Get the abbey habit

By James Carron

The tiny village of Balmerino in north Fife grew up round a 13th century abbey, beautifully located on the gently sloping fertile agricultural banks of the River Tay. The Cistercian monastery was founded by William the Lion's widow, Ermengarde, in the early part of the 13th century and the first monks, who came to Fife from Melrose, took up residence in 1229, although construction continued for many years after. The monks led a peaceful life until 1547 when the abbey was torched during an invasion by the Earl of Hertford. Twelve years later it was sacked during the Reformation. Parts of the chapter house, sacristy and parlour survived and there are markers in the grounds showing where various elements of the abbey, such as the altar, once stood.

The village of Balmerino began life as a farming community linked to the abbey and in the 18th century a harbour was built for corn shipments to Dundee, across the water. These days many of the houses are occupied by city commuters and people who have sought out its peace and quiet as a perfect retirement retreat. From Wormit Bay, walk west on a track along the shore above a narrow shingle beach on the right and a gently rolling field on the left. At the end, a sign for Balmerino points the way up a narrow path, rising through bushes to a metal kissing gate. Go through and continue. The path skirts by sharp strands of gorse and can be muddy here. It soon emerges into an open field and there's another kissing gate a short way on to negotiate. Stride out across the field where you may find cattle grazing. Views open out over the Firth of Tay to Dundee on the far bank. Stay close to the fence on the right and beyond another kissing gate, the path drops into a dip, crossing a rather muddy burn. Below the farm steading at Kilburns, the path sticks to the fence as it skirts along the edge of a field and at the end of this land has been given over to tree-planting. Pass through a wooden gate with a sign pointing back to Wormit. Continue into another long grassy field which is also planted with saplings.

At the far end you reach a gate. Go through and follow a well narrow path between a fenced field - also been planted with new trees - and a sharp drop to the beach on the right. Don't worry, however, as there's plenty of vegetation between you and the slope.

The path emerges into the open at another gate. Continue from here above the rock foreshore, walking along the front of a cluster of neatly painted waterfront houses. What a beautiful place to live, and what great views to wake up to each morning!

The track curves left to meet the public road which climbs through Balmerino to the ruins of Balmerino Abbey, looked after by the National Trust for Scotland. An information board at the entrance to the historic site provides an insight to what the structure once looked like and there's some useful historical background. There's a '1 entrance free, collected at an honesty box. At the abbey entrance, turn left and follow the road up, past a rather smart courtyard of cottages complete with statues perched on one of the walls. At the top, turn left by the bus shelter and follow the road east, passing through the little hamlet of Bottomcraig. There's a delightful church to the left of the route. The road continues through a leafy avenue, passing the gates of Naughton House and, beyond cottages at Little Inch, it reaches a junction.

Turn left and the road continues east between open fields. It's a quiet road, but stay vigilant for traffic. Ignore the track on the left leading to Peacehill Farm and remain with the road as it rises over the railway line and meets the B946 on the southern edge of Wormit.

Head north, following the pavement along the front of a long row of houses. Wormit Farm is passed on the left and then the road curves right into Wormit proper. Continue until you reach a play park on the left, to the east end of the Tay Railway Bridge.

Two sets of steps and a path lead down to Bay Road. Turn left, pass under a huge brick arch below the bridge, and follow the road down through a housing estate to Wormit Bay.


Distance 6 miles/10km. ;
Map OS Landranger sheets 54 or 59. ;
Start/parking Wormit Bay, at the bottom of Bay Road, Wormit (grid ref NO 392259). ;
Grading Low level paths over open field, muddy in places, and quiet country roads.