren moorland and grazing of West Lomond, at 522m the highest of the Lomond Hills. It’s a diverse and surprising landscape with reservoirs, hills, crags, waterfalls and fields.  Fife’s largest expanse of heather moorland is up here, home to many ground-nesting birds such as red grouse and short-eared owls.  The old stone dykes that criss-cross the hills offer nesting places for wheatears when they return from Africa in the spring, while kestrels, buzzards and ospreys are regularly seen overhead.

The Lomond Hills is where the Fife winter arrives first and lingers longest.  With temperatures decreasing by approximately 1C every 100m you ascend, it can be blizzard conditions up on East Lomond but raining just 2km away in Falkland. Conversely, when the east wind blows and the fog rolls in off the North Sea, we’re often sat above a blanket of cloud enjoying blinding sunshine while the rest of Central Scotland and indeed Fife peers through dense fog. And on days like that there’s nowhere else in Scotland I would rather be.

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