The forgotten corner of Fife – a land of big skies, empty beaches and close-knit communities

“The return of the railway to Levenmouth – home of Robinson Crusoe – after half a century reopens this forgotten corner of Fife,” smiles Andy Duff.

Leven used to be one of Scotland’s most popular resorts. Now the railway is breathing new life into this land of big skies, vast waters and close-knit communities, with direct trains (from June 2) running across the Forth from Edinburgh in just an hour.

Duff, of the Largo Communities Together Development Trust, sits proudly in a microcosm of Levenmouth: The Aurrie, an old Baptist church that he didn’t want to be turned into apartments or holiday homes, as they are today. de rigueur further along the coast in the tourist honeypot of East Neuk.

Instead, he transformed it into a community space serving Lower Largo, Upper Largo and Lundin Links with events and a café.

“This whole coastline, from the far east here to Wemyss in the west, will get a boost from the eight-mile railway line, with new businesses and improved paths and cycleways. Our community is right behind it. This July, our Largo Arts Week will be bigger than ever, with 60 local artists opening their doors,” he adds.

The entire coastline in Fife will get a 'boost' from the new railway line, with more paved walking and cycling paths

Entire coastline in Fife to get a ‘boost’ from new railway line, with more paved walking and cycling paths – Alamy

Levenmouth has been at a standstill for decades since the collapse of its traditional industries in the 1980s and the Levenmouth Rail Link offers the area and its web of towns and villages hope for redemption.

I’m staying in the postcard-perfect Lower Largo at The Crusoe, a castaway-themed boutique hotel that makes the most of the wide, island-studded Forth estuary that blesses Fife’s southern flank. Think Cornwall on Forward. And Crusoe.

The walls tell the story of explorer Alexander Selkirk, born in the village, and the real inspiration of Daniel Defoe. General Manager Ross Myddleton says – as I eat a Crusoe Burger just meters from the surf: “The new trains are an opportunity. We are already seeing an increase in bookings and a renovation that will double our number of bedrooms.”

Back east I walk along the Fife Coastal Path, one of Scotland’s most dramatic long-distance walks, which passes through Levenmouth. This artery is every bit as impressive in its own way as its more illustrious brother, the West Highland Way.

Imagine a coastline dotted with empty beaches, golf courses and waters once obstructed by Viking ships and Cromwell’s navy, where you often see more seabirds and cetaceans than people. The new rail line puts you right in the middle of some of the most dramatic stretches of the trail.

The dramatic coastline was once thwarted by Viking ships and Cromwell's navyThe dramatic coastline was once thwarted by Viking ships and Cromwell's navy

The dramatic coastline was once thwarted by Viking ships and the Cromwell – Alamy navy

I reach the community-run green lung of Silverburn Park on the edge of Leven. A mental health charity has transformed the wooded seaside park. There are walking trails, a nature pond, a campsite with glamping pods and the best scones in Levenmouth at the Cottage Window Café. It aims to grow the minds of locals and visitors alike, with large-scale plans to transform an old B-listed flax mill into an events space.

Further east, in Leven itself, the returning railway line aims to halt post-industrial decline and revive the romance of the seaside resort’s heyday, immortalized in ‘Singing Butler’ by local artist Jack Vettriano, a painting bathed in romance from Fife Riviera.

Today’s artistic star is ‘Postie’, a brightly colored Scottie dog statue. Leven loves this temporary art project so much that a burst of fundraising just landed him a permanent home that’s brightening up Leven’s waterfront. There are even plans for an outdoor sauna on the beach.

Regeneration and romance hang in the salty air. From the train station, the wide beach and retro Beachcomber amusement arcade and café reflect the glories of the past, but the changing face of Leven is unmistakable, with a new Italian restaurant in the main square and dynamic businesses such as lifestyle boutique Khee.

'Regeneration and romance hang in the salt air': the Ship Inn bar in Elie, near Leven'Regeneration and romance hang in the salt air': the Ship Inn bar in Elie, near Leven

‘Regeneration and romance hang in the salt air’: the Ship Inn bar in Elie, near Leven – Alamy

This owner Rebecca Moncreiff beams about “a wave of fresh blood washing into Leven, with brand new delis and a wine bar on the way as the city gets a new chance.”

Then there’s the Together Levenmouth Hub, run by local charity Brag Enterprises. The complex features an indoor mini golf course, escape rooms and a café, and a new gaming center. In nearby Base, post-industrial décor reflects Leven’s past, while creative bistro dishes showcase Leven’s more contemporary side.

A community-driven project boosted by the Levenmouth Rail Link is the Fife Heritage Railway. Vintage diesel and steam trains that used to run on the old main line rumble right next to Leven’s new station.

“You step off the new trains and immediately go back in time, to the glory days before the line closed in 1969,” says Audrey Unwin of the heritage railway enthusiastically. “Life has a much brighter future and we are proud to welcome our new visitors to it.”

The section of the Fife Coastal Path between Kirkcaldy and BuckhavenThe section of the Fife Coastal Path between Kirkcaldy and Buckhaven

The section of the Fife Coastal Path between Kirkcaldy and Buckhaven – Alamy

West of Leven along the Fife Coastal Path – and accessible by buses running around the new railway line – lies Macduff’s Castle. Yes, Macduff of Shakespeare’s Macbeth fame.

This rugged redoubt hangs on a cliff overlooking the Forth towards Edinburgh.

Levenmouth’s final flourish comes in the Wemyss Caves, home to some of Scotland’s finest Pictish cave art. A guide from Saves Wemyss Ancient Caves Society literally and figuratively highlights the dazzling symbols and figures.

Levenmouth is a vibrant seaside with attractions that are rarely overrun by visitors – this is a Scotland that is a world away from the crowded excesses of Skye and the North Coast 500.

After hopping back on the nifty new shuttle bus that runs from Leven’s train station back to The Crusoe, I salute Alexander Selkirk’s birthplace statue.

He was inspired to a life of adventure on the high seas by looking out to the Forth and the big skies of this often overlooked part of central Scotland.

I sit with a copy of Robinson Crusoe as I scan the waters for dolphins and seals, while Levenmouth awaits a new generation of explorers on Scotland’s newest railway.

Scotrail trains starts on June 2 from Edinburgh to Leven

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