There is a wealth of different things to do and see in and around the village of Pittenweem, in the wider East Neuk and within easy driving distance, across Fife and beyond.
Pittenweem is a fishing village, with a history probably dating back to early Christian times. The remains of the Augustinian priory, the east gatehouse and a completely intact ‘great house’, dates back to the 14th century. The priory was built over the holy cave of St Fillan, which sits on Cove Wynd just off the High Street, and can be visited by borrowing a key from the Cocoa Tree bistro. In 1541, following a visit by King James V, it was designated a Royal Burgh.
At the end on the 17th century Pittenweem was the centre of a series of notorious witch trials. The burgh was bogged down in debt and witchcraft was used as an excuse to improve the financial position by seizing the assets of some local women. The Parish Kirk at the top of the High Street adjoins the Tolbooth which was used as the jail for the accused, and the door to the cells can still be seen. It is the studded door at the bottom of the tower. More information on the witch trials can be found here.
Many houses in the village are in the crow-step cable style. These date back to the 17th and 18th century and were strongly influenced by buildings in the Low Countries which had strong trading links with the area.
Pittenweem is still a busy working harbour surrounded by some beautiful historic buildings. In the summer visitors can buy fresh fish and seafood from the FMA harbour shop.
In early August, Pittenweem holds its famous Arts Festival over a ten-day period. Private houses, garages, boat stores and net lofts are converted temporarily into art galleries for local, national and international artists, both professional and amateur. Paintings, drawings, ceramics, jewellery and crafts are exhibited for sale. The festival is run entirely by volunteers and attracts a large number of visitors, with many events organised during the festival dates.
Food and Drink
Pittenweem has a number of places to eat and drink. The Pittenweem Chip Shop is just across from the Kirk and is one of the best in the UK. It also sells newspapers and rolls on Sunday mornings. The Cocoa Tree is a lovely bistro on the High Street that also makes its own high quality chocolate. A few doors down is Cuppa, a friendly coffee shop. Funky Scottish, further down the High Street and opposite the Post Office, is a gift shop and café, serving tea, coffee, cake and light snacks. The West End on South Loan, is a pub that serves evening meals in the summer while the Larachmhor Tavern serves food all day as well as having a fully stocked bar.
The Post Office sells a good selection of provisions and fresh food, and has a pharmacy. You can also withdraw cash at the counter. The village shop, Traquair’s, is next door, and sells alcohol, in addition to a normal selection of groceries. Barnett’s, the bakery, sells fresh bread, cakes and pies. Bowman’s fish shop is on the corner of Routine Row and the Backgate, just behind the High Street. Nicholson’s, on the harbourfront, sells traditional sweets and ice cream. Opening times can be found here.
There’s a number of all-year-round galleries in Pittenweem, including the Fisher Gallery, the Weem Gallery, both on the High Street, and the Coach House on School Wynd.
Overlooking the harbour from the west is West Braes, which includes a swing park, crazy golf course (in the summer), a skateboard park and large recreation ground for exercising dogs and playing ball games. Down below is the historic outdoor pool, which is currently being renovated by volunteers.
The furthest south of the East Neuk villages, and probably the most genteel, is Elie, a traditional holiday destination for the middle classes of Edinburgh. It has the best beach in the East Neuk and some excellent restaurants, including the Ship Inn, which overlooks the harbour. Elie Kirk is also very unusual architecturally and worth a visit.
St Monans is the village to the immediate south of Pittenweem. Walking on the coastal path takes around 20 to 30 minutes while driving takes less than five minutes. It boasts an attractive harbour and the fabulous East Pier Smokehouse bistro, famous for its fresh seafood, including lobster. The Smokehouse only opens from mid-April to the end of September, but it’s always worth the wait. Craig Millar’s restaurant at 16 West End also has an excellent reputation.
If walking from Pittenweem to St Monans, you will pass its iconic windmill and salt pans. From the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, to the late 18th century, salt was harvested from sea water evaporating in flat man-made pools on the shore. Fife was a centre of Scottish salt production which was exported to England and continental Europe. The windmill, recently restored, was used to pump sea water into the pans.
St Monans Kirk is prominent on the headland and the inscriptions on the graves in the church yard make for fascinating reading.
Anstruther is the busiest of the East Neuk villages and has many shops, bars, restaurants and a couple of banks. Whereas it used to be one of the busiest harbours, this has now been converted into a marina. In the summer, pleasure trips are run from here to see the puffins and seals on the Isle of May. Anstruther is famous for its award-winning fish and chip shop, which has been visited by many celebrities and even royalty. It is the home to the Scottish National Fisheries Museum, which is a really fascinating visit. The Cellar, at 24 East Green, is one of two Michelin star restaurants in Fife, and is very good value in comparison to other Michelin star menus. Anstruther Kirk sits to the south of the harbour and includes a memorial to St Adrian, who founded the priory on the Isle of May and was martyred by Danish Vikings in AD 875.
There is a good-sized Scotmid supermarket opposite the new Wade Academy building on the St Andrews road out of Anstruther (turn left at the first button roundabout). It opens early and stays open till late.
Cellardyke was traditionally a separate village to Anstruther but in the twentieth century to two overlapped. The harbour is very picturesque, as are the narrow streets with fishermen’s cottages on either side. The Haven bar and restaurant overlooks Cellardyke Harbour and serves both lunch and evening meals.
Craig is a couple of miles north of Cellardyke and is the last of the main East Neuk fishing villages and is very pretty. Its proximity to St Andrews means that grand villas rub shoulders with traditional fishing cottages. It’s parish church dates as far back as the 13th century while the Tollbooth was built around 1600. Crail has several hotel restaurants and tearooms.
The Crail golf course at Balcomie is one of the oldest in the world, even older than the world famous Old Course at St Andrews. It has been used as a qualifying course for the Open and Dunhill Cup.
Crail has an outdoor Food Festival held each year in mid-June, mostly centred around the harbour. Crail Pottery, on the Nethergate, was established in 1965 by Stephen and Carol Grieve and has an international reputation. Today it is run by their daughter Sarah, son Ben and Ben's wife Jane. It specialises in stoneware and earthenware and is well worth visiting.
To the north of the town is the old Crail Aerodrome, which was a Naval Air station during the Second World War. It’s now a race track for karting and drag racing.
East Neuk Festival
The East Neuk Festival runs at the end of July and features a stellar programme of traditional and contemporary classical music recitals in various locations across the area. More info here.
St Andrews is an ancient university town, home to the oldest university in Scotland, founded in the early 15th century. It’s the third oldest university in the English-speaking world after Oxford and Cambridge and was where Prince William, currently second in line to the British throne, met his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge. It’s Cathedral, founded in the ninth century, is now an elegant ruin, while the Castle, also a ruin on a rocky outcrop, was founded in the 13th century.
St Andrews is also the home to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded in the 18th century, and the world famous Old Course, and with documentary evidence existing that golf was being played there in the mid-16th century, is recognised worldwide as the home of golf.
West Sands is St Andrews’s dramatic 2 mile-long beach, adjacent to the links golf courses and a great place to take a bracing walk.
St Andrews has many shops from mainstream high street chains to quirky independents. There are also a large number of bars, cafes and restaurants. The cinema is open all year round and has three screens showing the latest releases.
Other places to visit close to Pittenweem
Cambo Country Estate
Cambo is a large stately home between Crail and Kingsbarns belonging to Lord Peter Erskine. It’s grounds and woods are open to the public and it is famous for cultivating and exporting snowdrops. There is a lovely walk through the grounds down to the beach. In the summer, there is a small and informal tearoom.
Kellie Castle is a National Trust for Scotland property that sits around 2 miles inland from Pittenweem and dates back to the 12th century. It’s a great example of Scots baronial architecture and has beautiful formal gardens. At the end of the 19th century the abandoned castle began a restoration by the famous artistic Lorimer family, who also restored buildings on the harbourfront at Pittenweem. There is also a painted panel by the famous Celtic Renaissance artist Pheobe Traquair.
Hill of Tarvit
This is a beautiful early 20th century mansion build by the architect Sir Robert Lorimer for the Sharp family in 1905. Lorimer was part of the family who restored Kellie Castle. It sits high on a hill a mile south of Cupar. The house and 40 acres of garden are managed by the National Trust for Scotland.
Wemyss Pottery, Ceres
The Wemyss Ware (pronounced 'Weems') name has had a long and distinguished history from its beginning in 1882. It was the brainchild of Robert Heron, the Pottery owner, and Karel Nekola, a gifted decorator whom he had brought over from Bohemia. It is probably the most highly collectable and sought-after Scottish pottery, producing beautifully hand painted pottery cats, pigs, other animals, giftware, decorative tableware, tiles and limited editions, all made in Scotland.
For 30 years, since 1985, Wemyss Ware has been produced by the Griselda Hill Pottery in the pretty village of Ceres, ten miles west of St Andrews and close to Cupar. The Pottery owns the Wemyss Ware trademark. It is made and hand painted according to the old tradition of the ware. Each piece is hand painted and unique. The painters, who have all worked at the Pottery for over fifteen years, use a secret technique of painting which has been passed down through generations from the original designer, Karel Nekola.
Tentsmuir Forest and Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve sits on the north side of the River Eden, north of St Andrews, just past the Leuchars military base. It features a vast beach, great for longer walks, picnics on hot days and there's also a large pine forest to explore. There's a wide variety of wildlife to spot, including wildfowl and wading birds, deer, bats, red squirrels and lots of grey seals.
Dundee is the fourth largest city in Scotland and, in addition to having a busy city centre full of shops, bars and restaurants, it also has a large number of attractions. These include Discovery Point, the home of the RRS Discovery tall ship, used for Antarctic exploration, the Sensation science centre, the Dundee Rep theatre, Verdant Works historic jute mill, Dundee Contemporary Arts Centre and Cinema and the forthcoming Victoria and Albert Design Museum, which will open in 2018.
Scotland's Secret Bunker
This is a former top secret UK Government nuclear defence bunker situated around 30m underground now run as a museum and situated between Anstruther and St Andrews. It provides a fascinating insight into Britain's Cold War heritage.
A Michelin starred restaurant run by acclaimed chef Geoffrey Smeddle, within a fifteen minute taxi ride from Pittenweem. It has outstanding a la Carte and Degustation menus.