Elie and Earlsferry

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Elie and Earlsferry is a coastal town and former royal burgh in Fife, and parish, Scotland, situated within the East Neuk beside Chapel Ness on the north coast of the Firth of Forth, eight miles east of Leven. The burgh comprised the linked villages of Elie (/ˈli/ EE-lee) to the east and to the west Earlsferry, which were formally merged in 1930 by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929. To the north is the village of Kilconquhar and Kilconquhar Loch.

Elie and Earlsferry
Boats at Elie pier - geograph.org.uk - 2054173.jpg
Elie and Earlsferry is located in Fife
Elie and Earlsferry
Elie and Earlsferry
Location within Fife
Population640 (mid-2020 est.)[1]
OS grid referenceNO4900
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townLeven
Postcode districtKY9
Dialling code01333
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
56°11′24″N 2°49′24″W / 56.18988°N 2.82334°W / 56.18988; -2.82334Coordinates: 56°11′24″N 2°49′24″W / 56.18988°N 2.82334°W / 56.18988; -2.82334

The civil parish has a population of 861 (in 2011).[2]

Ancient timesEdit

Earlsferry, the older of the two villages, was first settled in time immemorial[citation needed]. It is said that MacDuff, the Earl of Fife, crossed the Forth here in 1054 while fleeing from King Macbeth. In particular the legend tells of his escape being aided by local fishermen, an act which may have led directly to the village being promoted to royal burgh status due to MacDuff's later influence over Malcolm III.[3]

By the middle of the 12th century, the Earls of Fife had instituted a ferry for the use of pilgrims en route to the shrine of Saint Andrew the Apostle at St Andrews. The ferry crossed the Firth of Forth to North Berwick, a distance of 7 miles, and it is this ferry that led to the naming of the place. There are the remains of a small chapel on Chapel Ness, built for the use of these pilgrims.

King Robert II made Earlsferry a royal burgh in 1373[4] but its original charter was destroyed in a fire. Earlsferry became a trading port for merchants and remained so until the 18th century, and was also an important calling point on the pilgrims' route from the south to St Andrews. A new charter was granted in 1589 by James VI.[3] In 1871 Earlsferry had a population of 406.[5] Little is known of the foundation of Elie, but in 1599 it was made a burgh of barony by King James VI[5] and it had become sufficiently important to merit the building of Elie Parish Church in 1639. Its harbour was more sheltered than that of Earlsferry, it began to poach trade away from Earlsferry and after a great storm in 1766 filled it with sand, Earlsferry harbour was no longer used.[6]

The etymology of the name Elie is unclear. The name may derive from the Scottish Gaelic ealadh which means 'tomb', or èaladh which means 'a passage for boats between two rocks', or ail plus the suffix in which means 'rock-place'.[7][8]


Earlsferry High Street
Elie Lighthouse in black and white

Elie has an unusual parish church, dating from 1639. It has a tall octagonal tower, topped with a belvedere detail, centrally located on the church.[9] It is approached on axis from the High Street, increasing the drama of its architecture, and surrounded by a churchyard burial ground.[10]

Elie House is an interesting Scots vernacular extended tower house, standing close to the waterline. It dates back to 1697 with additions in 1770.[11]

In the 1770s the Lady's Tower was built in Ruby Bay, on the east side of Elie Ness, for Janet, Lady Anstruther. It incorporated a vaulted chamber at sea level as a changing room. It is said that Lady Anstruther would bathe in the nearby waters, a servant ringing a bell all the while to ensure locals stayed away.[12][13] The daughter of Provost Charles Fall of Dunbar, she was mentioned by Thomas Carlyle as Jenny Faa ("Faa" being purportedly the Fall family's ancient name) "a coquette and a beauty". She caused the hamlet of Balclevie, to the north of Elie House, to be razed ostensibly "to improve the view" but widely thought to be because the tinker inhabitants reminded her of her own family's origins. This may have been Walter Scott's inspiration for a similar incident in Guy Mannering.[14][15] A curse is said to have been placed on the Anstruther family by an old woman whose house had been demolished.[16]

Elie Primary School dates to 1858 and is in a Category C listed building.[17] Elie and Earlsferry Town Hall was completed in 1873 but contains elements of an earlier town house.[18]


After the Scottish Reformation, pilgrimages and other traffic waned in Earlsferry.[6]


Golf and TennisEdit

Elie and Earlsferry are about ten miles due south of St Andrews. Golf is believed to have been played on Earlsferry Links as early as the 15th century, and the layout evolved over time into the current magnificent 18-hole course which has remained largely unchanged since 1895.

There has been a formal golf club here in Elie and Earlsferry since 1832. The current club, the Golf House Club, was founded in 1875 with the building of the clubhouse. An unusual feature is the periscope from the submarine HMS Excalibur. It was installed in the starter's hut after the submarine was scrapped in 1968; players and visitors may use it to view the golf course.[19]

Golfers, clubmakers and course designers James Braid, Archie Simpson, Bob Peebles and Isaac Mackie were born in Earlsferry.[20][21]

Neighbouring the Golf House Club is the Elie Sports' Club which encompasses a multi-sports facility available 7 days of the week, 364 days of the year. Its facilities include a 9-hole golf course (2080 yards long), a putting course, a driving range with covered bays and outdoor hitting areas and a short game practice area with 2 bunkers and a 50-yard pitching fairway. There are also 5 full size tennis courts and 4 short tennis courts along with a Bowling Green and Club [22]


Elie has a cricket club who are based in The Ship Inn pub on the beachfront.[23] The team arrange all their home fixtures in line with the tides and play them on the beach when the tide is out.[24]

Modern timesEdit

Elie's harbour was expanded in 1850. The nearby railway, part of the Fife Coast Railway, was built in 1857, and extended through Elie to Anstruther in 1863.[3] The villages opened up to the affluent tourist trade of Victorian times in the 1870s, which saw regular steamers from North Berwick and Leith.[25]

The explosion of modern communications saw the nature of the local economy change. Coal mining dwindled after the railway came to the area. Cotton weavers abandoned their trade after the switch to linen made from imported flax. Fishing gradually declined. The growing tourist trade caused a local building boom, which would have provided work for stonemasons. There were also golf club makers in the village for many years. Various support trades existed in the villages over the years and persisted until the advent of modern road transport around 1970.[3]

Elie and Earlsferry were formally merged in 1930.[5] The modern villages now largely share shops and other facilities, but they do retain a flavour of their historical identities.

In recent decades, the town has become a very popular destination for wealthy residents of Glasgow and Edinburgh. In the summer months the town's population is several times higher than it is during the winter. A survey in 2018 found that half of the houses in the town were not the owners first residences.[26] Attractions include the beach, golf, restaurants, surfing and sailing. Elie won an award as one of the best managed beaches in Scotland in 2018.[27]

The railway line fell under the Beeching Axe in the 1960s and the station and tracks were subsequently closed and dismantled, leaving Elie with only road and sea transport links.

The Times included Elie and Earlsferry as one of the best places to live in the UK in 2020.[26]

Elie Chain WalkEdit

On the coast, 1 km west of Earlsferry, beneath the Fife Coastal Path, the Elie Chain Walk passes down the cliff faces to the tidal beaches.[28]

The route, which should only be used during low tides, has chains fixed to the cliffs and rocks of the shore to assist progress, and is sometimes referred to as Scotland’s secret via ferrata (Iron path).[29]

The chains were first installed in the 1920s, and were replaced in 2010.[30]

Notable eventsEdit

The film The Winter Guest, starring Emma Thompson and Phyllida Law, directed by Alan Rickman, was filmed here.[31]

Notable residentsEdit


The famous "Floral clock" in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens was originally constructed (1903) using the clock mechanism salvaged from Elie Parish Church.[35]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Mid-2020 Population Estimates for Settlements and Localities in Scotland". National Records of Scotland. 31 March 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  2. ^ Census of Scotland 2011, Table KS101SC – Usually Resident Population, publ. by National Records of Scotland. Web site http://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/ retrieved March 2016. See "Standard Outputs", Table KS101SC, Area type: Civil Parish 1930
  3. ^ a b c d "A Potted History of Earlsferry". Elie and Earlsferry Online. Archived from the original on 25 October 2007.
  4. ^ "Elie & Earlsferry History Society - Walking Tour No 3 - Elie Harbour". Elie & Earlsferry History Society. 9 February 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Hart, Rachel (5 August 2003). "Records of the burgh of Elie and Earlsferry, Fife; University of St Andrews Special Collections". Archives Hub, Jisc. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  6. ^ a b "A Walk Around Earlsferry". Elie and Earlsferry Online. Archived from the original on 10 October 2007.
  7. ^ Simon Taylor, the Place-Names of Fife, five volumes (Donington: Tyas, 2006-12), iii 274.
  8. ^ "Fife Place-name Data :: Elie". fife-placenames.glasgow.ac.uk.
  9. ^ "Elie Parish Church High Street (LB30958)". Historic Environment Scotland. 18 August 1972. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Elie Parish Church". Places of Worship in Scotland. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  11. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Elie House, Convent of St Marty Reparatrice (LB9000)". Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  12. ^ Mackintyre, Lorn (2008). Portrait of the East Neuk. Alvie. p. 124. ISBN 9780951180051.
  13. ^ "Fife business - Lady's Tower". Welcometofife.com. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  14. ^ Lamont-Brown, Raymond (2002). Fife in History and Legend. London: John Donal Publishers. pp. 119–120.
  15. ^ Pride, Glen L (1999). The Kingdom of Fife. Rutland Press. p. 166.
  16. ^ Kingsley, Nick (28 December 2014). "Landed families of Britain and Ireland: (151) Carmichael-Anstruther of Elie House and Carmichael House, baronets". Landed families of Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  17. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Elie Primary School, Park Place (North Block only) (LB30992)". Retrieved 24 January 2022.
  18. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Earlsferry, 19–21 High Street, Town Hall (LB31056)". Retrieved 26 January 2022.
  19. ^ Ronnie Leask (12 October 2008). "NO4800 : Periscope in starters hut Elie Golf Course". www.geograph.org. Retrieved 19 September 2011.
  20. ^ "The Golf House Club History". The Golf House Club, Elie.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ "Archie Simpson". Antiquegolfscotland.com. Retrieved 5 July 2014.
  22. ^ "Elie Sports Club".
  23. ^ Hopper, Janice (3 October 2017). "The Ship Inn". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  24. ^ Witherow, John, ed. (14 August 2017). "Hit for shore". The Times. No. 72301. p. 10. ISSN 0140-0460.
  25. ^ The Scottish tourist and itinerary; or, A guide to the scenery and antiquities of Scotland and the western islands: with a description of the principal steam-boat tours. Stirling & Kenney. 1831. p. 361.
  26. ^ a b Times, The Sunday. "Elie and Earlsferry, Fife — Best Places to Live in the UK 2020". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  27. ^ "Elie Harbour". Fife Coast & Countryside Trust. 2020. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  28. ^ Fife gov, Fife Coastal Path, Elie Chain Walk, March 2022
  29. ^ "Fife Coastal Path". Scotland's Great Trails. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  30. ^ "Elie Chain Walk". Fife Council. 15 November 2010. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  31. ^ "The Winter Guest - Scotland the Movie Location Guide". Scotlandthemovie.com. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  32. ^ Volo, James M. "William Dudingston". Gaspee.org. Retrieved 5 April 2020.
  33. ^ Groome, Francis Hindes (1882). Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland : a survey of Scottish topography, statistical, biographical, and historical. Edinburgh : T.C. Jack. pp. 569–570. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  34. ^ "LOCAL WORTHIES - Jean Redpath MBE (1937-2014)". Elie & Earlsferry History Society. 6 November 2016.
  35. ^ Monuments and Statues of Edinburgh, Michael T.R.B. Turnbull (Chambers) p.5
  • Wilkinson, M. and Tittley, I. 1979. The marine algae of Elie, Scotland: a Re-assessment. Botanica Marina 22: 249 - 256.

External linksEdit