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The Hike In Europe That Every Woman Should Walk Once

This path will surround you with breathtaking sea views.

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gif of photos of locations in Scotland
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At sunrise on the day the world tuned into Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, my husband and I left the historic town of St Andrews — the celebrated birthplace of golf — carrying large backpacks for our walk south along the enchanting Fife Coastal Path.

The seagulls were waking, their irreverent shrieks piercing the silence. Otherwise, the ancient cobblestone sidewalks of the Scottish seaside town were eerily quiet. It was a contrast to the usual buzz of students attending the University of St Andrews, Scotland’s oldest university, where Will and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales, graduated — as did our children.

On a crisp 50-degree September day, we put on our layers and trudged past the famed St Andrews Cathedral ruins, picking up the trail just after East Sands beach. The well-marked path immediately started winding, hugging the coast of the North Sea, stretched gloriously to our left, begging us to stop every few minutes to admire it.

Ever since becoming empty nesters, we’ve taken to hiking. For me, it offers dedicated time to marinate mind, body and soul in nature and be attentive to the present.

For this trip, we planned to walk from St Andrews to Edinburgh using a section of the 117-mile Fife Coastal Path to reach the Firth of Forth, staying at inns along the way. Near the end, we modified our walk to avoid the less-than-idyllic portion. The roughly 35-mile experience showed us a new side of Scotland’s achingly wild beauty and the East Neuk (the Scottish word for “nook”), a row of adorable seaside towns.

The Queen’s death threw us a curve ball. The cafes and convenience stores we were counting on were closed. We knew the stuffed feeling we awoke with after dinner with our son at St Andrews’ Rusacks Hotel would quickly fade — so we headed out with as much food as we could.

To soak up the unspoiled sea vistas, we set an easy-going pace, aware that Scotland’s famously temperamental weather would likely bounce between showers and sunshine. We passed the first of many golf courses, with Fairmont St Andrews in the distance, before coming to the stunning natural feature, Buddo Rock.

There wasn’t a soul in sight at this juncture of the mostly single-track lane. We turned inland by a farm in the village of Boarhills before heading into the woods and back out again along the coast, where we were greeted by two equally wind-swept hikers. We stopped to take pictures of a soulful, ivy-covered stone ruin along Johnnie Bay while rolling waves crashed in the background.

After fields of turnips, we came across wooly sheep and grazing cows — a quintessentially Scottish scene. We trekked through the sand and spotted a few hardy swimmers. A couple walking their dog gave us a friendly nod and, like us, stepped aside for golfers along Kingsbarns Golf Links. The Cheesy Toast Shack food truck was thankfully open, serving yummy sandwiches at picnic tables.

East Neuk includes the charming seaside villages of Kingsbarns, Crail, Anstruther, Pittenweem, St Monans and Elie. Their intoxicating beauty has generated loose comparisons to Italy’s Cinque Terre region. King James VI described the area as “a fringe of gold,” and while we were familiar with it, we looked forward to experiencing it on foot.

Though the star feature is the sea, the region is also known for its quaint harbors, lighthouses, swimming beaches, fishing boats, colorful houses with red-tiled roofs and narrow cobblestone roads, luring you to explore and breathe in brisk salty air. Or, while away the day on the harbor with a pint watching for dolphins or seals.

Steeped in history, the Kingdom of Fife has landmarks near the path, from a secret bunker, castle ruins and caves to classic Tolbooth towers, a windmill and Lady Tower, a structure built in 1770 for the daughter of a wealthy merchant as a changing station for daily swims in the sea.

Plan for two nights in this area to pop into shops and tuck into good food and drink. In Kingsbarns, indulge in a tasting at the whiskey distillery, and in Elie, warm your insides at The Ship Inn with a hearty bowl of Cullen skink, a traditional Scottish soup. Try haggis at The Golf Hotel in Crail, the oldest village in the area, and don’t miss Anstruther Fish Bar, the Queen’s favorite fish and chips restaurant. Pittenweem tempts with scones and hot chocolate at The Cocoa Tree Café. On St Monans’ harbor sits the celebrated East Pier Smokehouse, which promises fine dining, and for coffee, there’s Giddy Gannet.

When you reach Lower Largo, rest your legs and have a drink at the Railway Inn before continuing along the coastal path. The trail heads inland in Leven, with urban sidewalks replacing magical sea views. This is where we diverted from the path and caught a bus and train to Inverkeithing, a town near the base of the River Forth.

Catching our breath, we hunkered down at The Burgh Arms and reviewed our walking directions to the Forth Road Bridge, the only bridge that allows pedestrians. I relished every step of the 1.5-mile crossing to Edinburgh, a perfect way to cap off the adventure.

If hiking in England and Scotland is on your bucket list, consider West Highland Way, St Cuthbert’s Way, the Hebridean Way or Coast to Coast, in addition to the Fife Coastal Path. If you prefer shorter day hikes, base yourself in Dunkeld or Killin in Scotland or head to England’s Lake District.

Have any of you ever been to Scotland? Let us know in the comments below.

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