Two worlds – ‘mud apart’

I am not sure how I will rate yesterday’s adventure. It certainly had a lot to offer and so had the Fife Coastal Path, riding it on a singlespeed mountain bike. For times I felt like being in another world, it certainly didn’t feel like riding in the middle of Winter in Scotland. All that reminded me of the season was the mud. And it was the mud which almost cracked me in the end of the day. There were moments of absolute high and there was the brief moment I was close to fold, while I was standing in the dark, with the bike on the shoulders trying to find some sort of path through rocks. I just wanted it to end, I was desperate for food, water and a bed. One wrong step and that was it, as the tide would have easily swept me away. I was begging for a dry and safe home. This all sounds a bit bizarre, but yet riding those 90k yesterday spanned across the whole range of emotions. And next time I will be careful with guidebooks, but more on that subject later.

It was a slow start to get to Kirkcaldy, but I finally caught the train from Waverley at 9.30am. After sleeping in and then reading my guidebook ‘Bike Scotland Trails Guide – 40 of the best mountain bike routes in Scotland’ by Richard Moore and Andy McCandlish to wake up, Kirkcaldy seemed a good starting point to ride, with enough time to make it to Leuchars before or shortly after it was getting dark in the afternoon. I packed enough lights to be able to even ride a few hours in the dark, which looking back was a very sensible decision. I also travelled light this time, stuffing the jersey pockets with my camera in one, my phone, some money, credit card, two bars and a pump in the second, and spare tube, levers, patches and the Exposure light in the third one. It felt like spring outside and I surely wouldn’t need a waterproof layer, so that made things even easier. With a few recent modifications my singlespeed bike is almost ready to rock for the season to come, and this was the ride to test it. It stood the test, and looking back, almost any other bike would have ended up in the workshop after what the day to to offer: mud, glorious mud, and plenty of it.

Starting in Kirkcaldy it took me a wee while to find the path, but I was rewarded as soon as I was on it. What lay in front of me was some super sweet singletrack paired with a stunning view over the sea and a blue sky. All with exactly the right gradient to negotiate on a singlespeed hardtail without getting off to often, with some gnarly bits to make it interesting for fat tyres. The Fife Coastal Path is one of those you have to experience yourself on a day like yesterday. It follows a beautiful, possibly often underrated coast, less than an hours train journey from Edinburgh. Especially in this context I can’t think of anything better to do on a sunny winter’s day then riding a bike along trails like this. Every now and then you will pass a small fishing town with a beautiful harbour to give you a bit of a break from the technical bits, and then there are those beaches. Heading out of Leven the track follows a beach (there is a high tide alternative as well), and with the right speed and line this is a magic thing to ride on. If you hit the wrong bits your wheels might sink into the sand, but even if you fall, you fall soft, unless you are unlucky enough to hit the rocks that challenge the more technical riders. The beauty of this is that the scenery changes constantly, so you won’t be bored. Just as your wheels are about to clog up with the sand, you will be on a gravel path again, and just as this gets boring, you will find a line through some rocks on a singletrack. Riding through sand dunes (on the bits where you are allowed to ride) is great fun too, and then there are those lovely places to stop and have a coffee, like I did in Anstruther. This was where the real magic starts, as the bit between Anstruther is perhaps the most technical of the ridable part of the track, but also following a rocky coastline that is absolutely beautiful. And then for a moment, you think you are in Moab, with rocks on your left that look like the beautiful sandstone formations of the canyons in the States. I am not sure how much time I spent getting the camera out, but 121 pictures from a single ride speak a clear language.

And then came Crail, and the mud. Until then it had been wet and sometimes slippery, but all still ok to ride. I wish I would have taken my glasses with me, as at higher speeds the mud was flying right in my face, quite dangerous without glasses. On the climb up to Crail though it was so muddy that it felt like I was riding on a piece of soap. The back wheel turned and turned, but I stood still and so did the bike. I got off and had to push up the hill, the higher I came the thicker the mud got. After a good clean with a stick I was back on a little stretch of road as the sun was setting.

There was still a good way to go to Leuchars, but with the trail quite ridable so far, I was positive to continue with lights. After getting lost on the massive 2nd World War airfield nearby I managed to get back on the track at the Crail Golf Course to follow the beach and then a some tracks, all along the coast. At Kingsbarnes there was an alternative route signposted, and I could remember the guidebook described the next bit to come as ‘too rough for some’. I took the road for a wee while and cycled towards Boarhead, where I jumped back on the track. For there it would have been 4.5miles to St Andrews on the road.

The decision to take the track turned out to make my day ending in a more adventurous way than planned. The bit from there to St. Andrews was so muddy to an extent that my front wheel stopped turning, almost sending me over the bars. The bike was possibly twice as heavy to carry as it was covered in mud, which didn’t make walking up steps constantly a pleasure. I was lucky that the tide was out, otherwise I would have had no other chance then to turn around, as there were no high tide alternatives as previously. The more walking and shouldering I did, the more my body cooled out and riding downhill became almost impossible in the mud as well. All in all it was a big gamble, in the dark. I felt angry about the authors of the guidebook, by no means this was anything you can cycle on a bike, no matter how good you are. I felt angry at a council that grades a track like this the same as the bits I rode to Crail, which were fine to ride with some skills. But I knew that I had to keep pushing on (it was mostly pushing literally) and I finally saw the lights of St Andrews. And then again I wasn’t sure whether the day would have been the same experience without the survival training at the end. The last miles to Leuchars were on a tarmac cycle track, adding to a total of 90km for a day.

Summing the day up I had ridden one of the best coastal tracks I’ve ever been on so far and I have seen a few. Ending at Crail would have been the most sensible decision, staying off the track from Kingsbarnes would have saved me a lot of pushing in the dark, but it possibly made me appreciate the first bit even more. In the future I will look at guidebooks more critically, I sometimes wonder if those authors have ever ridden the trails they are writing about. For some I doubt that. But I reminded those famous words. On a mountain bike you can cover a long distance in a short period of time, and a short distance in a long period of time. So true.

Have a look at the pictures here