Tentsmuir is a place that no one who lives within striking distance should take for granted.
While this expansive stretch of forest and sand in the far north-east Fife has been urbanised in recent years to attract more families and visitors, nature remains its biggest draw.
There are no dramatic cliffs or landmark hills but these five square miles of trees and a seemingly endless beach are the envy of many who live further afield.
My own parents had seen beaches aplenty across Britain and spent every summer enjoying the longest and widest that Norfolk had to offer. Yet after just one visit they declared Tentsmuir the greatest of them all.
They are not alone.
For James Bartlett, living in Reading but staying with his dad in Perth, it is “just perfect”.
While Patricia Watson, living in Glasgow but enjoying springtime in her St Andrews caravan, says “it is a wee bit of heaven”.
Tentsmuir is a local gem that outsiders covet. Here we explain why it is loved.
Tentsmuir Forest and beach is encased in a rectangular piece of land east of Tayport in the north and Leuchars in the south.
Despite its natural appeal the area looks very different now to a century ago, when it was moorland and sand dunes.
The land was acquired by the Forestry Commission in the 1920s and planted predominantly with Scots pine and Corsican pine.
The forest extends to 1,573 hectares with the northern block of Tentsmuir Forest (including Morton Lochs) and Reres Wood in the south.
The coastal landscape is also constantly changing. While many seafront communities live under the ever-present shadow of coastal erosion, Tentsmuir is one of the fastest growing parts of Scotland.
Swelled by tidal currents and the outflow of the River Tay, the shifting shoreline of sandy beach and rolling dunes is expanding at the rate of around five metres a year.
In recent years the main Kinshaldy car park and play area have been expanded, a pavilion has been introduced and a relocated crepes bar now has a bigger menu and longer opening hours.
‘All your worries just disappear’
Patricia Watson has an emotional attachment to Tentsmuir that is helping her through a tough time in her life.
The 57-year-old lives in East Kilbride but knows Tentsmuir very well as she has had a caravan at St Andrews for more than 20 years.
She had to give up her job at the Royal Bank of Scotland due to fibromyalgia and has also suffered painful bereavements in recent years.
For Patricia, Tentsmuir is the perfect tonic.
“I have been lucky in being able to do a lot of travelling,” she says. “When I was healthy I travelled to Australia and Hong Kong.
“But here it is a wee bit of heaven. You switch off, hear the birds and there is nothing to bother you.
“All your worries just disappear. I love walking along the beach. It helps me forget everything that has gone wrong after what has been a horrible year.
“I lost my aunt and daughter-in-law, which was tragic. It’s been a very sad time for so many people.
“It’s nice to come here and take stock of how lucky I am to have a caravan and somewhere like this to visit, because a lot of people don’t have that.
“It’s just so uplifting.”
Perfect place for a pilot
Claire McIntyre finds Tentsmuir the perfect contrast from her job as a pilot at Edinburgh Airport.
Claire, 38, moved from Milton Keynes to Tayport 12 years ago and often visits Tentsmuir during the week while she is on furlough.
“One of the attractions is that it is completely opposite my working environment as a pilot,” she says.
“The open space is great and you just don’t get a beach like this in the south. It’s freedom, open space and blue.”
Claire is usually joined by her Beagles Loki and Freya.
“The dogs love it,” she says. “It’s the best place for them. They are scent dogs and because it is so open you don’t lose them.
“I have also surfed here but the conditions have to be just right.”
‘It never feels crowded here’
Tentsmuir was the unlikely post-lockdown meeting place for two friends living north of the Tay.
Marysia Maxwell, 35, travelled from Dundee’s West End to meet Monifieth resident Julie-Ann Geddes, 30.
“We haven’t seen each other for nine months,” says Marysia.
Julie-Ann thought it would be an ideal spot for her children Fearne, 5, and Joseph (aged 10 months) to enjoy.
“I wanted to check out the new play park and get a crepe,” she says. “You have got the forest, beach and park – it has everything in the one place.”
Marysia regularly visits Tentsmuir with her partner to train for the Scotland Spartan Ultra 50k race, due to take place in South Queensferry in September.
“It’s fantastic going running here,” she says. “It’s beautiful and quiet. It just feels as though you’re miles away from the city but you’re not.
“My old running route along the Riverside Nature Reserve has got so busy but it never feels crowded here, maybe because it’s so big.
“The terrain is varied and that’s good for training.”
‘The boys can run free’
James Bartlett has been making annual visits to his father’s in Perth for more than 20 years, but it was only last year that he discovered Tentsmuir.
James, 29, and his wife Anna, 37, decided in August 2020 to take their three-year-old twins Alex and Zack somewhere fun.
The family, who live in Reading, have twice since been to Tentsmuir.
“We wanted to find the biggest open stretch of beach for the boys to run around and find some seashells,” says James.
“We came a couple of days ago and they wanted to come back again to get more shells.
“It’s just perfect – you can’t see the end of the beach in either direction so the boys can run free.
“There’s not a lot of things the boys can hurt themselves on, such as sheer cliff faces.”
‘You get so much space and peacefulness’
Richard Greenwood’s first memory of Tentsmuir was in the mid 1990s when he was a student at Duncan of Jordanstone College.
A minibus was hired to take Richard, now 44, and his pals on a night out with a difference.
“There were as many as 50 of us on the bus and we had a party on the beach and were picked up afterwards,” recalls Richard, who grew up in Bangor, near Belfast.
“I grew up near a beach and I love being near the sea. You get so much space and peacefulness at Tentsmuir.”
Richard returned to Tentsmuir in April with his wife Vicky, 43, daughter Charly, 1, and five-year-old Black Labrador Ozzy.
The family live in Glasgow and had been staying at a friend’s Airbnb in Abernethy.
“It is a lovely mix of forest and beach, it’s beautiful,” says Vicky.
“A lot of beaches in Scotland – certainly along the west coast – are crowded on a nice day but this doesn’t feel that way.”
This is what took us to Tentsmuir
It is home to red squirrels, roe deer, herons, woodpeckers and colonies of bats, a network of tracks and paths and a selection of waymarked trails guide walkers, cyclists and horse riders through the plantation.
Tentsmuir is also a prime place to spot the UK’s largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle (also known as the sea eagle). Re-introduced to Scotland a decade ago, they have become a regular sight around Tentsmuir where they come to hunt along the coastline and in the river estuaries.
The sea off the reserve hosts a nationally important colony of common seals, and Tentsmuir Point provides a haul-out site for grey seals. It is one of the few places where both species can be seen together.
Bottlenose dolphins are also often seen from the shore, and otters have been seen at Morton Lochs.
In addition to commercial forestry, careful management has created an interesting mixture of open space, ponds, trees and sand dunes that are rich in wildlife.
Concrete defences along Tentsmuir beach are among the best preserved systems dating from World War Two.
They were built by the 1st Corps Polish Army in 1941 to hinder a threatened German invasion from Norway.
The most visible today are the ‘dragon’s teeth’, a series of pillars built to impede tanks.
They are protected by Historic Scotland as a scheduled ancient monument.
Where to park
Morton Lochs: Head south from Tayport on the B945 for 2.7 kilometres. Then take a sharp left turn onto a minor road sign posted on the grass verge, which leads to the car park (total distance 4 kilometres).
The road to the car park is single track, with limited passing places and an aggregate surface. There are no height or width restrictions. Free parking.
Tayport: Park in the town and follow the Fife Coastal Path to Tayport Heath. From here you can continue along the path to Tentsmuir Point.
Kinshaldy: Follow the brown Kinshaldy Beach signs from the church in the middle of Leuchars.
For the Kinshaldy car park there is a fee of £2 per vehicle. You need correct change for the barrier.
You can buy a seasonal parking pass for £50. Please contact East Region for more information (email@example.com).
Horse boxes are not allowed in the main car park, but there is parking at Kinshaldy stables.