Leaving the military base and airfield behind us, the row takes us across the mouth of the River Eden. This is one of the two principal rivers in Fife, which runs from the Perthshire border, through the Howe of Fife to Cupar and onto Guardbridge where it empties into the North Sea. Along its banks it has powered mills over the years and until recently it powered the paper mill at Guardbridge. St Andrews Rowing Club had one of our first expedition rowing adventures up the Eden. It was not without interesting incidents! (Unfortunately you will have to remain intrigued, it was all about a boat that should not have been there!)
The estuary is a Local Nature Reserve made up of rich intertidal mud and sand flats. It is great for bird watching and walking. The area was designated as a Ramsar Wetland in 1975 under the Ramsar Convention which safeguards conservation and wise sustainable use for wetlands across the world.
If we had the time, and the right tide, the two skiffs could venture into the estuary, following each other closely so as to avoid any danger from the old stanchions which remain from the days when salmon were netted and shellfish were collected from the flats. Alongside us, as we row this stretch, we would see the embankment of the disused railway line which served St Andrews from 1852. It was successful until the opening of the Tay Road Bridge in 1966 caused a decline in passenger numbers and then Dr Beeching did the rest of the damage in 1969! A mile or so along the railway embankment we would spot an old, but substantial slipway which marks the start of the Mussel Road. This was where the shellfish collected from the estuary would be landed and taken by horse-drawn cart to St Andrews.
We would then exit the estuary and pass Out Head which marks the start of the three mile stretch of the West Sands of St Andrews Bay, famous for the opening scene in the film Chariots of Fire. There would likely be many holiday makers enjoying a day at the beach.
We would also be aware of the golfers playing on one of the six Links courses just behind the beach; golf has been played on these famous dunes for six centuries. it all started, around 1400, from a rough track through whin bushes and heather and developed to the wonderful manicured courses of the present day. In 2015, during the Open Golf Championship, always played on the Old Course, we did a row-past along the West Sands and attracted some TV coverage in which Peter Alliss commented: “Rowing is not really energetic, it only uses the arms and that person at the back isn’t doing anything at all”! We know this generally not to be the case, however, perhaps he knew the members of that crew!
Now the skiffs are within sight of St Andrews Castle and in the distance, we see the harbour wall. Almost there!