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Discover Levenmouth with travel writer Robin McKelvie

03 March 24

Things to do

By travel writer Robin McKelvie

“Leven-where?” asks my neighbour. “I’m going to Levenmouth, you know that gorgeous part of Fife around Leven packed with endless things to see and do,” I explain. He is interested. Even more interested when I tell him the wealth of things I plan on checking out. He is now planning to hop on the Scotrail trains that start running again this summer to the old resort town of Leven for the first time in over half a century. He won’t be alone as savvy souls will surely jump at the chance to explore this often overlooked, sublime corner of Scotland.

I am getting in ahead of my neighbour taking the world’s first self-driving, sustainable bus across the spectacular Forth Bridges into Fife, then pushing on to the western fringes of Levenmouth at Wemyss. Levenmouth encompasses a sweep of coastal towns and villages. Hinterland villages too, but I’m focusing on the coastal communities that are handily connected via the 117-mile long Fife Coastal Path, the longest continuous coastal trail in the country.

The first stop at the Wemyss Caves is “like nothing else, anywhere in Scotland”, according to Sue Hamstead, my guide from the Save Wemyss Caves Society. We meet our Pictish ancestors in the hulking expanse of Court Cave and Jonathan’s Cave. “We have identified 60 different Pictish symbols in Scotland,” explains Sue, “with 49 of those found in our unique caves here.” It’s quite a spot. Tracing out the outlines of human figures and animals, the millennia peel back as waves break gently on the ancient shoreline outside in a spot treasured by man since time immemorial. Sue isn’t done with me yet, revealing Macduff’s Castle on the cliffs above, the ancestral lair of the Thane of Fife, Macbeth’s Shakespearian nemesis.

Cutting east again I follow a fitting route along an old railway line that takes me into Norse-tinged Buckhaven, once a fishing village and then a beach resort. A stretch of community path sweeps me along the waterfront, with pictorial information boards lighting up the history of a town I normally just whizz through in the car. The same goes with Methil, but this time I wander through learning more about the massive green energy projects bringing new life to Methil. The town’s excellent heritage museum re-opens this summer too.

I find an impressively long platform at the new railway station at Leven, the end of a new five mile Levenmouth Rail Link that also has a station inland at Cameron Bridge. Here too are the Fife Heritage Railway, a great set-up run by volunteers right next to the new railway station. They already have a collage of vintage diesel and steam locomotives and have big plans to move into the premises vacated by Network Rail and open a new visitor centre, café and shop. Look out for monthly events with the unique opportunity to ride the rails back through the years.

Change is afoot with no small degree of positivity with the impending rail revival throughout Leven. A new Italian restaurant is coming to the main square and Rebecca Moncreiff, the owner of chic furniture and lifestyle boutique Khee, tells me about “a wave of fresh blood with things opening like delis and a wine bar.”

I find dynamism at the Together Levenmouth Hub too, run by local charity Brag Enterprises. Not content with a brace of escape rooms, an indoor crazy golf course and the Hub Café, they are adding a new gaming centre in the basement to further engage local young people. I meet Leven’s most famous resident too on the waterfront. ‘Postie’ is a giant, brightly coloured Scottie dog that was just meant to be part of a temporary art project. The community, though, fell in love with him so much they clubbed together to make Leven’s waterfront his permanent home.

I wander by Postie and enjoy the beach he overlooks, thinking of local artist Jack Vettriano, who was inspired to create his ‘Singing Butler’ by the waterfront, speaking of “the imagery and the romance of couples dancing on the sands.” That nostalgia and romance for Leven’s beach resort heritage lingers. As do amusement arcades and cafes.

I find more new life at Silverburn Park. A local mental health charity took over this wooded coastal park back in 2012 and they have done a brilliant job of developing its trails, fashioning a campsite with wooden pods, and conjuring up the best scones in Levenmouth in their café. Their inspirational work with mental health continues, with positive projects geared to ‘grow minds’ in their gardens, as well as plants. Ever energetic, their current massive project is reinventing the old flax mill here into an impressive space for community-focused events and as a social hub.

Wandering on under big Fife skies I continue ever east. I briefly have a new companion: Alexander Selkirk. Most people know him better as Robinson Crusoe, as he was the real life inspiration behind Daniel Defoe’s famous castaway. The real story is every bit as fascinating as the book. Perhaps more so. You’ll have to come to Fife to learn more…

Fife is awash with world-class beaches and one of my favourites is along the next stretch east of Lower Largo. I wander all alone, well just me, the empty sands and the cobalt Forth. I scan the air for seabirds (you get everything from cute puffins in summer and sea eagles year round in Fife), and the waters for passing porpoises, dolphins and even whales.

I’m into the East Neuk now, which the new Levenmouth Rail Link opens up so well. I finish my adventure in some style with a bracing swim off Elie’s lovely beach, followed by a warming session in the waterfront Elie Seaside Sauna. The sauna’s spiritual owner and yoga teacher, Judith Dunlop, imbues me with more positivity and talks of possibly opening another sauna in Leven. It’s yet another sign of a railway that is connecting people and places in so many ways. I’ve got plenty to tell my neighbour about a gorgeous part of Scotland, whose new railway line is putting it firmly back on the map.

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Robin stayed one night at the Old Manor Hotel in Lundin Links, where his room had a “gorgeous terrace overlooking the golf course and a hotel restaurant worth staying in for”. On his second night Robin stayed overlooking the beach at Elie’s Ship Inn and enjoyed “gazing out watching the seabirds, before tucking into boat-fresh Fife seafood in their excellent restaurant”.

This content is part of a project funded by the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

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