Perched on the shore of the Tay Estuary, the tiny village of Balmerino is one of the most picturesque spots in Fife. It grew up around its historic abbey, the ruins of which are protected by the National Trust for Scotland and are open to visitors. The abbey is an ideal spot to start this walk which runs west along the peaceful wooded shoreline of the river before climbing gently on to Green Hill and then neighbouring Coultra Hill.
Opposite the abbey there’s an open agricultural yard with a large farm shed in it. To the right of the shed, a track leaves the road and runs between the shed and Abbey Cottage. At the end of the track, a path leads into woodland, passing a brick chimney stack, all that remains of a wooden cottage that once occupied the site here.
The path stretches ahead through leafy mixed woodland of predominantly oak, ash and larch. Closer to ground level, there is wild strawberry, greater woodrush and sweet woodruff. The route is well graded and it’s a real pleasure walking through the trees enjoying views across the wide estuary of the River Tay.
Tailor Den is soon reached and crossed. A wooden footbridge spans this narrow, leafy ravine. Further on the path crosses Cuttle Den and 500 metres on from here a third den is encountered. Here the bridge has seen better days. The path drops towards the foreshore to cross the burn before climbing up the opposite side where it forks. Go left, climbing to a marker post and bear right, following a series of markers and green arrows. Here the woodland consists mainly of Sitka spruce and larch with broad ferns carpeting the forest floor. The path gradually gains height, reaching, in due course, wooden rails bordering the policies of Birkhill House.
Bear left, following red arrows on marker posts. Ignore a path on the right leading down to a rather rotten looking footbridge and carry straight on. At the top of the path, turn left, leaving the forest to emerge into an open field. Follow the hedge up to a track at the top of the fields.
Go right and, just before the track forks east of Home Farm, turn left into a field and then, almost immediately, right, passing through a band of trees to enter another field. Go left and climb up the right-hand side of the trees, staying close to the edge of the field, to reach a gate and rickety ladder stile further up the slope. The ascent is quite steep but thankfully short.
Pass through the gate and a fairly level path skirts round the northern slope of Green Hill, passing beneath tall beech trees. A waymarker with a red arrow pointing left is soon reached. Ignore this and carry straight on. A reedy and, at times, muddy path descends past a pond to reach a high gate above Coultra Farm.
Go through the gate and, at a junction a few metres on, fork left, keeping Coultra Farm, visible through the trees, to your right. A grassy track climbs through tall larch trees. It passes through a gap in a stone wall and links up with a fence, running parallel with it across Coultra Hill. There’s another gate to go through on top of the hill and, after a final section of gentle ascent, the way descends towards two houses at Priorwell. Just above this a junction with a marker post is reached. Go left here, skirting the top of a band of dense conifers and take the next right to reach a small car park beyond a gate.
Join the public road, turn left and follow it down to cottages at Byres, enjoying uninterrupted views across the Tay Estuary to Dundee and the Sidlaw Hills beyond. The way curves right at Byres and a short way on reaches a T-junction where there’s a wooden bus shelter. Turn left and follow the road down to Balmerino.
Distance: 4 miles/6.5km
Time: 2-3 hours
Start/finish: Track-end opposite Balmerino Abbey (GR: NO 357247) Maps: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer sheet 371 or Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger sheet 59
Route: As described above