Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Life in Fife

We've just come home from a short break in the East Neuk of Fife. This is the east coast of Scotland, north of Edinburgh.

It's an area with a lot to say for itself - scenery, seafood, history, coastal walks and a really good music festival. We packed five concerts, 2 crabs, a lobster and fish and chips into a 3 night stay.

They are rightly proud of the seafood in the area, but there is not a great deal to shout about in the way of bread, so far as I could see. The allegedly artisan sourdough left a lot to be desired -

I would have given it at least another 5 minutes in the oven. But it was sadly lacking that firm sponginess that real sourdough should have. No evidence of oven leap. And the crust! Oh dear.

The seafood was another story though. There is a hut on the harbour at Crail which cooks lobster to order, and usually has crab as well. The day we were there, someone had stolen 2 boxes of crab, so it was just lobster. I'm much more of a crab person myself, but when in Crail, do as the Romans do.

You know it's fresh when it's like this -

I never ignore signs like this one -

There are a number of old mill sites along the East Neuk coast - Crail, Kilrenny, and this partially restored windmill at St Monans.

What's interesting about this mill is that it is not designed to grind corn. Rather, it was used to lift sea water up the hill side and drop it into salt pans, where it could be boiled to make sea salt. This is all that remains of the salt pans -

And they would have originally looked something like this -

The whole site would have looked like this, with the sea off to the right -

The salt operation relied on local coal, which fired the pans. The whole thing is nicely written up in this blog. It seems amazing that 7 tons of coal was needed to produce 1 ton of salt. And what is now an attractive place for tourists to look at was, in its own time, a genuine eyesore and pollution source.

Crail, where most of our concerts happened, also has evidence of an old mine, but it has all been back filled now. The story of industrial sabotage in 1620 makes interesting reading.

All in all, I found Fife to be a very attractive place. It was a bit like stepping back to a time when the pace of life was a lot more relaxed. And there is something engagingly direct about the people. On the Sunday morning I went out looking for milk, but everywhere in Anstruther was closed. I walked along the harbour as far as the pub at the end, and had a quick look through the window before giving up and turning back the way I had come. An old boy out walking his dog stood eyeing me up curiously for a while, and then asked, with a very strong emphasis on the last word "are you LOST?". It was clear that the thought process that preceded this question was "you are behaving strangely. I have been trying to account for your erratic behaviour. Are you LOST?". When I explained what I was up to, he came back with "I thought you were maybe looking for a drink of BEER". Lost or thirsty - it had to be one or the other I suppose.

Anstruther has a place of last resort - when the milk shops and the pubs are all closed, this would be the place for me -