The Elie Chainwalk is one of Scotland’s best-kept coastal secrets. To call it a walk is not strictly accurate; it is more of a scramble, requiring a healthy spirit of adventure, a good measure of agility and a strong head for heights.
Combining climbing, crawling and clambering, there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in Britain. But solidly planted steel chains, perfectly placed footholds and sticky volcanic rock offer a comforting sense of security to those embarking upon this rough and ready challenge.
There is no right or wrong way to do the chain walk; some traditionally start at the east end, others at the west. The descriptions below are based on an east to west traverse with the red arrows showing the direction of travel over the chains.
- Allow between an hour and two hours to complete the route. This will give you plenty of time to explore the coves and caves.
- Check the tides. The route is immersed at high tide and can only be safely undertaken when the sea is out, or at least receding. The latest you should set out is two hours before high tide. Tide times can be found here. Enter ‘Anstruther Easter’ in search box.
- The chain walk is 0.5km in length and requires agility and a head for heights. It is unsuitable for very young children, although active older children, well supervised, and teenagers will enjoy the adventure.
- The route is not suitable for wheelchair users, pushchairs or dogs.
- Wear stout footwear with good gripping soles. Pack a waterproof jacket and some warm clothing in case the weather changes. Gloves with grip will protect hands from rough rock and cold chains and, for personal safety, consider wearing a helmet. Take snacks and a drink to keep you going.
- Although the rock offers a high level of grip, in many places a covering of loose grit, earth or gravel can cause slips, so take care when placing your feet.
- Always face the rock when climbing or descending chains and wherever possible keep the chain between your legs.
- If you don’t feel comfortable tackling the Elie Chainwalk alone, go with an organised group such as those offered by Ancrum Outdoor Education Centre in Dundee.
ACCESSING THE CHAINWALK
From the centre of Elie, follow Earlsferry High Street south west to its end where parking can be found adjacent to the golf course. Walk east on a grassy track that runs alongside the golf course to reach the beach at West Bay. Turn right and follow the beach west towards Kincraig Point. At the west end of the beach, an obvious path leads to the start of the chain walk, where a safety notice is pinned to the cliff.
Click here for a location map – Use this Fife Coastal Path interactive map to find the location of the Elie Chainwalk – it lies between Shell Bay and West Bay to the west of Elie.
CHAIN 1: Beyond the safety notice (pictured left), a short scramble over rough rock brings you to the first section of the first chain. This is a short ascent. At the top, a longer section of chain descends onto MacDuff’s Cave inlet. Thereafter the chain runs along the side of the cliff. If the tide is out, much of this latter section can be avoided by lowering yourself carefully on to the rock and shingle below.
CHAIN 2: The climb out of MacDuff’s Cave inlet is tricky, the chain angled uncomfortably against the cliff. This is one of the most difficult parts of the route, a real baptism of fire. Step up on to a large rock in the inlet and lean over to grap the loose chain end. Holding this firmly, step over a gap between the rock and the cliff on to which the chain is attached. There are obvious footholds. Keeping a firm hold of the chain, climb up the staggered ledges to reach the top.
The route descends to a flat area beyond which steps cut into the rock ascend the next rise. Beyond this a brief scuttle around a rocky outcrop dotted with carved footholds leads to a shingle beach (pictured left) dominated by a vast vertical sweep of basalt columns.
CHAIN 3: Cross the beach to reach the next short length of chain and use it to climb over a low band of rock. At the top continue for a couple of metres, then bear right up a slope of loose grit and gravel to reach a metal post.
CHAIN 4: At the post a long, vertical chain (10 metres long) descends to the next bay. This is the steepest of the descents on the chain walk and requires careful negotiation. Keep the chain between your legs and carefully descend using carved footholds. This section is quite tricky at the bottom where the rock slopes inward and the footholds are less easy to locate.
CHAIN 5: Walk across the next bay (pictured right) to reach the next chain, a fairly short ascent over rough rock. To reach the bottom of this chain, you should stay close to the top of the shingle beach to avoid a deep channel. Climb over the rock, taking care not to slip on loose gravel. Grasp the chain and climb to a metal post on a knife-edge of rock, the tiny ridge barely wide enough for a person to pause and admire the view.
CHAIN 6: This is a long descent, which increases in steepness part way down. The initial section has good steps, but again take care not to slip on loose earth and gravel that frequently coat the steps. Where the descent becomes vertical, keep the chain between your legs and carefully navigate the footholds.
CHAIN 7: At the bottom of Chain 6, bear right over rock to reach the start of this horizontal chain. It runs inland towards Doos’ Cave (pictured below), above a narrow ledge for your feet.
CHAIN 8: On the other side of the inlet, scramble over rock to reach the final short, vertical chain ascent. An easy walk over rocky ribs leads to the end of the chain walk. Close by is the Devil’s Cave (pictured right).
The nearest railway station is in Kirkcaldy. Fife Stagecoach operates an hourly bus service from Kirkcaldy to Elie, on route X26. For public transport information visit www.fifedirect.org.uk
Click here for useful info from Fife Council on the Elie Chainwalk
Click here for more of Scotland’s quirky curiosities and offbeat attractions
If you enjoyed reading this guide and found it helpful, you might like to buy me a new pair of underpants!.
New from Amenta Publishing – Comprehensive, full colour, step-by-step guidebook to the Elie Chainwalk by James Carron, with graphic maps, lots of photographs and plenty of information on the route and its surroundings, plus a page to record your own completion. Available from Amazon in paperback or as an ebook. Click here for more info.
Enjoy and please feel free to comment on your own experiences…
Page links checked and updated August 27, 2020