yesterday we went to Kemback wood, a steep woodland quite near to St Andrews, for a shady walk at lunchtime, thinking of what was best for the dogs as well as ourselves.

this walk begins and ends with a pretty gate, first through the stone wall near the Neo-Gothic parish church, stone-built  in 1820 and very small with narrow pointed windows. you drive up an alarmingly steep lane to get to it.

the gate leads to a path along the lower edge of the wood, looking out

under trees into meadows. one tree was a huge field maple, I’ve never seen such a magnificent specimen, as big as a mature beech. I’m pretty sure it was field maple, with small maple-type leaves and the rather spongey bark.

small burns flow down the hill

Em always likes a paddle

B not so much unless she’s been running

this burn tumbles down the hill from a set of waterfalls, amongst bluebells

and ends up in this pond, flowing over the far edge. across the meadows is Kemback House

our path led up and up. we were thankful for the shade and the breeze shimmering the dappled light

when we got to the top, past caves, or quarrying in the level bedded sandstone, the path skirted some steep drops

then we were out into the back of Blebo Craigs, and a grass field with a gorse portal to this path

back into the edge of the wood

through a narrow kissing gate, and then down what seemed like hundreds of steps back to the church. a good work-out for all parts of legs and bum.

this morning we drove to Balmerino, a bit further from St Andrews, near Tayport and on the Tay estuary. I actually looked at a small house for sale here about three years ago, but the enclosable garden was too small for dogs. this yellow painted one would suit me better, but it’s not for sale, of course.

a few metres down the lane you drop down to the Fife coastal path and a shingle beach

today the tide was low and the water clear and still

the estuary is huge, the Tay has a catchment area of two thousand square miles and is the longest river in Scotland.

the coastal path takes you along the edge of the estuary, on a paved path above the shingle, and then up steps into a wood full of bluebells and also many campfire hearths. today there was a beach clean along here, and I imagine there’s a lot of litter and debris involved with this camp fire activity.

several burns flow down the steep slopes, with footbridges crossing them

the path wanders up and down

at times near the beach, where there were some line fishermen and views across the Tay

not so much of a breeze today and higher temperatures.

the beach with overhanging trees made me think of a book I’m reading at the moment, Oliver Rackham’s The Ancient Woods of the Helford River, which has just been published by Little Toller Press. In that part of Cornwall, on the Lizard peninsula just south of Falmouth, the land is interpenetrated by drowned valleys, where the woods come down to the sea in the same way.

here though a lot of the trees are non-native conifers

with some clumps of beech, also planted. Beech is common in Fife, but it is not native.

we turned off the coastal path to take a track back to Balmerino. the conifer wood is very obvious in this view of the Tay and the farmland opposite.

the track is bordered with ditches, some sounding with water burbling, and hedges of bramble and sloe,¬† edged with rosebay willow herb. in the middle of the track we found this huge elephant hawk moth caterpillar looking for somewhere to pupate. Rose bay willow herb is a favourite food plant. the adult moth has a wingspan up to 2 1/2 inches and is a beautiful creature, olive green and pink. you can see this one’s horn at its rear end and the double eye patches near the head. it was flowing across the track at speed.

we found a more portable treasure as well – a jay’s secondary wing feather with the blue stripe of the covert feathers like a jewel on the edges of the white.

I would have expected to hear and see buzzards around here but there was nothing. too near the sea? over-active gamekeepers? (we saw a pheasant rearing enclosure in the woods) perhaps we were just unlucky.

today the Tay was like a mirror

back in Balmerino we popped into the grounds of the ruined abbey, founded in the thirteenth century by a band of twelve Cistercians.

it was converted into a house by the first Lord of Balmerino in the sixteenth century, and so much of it survives.

actually we were more interested in the four hundred year old sweet chestnut tree in the grounds.