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Access Issue - Fife Coastal Path - St Andrews to Crail section
Status | safety | access near golf courses | access restrictions during golf events
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LATEST ISSUE OF CONCERN - According to a new map on display at Kingsbarns Beach Car Park, users of the Kingsbarns to Crail section of the coastal path are being directed onto the foreshore at the car park. Please be aware that this information is wrong. The official coastal path runs along the top of the dune ridge to a point at Cambo Ness where the path is diverted inland for a short distance. Planning conditions state that the coastal path must be within the golf course boundary, so that the path can be maintained by the operators of the golf course. Fife Council is aware of the situation, and it is producing a corrected map for display at Kingsbarns Beach Car Park.

Latest News - The thin end of the wedge for walkers


Fife Council now claim that the Fife Coastal Path, from the Forth to the Tay, is complete. Perhaps so, but generally, and locally, there is still room for improvement, both in terms of access and of safety.

Peter Erskine of Cambo Estate recently claimed that the Fife coastal route has "no legal status whatsoever." (read Path not right of way - landowner)

In response to that claim, The Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (Scotways) offered assurances that public right of access to the Fife coastal route had been recognised for over 40 years and was therefore seen as official. (read Society defends walkers' rights)

Alexander Ballantyne, secretary of Scotways, said :

“.... it is quite unclear on what basis the landowner claims that the route has no legal status whatsoever, since a claimed right of way (quite different from an “alleged” one) has legal status."


The Ramblers' Association Scotland, and many local residents, have expressed concerns regarding the lack of effective buffer zones between the coastal path and adjacent golf courses

According to Dave Morris of the Ramblers' Association (read The thin end of the wedge for walkers):

"The planning system today is clearly unable to cope with the menace of the modern golf resort ....

"The rot set in with Kingsbarns, developed in the late 1990s between Crail and St Andrews on the Fife coast. At the planning permission stage, we tried very hard to persuade Fife Council to pull the development back a little from the coastline. We failed, completely.

"So today you would be well advised to carry a hard hat as you walk the coastal path and, if you are a golfer, check your insurance policy. One day a rambler can expect a very big crack on the head and the lawyers will be in action."

Fife Coastal Path - access around Kingsbarns Golf Links
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At the south-eastern Randerston entry to the golf course, walkers are now confronted with a new sign which states :

"Route follows beach for next half mile. At high tide please wait for tide to recede"

This sign covers a previous map showing the path network around the golf course, including the route of the main Fife Coastal Path.

This sign does not actually refer to the path to the north, but that fact is not immediately obvious. The sign refers to a landslide diversion further south, nearer Crail.

The sign has caused confusion, even amongst seasoned users of the coastal path. Just north of this sign there is a short 'other than high tide' diversion of the Fife Coastal Path which runs along part of the beach (the route now recommended for normal use), but the original land based Fife Coastal Path route still exists, as it must according to the golf course planning conditions. That land based route, which runs along the grassy edge of the golf course, is now referred to as the 'high tide' Fife Coastal Path.

Now, the 'high tide' Fife Coastal Path should not be confused with the 'high tide' alternative inland route referred to on signposts around the golf course.

Confused? Please bear in mind the following :

The original main coastal path was accessible at all times, regardless of the state of the tide. The original path ran along the grassy edge of the land - it did not divert to the beach or foreshore.

The golf course operators vowed to 'enhance' the experience of walkers using the coastal path, and they are required to provide and maintain a continuous main 'coastal' route which must remain open at all times (condition 6 of planning consent).

The main 'coastal' path should be fully accommodated within the site, as identified on the stamped approved plans (condition 6). The foreshore is not within the site.

Therefore, whether the tide is in or not, walkers are entitled to walk on the grass edge of the golf course (i.e. land under the operators control) - either to a point beyond the rocky part of the foreshore (where a post marks the start of a short foreshore 'diversion') or continuously towards Cambo.

Slowly but surely, since the granting of planning permission, the golf course operators have 'redefined' the route of the main coastal path. Some of these changes have been weakly 'accepted' by Fife Council - on the condition that a main, fundamentally 'coastal', route remains easily accessible at all times.

"I am satisfied that the network of routes now provided is acceptable. .... It was always the intention and still is that the public will have readily available access along the coastal edge following a clearly and well sign posted coastal route. .... The coastal route can clearly be followed along the edge of the golf course without recourse to actually walking on the foreshore itself." - Nick Brian, Fife Council.

See also coastal path - operator pledges, user concerns, planning statements

Basically, the golf course operators do not want walkers ('muppets' in golf speak) to use the grassy bits around this pinch point near the 12th green - but the coastal path, as identified on the stamped approved plans, does follow the grassy bits.

It should also be noted that the golf course operators are required (as a condition of planning consent) to provide and maintain a second separate 'alternative' inland path which should form part of a circular route around the golf course. This path is not, and was never meant to be, the coastal path. It most certainly is not, as sometimes claimed, the high tide route of the main coastal path. You may chose to use the inland path at high tide, if you can find it, but do not feel that you must use this route.

The coastal path AND the entirely separate inland alternative route must remain open at all times. The golf course operators are actually required to provide and maintain a complete circular route, which must remain open at all times.

Walkers should be aware that local club rules allow the playing of golf shots from the beach. As a result, the coastal path effectively becomes part of the golf course in places!

This issue was raised with Fife Council (read Golf on beaches beyond approved boundary) :

"It has been obvious for some time that golfers are prepared on occasion, whether by accident or design, to straight line the dog-leg holes and play from the beaches and foreshore, and from the dunes. It had not been obvious, until Colin Montgomerie was allowed to play from the foreshore during the recent dunhill links championship that this practice was deemed acceptable at management level.

"Apparently, according to championship director Mike Eriksson, Monty’s shot was permitted, without penalty, because his ball was lying within the golf course, in a Lateral Water Hazard zone, and the ball was playable.

"This may surprise local councillors, planners and informed residents. Having studied the site location plan, planning reports and statements from the developer, they would be entitled to believe that the golf course was bounded on the north east by coastline, beyond which lies the foreshore from which Monty played his shot. They would be aware that the Fife Coastal Path runs along the foreshore at this point, and that the area is part of the Fife Ness SSSI. They would be aware of the Scottish right of safe recreation on the foreshore."

Fife Council are aware of the situation, but unable to act - as planner Nick Brian explains :

"I appreciate that the use of the beach, all be it occasionally, does present a different line of play and potentially an increase in danger to walkers and users of the breach from golf balls. To this end I have written to the operators of the golf course regarding their attitude to players using the beach. It is possible that the beach could be regarded as out of bounds and thereby subject to penalty since it is clearly beyond the boundary of the original planning consent site. However, it would not be possible to impose such a local rule of play on the golf course from a planning point of view. Nevertheless, I will be making this suggestion.

"I trust that this clarifies the position for you in the meantime and clearly this will need to be monitored for the future to determine whether or not the circumstances change. Important to this, will also be the attitude of golf course operators in terms of their approach to shots being played from this position."

Even the mighty R&A appear powerless in this matter. Peter Dawson is aware of the situation but, for whatever reason, has decided to merely

"watch developments with interest."

Fife Coastal Path - access restrictions during golf events
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Alexander Ballantyne, secretary of Scotways, said recently, in reference to the Fife Coastal Path, that :

“a number of issues which merit further examination have been raised during the attempt to deny public access to this right of way at the time of the dunhill championship......."

During the 2002 dunhill event, organisers (via their stewards, and through the use of ropes) were diverting people from the coastal paths. The organisers had no right to do this - they would be aware that these paths must remain open at all times. Nothing has changed since as regards the status of the main 'coastal' and 'alternative' paths around the golf course. Insist on using these paths. Fife Council rejected an application to close these paths. Use them or lose them.

According to Scottish Enterprise Fife, the Crail to Boarhills section of the Coastal Path is now complete. (read Work on coastal path soon to be completed in Coastal Path News)

At Kingsbarns Golf Links there should therefore now be two clearly defined paths in existence (as per KGL planning conditions) - namely the traditional main route which more or less follows the shore from Randerston to Boghall, and an alternative inland route from Randerston to Kingsbarns Beach Car Park (via Cambo Horse Paddock and the Golf Course maintenance sheds).

Both routes must be properly maintained by the golf course operators, and both must remain open at all times - even during the dunhill links championship.

IMG, the organiser of the dunhill links championship, applied to close the coastal paths around the golf course during the 2002 event - on the grounds of safety and security. Fife Council rejected the application. (There has been no application to close the paths during this years free event).

Ross Hallett of IMG, in a letter to Kingsbarns residents, was concerned that :

"from a health and safety perspective anyone walking along the Coastal Footpath during the Tournament would be in danger from wayward golf balls........and it would have been negligent of us to have ignored our own concerns and those of our health and safety consultants."

Ross Hallett, in a letter to Inspector John Pow of Fife Police, stated that:

"there is a risk that walkers on the area of the coastal footpath adjoining the Kingsbarns golf course are in danger from wayward golf balls, as the path is within areas that we consider dangerous and which are roped-off to spectators. In many cases both players and walkers would be unaware of the presence of one another, therefore, increasing the potential hazard."

Kingsbarns Golf Links appear not to share these concerns. They believe that they have provided sufficient buffer zones, and that all of the safety issues raised during the planning stages have been resolved.

So, during the dunhill, there appears to be a recognised risk to walkers, but during the rest of the year walkers are deemed safe.

The Coastal Path may now be complete between Crail and Boarhills, but is it as safe as it should be?

A archive of news reports relating to the Coastal Path can be found here

Coverage of other coastal path access issues can be found here

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