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Exploring the East Neuk of Fife, Scotland

Where to Stay, Cambo Estate, St Andrews

Gardens, beaches, forests, quiet, tree-lined country roads and working harbours in picturesque fishing villages of crow stepped gables, what more could you ask for? Moira McCrossan and Hugh Taylor explore The East Neuk of Fife.

Cambo House

The East Neuk of Fife is tucked away like a little secret time warp, just at the edge of the Central Belt of Scotland. It is easily accessible from Edinburgh and Glasgow, yet feels remote and rural.

For our short summer break, we stayed at Cambo the country estate of the Erskine family, who have lived here continuously since the 18th century. The house is the elegant Victorian replacement for the original, much extended 13th century tower house, burned down in 1878. Our self-catering apartment in the Gardener’s house was just one bedroom, a spacious sitting room/kitchen and a tiny room in the tower but there is a range of self-catering accommodation to accommodate any size of party. The quirky attic apartment is a delightful little maze of coomb ceilinged rooms for up to five folk, as long as they are fit enough for the climb. Every apartment and corridor has generous jugs of flowers from the garden and from every window, there are tantalising views of the estate. We couldn’t wait to explore.



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Getting there:

The only practical way to explore the East Neuk is by Car.

Cambo Estate is on the A917 just South of St Andrews, about ten minutes drive.

Edinburgh by car is an hour and Glasgow about one and a half hours. Detailed instructions including travel by public transport and a map can be found here.

Tourist Information:

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Cambo Estate BeachAs soon as we arrived we took the short, 50 minute walk through the estate, by a lovely little wood to the sea, along the beach and back by the river to the house, passing through the golf course en route. There are all sorts of interesting diversions to look out for.

Cambo Snail, SCulpture A metal snail creeps down a tree across the river, a figure made of branches looks out from the fork of an old tree and you can blow the huge horn suspended from trees beside the river. We wished we had had our grandchildren with us to discover all the forest sculptures and curiosities.
Cambo Snail SCulptureNext day, after breakfast in the grand dining hall and a chat with Sir Peter Erskine, a most welcoming and knowledgeable host, we set off to explore the East Neuk. Even on a grey rainy day, with mist enveloping the North Sea, the coastal villages are lovely; but we thought we’d stop off at Scotland’s Secret Bunker first, hoping for better weather in the afternoon. Secret no more, this was where the government would have been in the event of a nuclear war. Safe, in a vast complex of office and living accommodation 100 feet below the modest little farmhouse, which is the entrance. By the time we emerged into daylight again, the clouds had rolled on, the sun was out and we were ready for lunch.

We made straight for Elie, where there is a brilliant beach, lots of boats to watch and the Ship Inn, where we enjoyed a splendid lunch. The sun shone as we strolled right to the end of the harbour, where the Granary building, now converted into luxury holiday apartments, looks out to the sea and the lighthouse. From Elie, we headed next to Pittenweem, which must be one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland, from the busy harbour and fish market to the cobbled lanes and closes.

POttery SHop PIttenweemThere are galleries and antique shops, with artists ready to chat about their work. We particularly enjoyed Funky Scottish.There are also plenty of tearooms, including the delightful Cocoa Tree, where you can linger over tea or chocolate and wicked cakes, reading the magazines, thoughtfully littered by the tables.

Cocoa Tree PitenweemThe week long Pittenweem Art Festival takes place at the end of July, beginning of August, with workshops to try out techniques and learn new skills as well as exhibitions. Along the coast, Anstruther is yet another lovely village, whose main claim to fame is its award winning fish and chip shop, The Anstruther Fish Bar. We can testify to the quality, having eaten there, but the Wee Chippy is also excellent and it doesn’t usually have a queue of tourists.

Our last stop was at Crail, equally pretty, with steps and cobbled lanes and piles of lobster pots by the harbour. A must visit in Crail is the Crail Pottery, a family run business, set up in 1965 by Carol and Stephen Grieve and still run by their son and daughter. The pottery is all made, on the premises, by the family and sold only from the pottery.

Cambo GardenThe next day we set out to explore the garden at Cambo House. Even if you don’t stay here, the garden and grounds are worth a visit. Perennials border the paths and the lawns in cottage garden profusion and roses scramble through the trees. It’s no wonder there are flowers everywhere in the house. And there are different benches everywhere to sit and enjoy the views, the statues, the arbours and the birdsong. Even in the walled garden among the vegetables and fruit, there are flowers, arches, streams and bridges and places to sit.

Our visit was in summer but we plan to go back in February for the legendary Cambo House drivesnowdrop display. The abundance of snowdrops is the result of the original care of Sir Peter’s grandmother and the continuing work of successive generations. Over 300 different types of snowdrops carpet the woods in February and March and there are snowdrop events, including illuminated snowdrops by starlight and activities for children.



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