NEWARK CASTLE, ST MONANS, FIFE
Many of Scotland’s castles were built on coastal headlands, being defensive positions that could be supplied by sea. In those days travel by ship was often the easiest and safest option. Today’s yachtsman is privileged to have a bygone age view of these coastal strongholds from seaward. Castles were meant to look imposing and from sea level Newark (link below) towers above as it would have appeared to earlier arrivals before all weather roads were built. Although now a ruin, it still looks impressive and enough survives to visualise how it would have appeared when inhabited.
The castle is less than a mile west of St Monans but to approach from landward is to miss half the experience.
I was lucky to have Azores high quiet weather to anchor off in five metres. The approach to the landing, a small sandy cove to the west of the castle, is still defensive being heavily mined with creels. The Long Shank, a reef extends southwards to the east of the castle. The only shelter is from the north. It is a magical little bay though in days gone by was less so, castle drains projecting from the cliff overhead. There are part buried vaults above the beach and walls built on the cliff. The curve of a vaulted ceiling is visible from the shore. Dinghies can be tucked out of sight below so as not visible from the Fife Coastal footpath.
The castle was ringed by metal fence panels, “Warning Loose Masonry” and “Keep Out” notices. Conveniently the panel in front of the main entrance was lying flat on the ground. Being an inveterate explorer of such structures I am not put off by warning notices but have a well honed sense of danger. It didn’t take long to find it. There is critically loose masonry towering above, definitely a structure to keep clear of on all but windless days. The doorway lintel of one of the four vaulted basement rooms is also entirely unsupported at one end.
In recent years the tower has had a substantial collapse and to the west a block was seen lying on the grass, having very recently parted company with the structure. Like other Forth curiosities such as the Blackness Admiralty battle practice target barge, the bow of which collapsed 2007, this castle is worth exploring while it is still standing. Manifestly it has not attracted conservation funding on the scale it needs and deserves.
Some recent investigational work and minor rebuilding has been carried out and the extent of this is discernible from separation layers of black woven polypropylene.
A short distance to the east is the castle doo cot, a beehive shaped structure, entry barred by a locked wooden door. Curiously a much more substantial steel door lies off its hinges in front of the doorway. From the doo cot the operational St Monans windmill (link below) can be seen the other side of the town. It was used to raise seawater to salt pans and is open to the public.
Sea breezes get up quickly on the Fife coast so on account of the condition of the structure and sea state for returning to ones boat, a close eye on the weather is essential. Sea and boat are visible from much of the castle but it may become necessary to leave crew ashore to lighten the dinghy for the row back to the boat.
Not being a managed tourist attraction this castle has few visitors, the solitude heightening the experience of ones visit. It is an impressive ruin in an imposing location, with commanding views of the Forth, a beautiful spot, well worth a visit. For boats in neighbouring harbours it makes a convenient excursion for cautious adults on dry windless days that would not tempt one to sail. It is a dangerous place for unaccompanied children, though there is plenty of evidence that youngsters play inside.
The St Monans museum, ten years old at the time of writing, is another attraction in this neighbourhood. St Monans’ famed James N Miller boatyard has been through various hands over the years and is in business again as Millers St Monans Ltd. Examples of Miller’s boats can still be seen in locally, such as the Bonnyrigg II in Anstruther. New builds on the stocks will be another sight for visitors and further evidence of the economic regeneration in progress round the harbour.
History of Newark Castle
St Monans Windmill