Q&A With Long Distance Hiker Emma Kemp On Her Fife Coast Path Walk

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In this interview, we speak with Emma Kemp who had just finished her Fife Coast Path long-distance walk at the time of writing. She shares what inspired the walk, and the highlights and challenges along the way.

What drew you to long distance hiking and what kind of walking experience did you have before deciding to tackle your first long distance trail?

I love walking and being in nature, and like a lot of people, I really started to get out for walks more during the pandemic.

Before then, I probably walked primarily for utilitarian purposes: to get to A to B without getting in the car. Following the first lockdown (remember when you were only allowed to exercise once a day near your house?!) the prospect of being able to go wherever I wanted in the countryside seemed almost exotic!

But I hadn’t really thought much about long distance hiking… Or at least, I thought I hadn’t.

Then I realised I’d been reading memoir after memoir about people’s experiences of long distance walks: Simon Armitage’s Walking Home. Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. Kathryn Harrison’s The Road to Santiago, Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn, and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I probably should be trying it myself, not just reading books about it!

I love walking and being in nature, and like a lot of people, I really started to get out for walks more during the pandemic.

Before then, I probably walked primarily for utilitarian purposes: to get to A to B without getting in the car. Following the first lockdown (remember when you were only allowed to exercise once a day near your house?!) the prospect of being able to go wherever I wanted in the countryside seemed almost exotic!

But I hadn’t really thought much about long distance hiking… Or at least, I thought I hadn’t.
Then I realised I’d been reading memoir after memoir about people’s experiences of long distance walks: Simon Armitage’s Walking Home. Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. Kathryn Harrison’s The Road to Santiago, Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn, and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I probably should be trying it myself, not just reading books about it!


Why did you choose the Fife coast path, what was it about this route which came out on top as a good first trail for you?

I guess the main reason is sentimental. Years ago, I went on holiday to Cellardyke in the beautiful East Neuk of Fife and walked a short stretch of the path. I commented at the time that I’d love to do it one day, never thinking for a moment that I’d actually follow through on it. 

But there were also practical reasons for picking Fife. I wanted to get a walk in before the winter and I didn’t have the money to stay in hotels and B&Bs, so I needed to be somewhere with good public transport links. I also hate navigation – I don’t want to spend my time figuring out my route, I just want to walk! So a well-marked coastal path is perfect for me.

I will say that I didn’t quite do the whole path, which runs from Kincardine to Newburgh, having been extended a few years back. I didn’t want to be away from home more than 10 days, and I didn’t want to be walking really long days with the short hours of daylight.

I considered doing the ‘old’ route from North Queensferry to Newport-on-Tay, but decided to start back in Culross (pronounced something like coo-ruhss) as I’d seen Ginger Man with a Cam walking the first stage of the path and I liked the look of the Culross to Limekilns part of the trail. I did finish at the Tay Bridge, which is an anticlimax for sure!


How did you choose to sleep when on the route? Camping or staying in accommodation?

I had a couple of nights in B&Bs, but mainly I camped in my parents’ VW campervan. I stayed at the lovely Silverburn campsite, which is located right on a bus route that goes up and down the coast. On the last leg of my journey (Leuchars to Newport-on-Tay), I did drive to Newport and get the bus back to Leuchars as it was a lot quicker.

But it’s possible to do the whole path by bus, which makes it a good prospect if you can’t afford to stay in B&Bs and don’t fancy wild camping. In summer you may find enough campsites to stay in a different one every day along the route, but in late October Silverburn was virtually the only one still open!


What kind of preparation did you do prior to walking the trail in terms of building up fitness?

None whatsoever. I did it completely on a whim with only a few weeks’ preparations. I am pretty fit normally though, I walk and cycle a lot just to get around, and I tend to do cross-training as well. I was only carrying a day pack, and it’s not a very strenuous trail for the most part. Having said that, I did find it absolutely exhausting!


Did you have any worries of any nature before walking?

None really, except that I find the planning stage stressful. I’d much rather get someone else to do it for me, but I can’t afford to pay a company for a self-guided tour, so I have to just get on and do it.

Actually, the one thing I was worried about was driving a van a long distance, and whether I’d be any good at parking it! But it turned out to be really nice to drive and I did just fine parking in ordinary supermarket spaces.


What were the highlights of this particular trail?

Fife Coast Path

The sunrises were spectacular over the East coast. [See pic 1] My first morning walking out from Culross was lovely in the autumn sun, and although the route got pretty dull that afternoon (walking alongside roads), I did see some great rainbows!

The whole East Neuk (pronounced nook) of Fife is gorgeous – it’s what prompted me to do the Fife Coastal Path in the first place. Finishing the day in Anstruther Fish Bar was a particular highlight!


And what were the low points?

The day I walked from Anstruther to Kingsbarns. It poured with rain solidly all day and my waterproofs didn’t hold out.

That would have been fine, but when I got to Kingsbarns with a couple of other hikers I’d met along the route, we missed the bus by about 10 minutes.

By this stage, there was a vicious cold wind blowing and despite the pub being lit up with a roaring fire and someone behind the bar, we were assured that it was in fact shut.

By the time we had sat in the bus shelter for 50 minutes, I was already very cold. But the time I’d sat on a Covid-secure ventilated bus for a further 70 minutes, I could barely move. To add insult to injury, the bus driver drove past my stop, forcing me to get off a mile or so down the road.

The sun was setting, and the very long driveway to the campsite goes through woodland with no lighting. I couldn’t feel my hands, let alone grip the zip on my rucksack to get at my head torch.

I ran as best as I could to my campervan, where because I couldn’t move my hands, I had to jab repeatedly at my keys in my pocket until finally the door unlocked. It took quite some time before I could feel my hands again…


What would you change if you walked it again?

I’d do more research about tide times in advance. The official guidebook mentions that the section at Buddo Rock is not accessible at high tide, whereas the website says it can only be crossed at low tide.

Given the remoteness of this stretch and lack of escape routes, I really didn’t want to get stuck there with the sun going down. It would have been really handy to know how much of the day the route is accessible.

Is it a case that the path is blocked only for a couple of hours immediately either side of high tide, or the opposite, only accessible for a couple of hours around low tide?

Ultimately I decided to skip that part of the route because I didn’t want to take the risk of being stranded for hours, so having a bit more info might have enabled me to complete this stretch. 

For anyone reading this who wants to walk the section of the path between Kingsbarns and Guardbridge, I did email the Fife Countryside Trust after the event, to put myself out of my misery.

I was advised that the section of the path at Buddo Rock can be walked an hour before or after high tide (so I would have been perfectly fine to go ahead). I was told to be especially careful if it is a higher tide and be cautious if planning on walking this section towards dusk as it is quite uneven.


And what have you learned which will help you on your next trail?

Get better boots! I always have a terrible time finding comfortable shoes, and walking boots are a total nightmare. I got myself a new pair (Berghaus Superlights) before this walk, and on shorter hikes they seemed fine.

However, by early morning on day 2 of my Fife walk, I was in quite a severe amount of pain, which stayed with me for the rest of the walk.

Fortunately, the couple I met along the path told me about Lockwoods, a ski outfitter in Leamington Spa which also fits hiking boots.

I paid a cool £240 for a lovely pair of AKU Alterra boots, which have been brilliant. The problem with my old boots? “Too much volume”, according to the man who fitted me with the AKU pair. So now I know. Next step, South West Coast Path!

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