Oh Deer….and a Sunny Afternoon

On my car stereo today: BBC Radio Scotland

What beautiful weather we’ve got up in Fife this morning! Yesterday was just as good (but overcast in the morning).

For this holiday I kept my itinerary fairly light, giving me time to make things up as I went along. Turned out to be a great idea, if I had tried to pack too much in I wouldn’t have done half of what I did yesterday.

I started with a visit to the Scottish Deer Centre near Cupar. There was quite a queue to get in – as it had only just opened for the day, and it is the first week of the school holidays up here (the schools broke up for the Summer last week). It meant there were loads of families with kids about, but once inside there was plenty of space and loads of things to do.

For £2.50 you can buy a bag of feed for the deer which you can take round the park with you and hand feed the deer through the fences. This was so much fun – Of course you can’t feed all the deer species – but in a couple of areas of the deer love being fed!! When I got the bag out they knew what was going on – it was almost like rattling the munchies for the cats.

The majority of the deer were so timid that while they’d happily take the food from your hand (which they wasted no time doing, and felt a little bit like a horse or a cow eating from your hand), once the food was gone they’d back off a bit and if you tried to touch or stroke them, they’d startle and run off.

Three deer though let me stroke them and what was amazing! Although still timid and would startle with sudden movement or loud noise, they were relaxed enough that they liked my company (this was of course in corners of the park away from the main feeding area and which weren’t full of young children all trying to feed them at once).

The Red Deer with the antlers in the photo just stood there enjoying passers by feeding and stroking him. The smaller female deer were more timid and took some encouragement but they would come up to me if I was patient and quiet enough. (I’d run out of the feed by this time – but deer do eat grass so I was passing them some long pieces of grass through the fence). Being able to stroke and hand feed these animals was such a rewarding experience!

Besides all the deer species the park is also home to the birds of prey, with a show which started not long after I arrived. The owls were my favourite to watch! There’s also the fox (I didn’t see the fox, he’s more active at dusk and at feeding time), two bears who I went to see just as the keepers were feeding them. They sat and watched while the keeper threw over the fence some frozen melon, lettuce, apples, and carrots and jumped up as soon as the meet came over. The male bear picked all the meat up in his mouth and ran off, leaving the female bear wandering around looking or something interesting to eat – She only got the scraps when he’d finished eating. I know a cat just like that…

Talking of cats, there are two cat species at the park – the Northern Lynx who was sitting on top of his house (see photo) and the Scottish Wildcats who were sleeping but woke up for their feeding time. Although the Scottish Wildcats aren’t too much different in size compared to my cat Sooty, they don’t make suitable pets (they’re wild), but the keeper was in the enclosure with them and after she’d fed them was able to answer questions from people passing by.

At the moment there are 3 Wildcats at the park, a family group (2 parents and their daughter), all around 11/12 years old, and between the 3 cats they have 6 beds. The park will be taking part in the Saving Wildcats breeding programme, which is the rarest and most threatened mammal in the UK. Thanks to habitat loss and breeding with domestic cats, the population of Scottish Wildcats (also known as Highland Tigers), the population in the wild is no longer viable and without intervention the remaining populations in the Highlands of Scotland will be lost forever. The keeper was saying that soon they will have the breeding pairs in one enclosure and their own cats in another, with the idea being that over time Scottish Wildcats will be bred and released in to the wild. That sounds like a project I’d support!

After visiting the park I drove in to St. Andrews, stopped off at the big Morrisons to do some shopping, and then went down to the coast. I parked right next to the beach, just 5 minutes walk from the town centre where I called in at Tourist Information, and then after a walk along the sea front between the ‘West Sands’ and ‘East Sands’ beaches, and back again, I got my chair and book out the car and found a nice spot on the West Sands Beach.

St. Andrews is a great town – although the 4th largest in Fife it is the jewel in Scotland’s crown (according to the neighbour), the beach considered one of the best in Fife. St. Andrews is known for being the home of golf – the golf course dominates the sea front by the 2 mile long West Sands beach. It is also home to the University of St. Andrews, the third oldest university in the English speaking world (after Oxford and Cambridge). The university seems to own most of the buildings between the car park and the town centre. Not unlike Oxford then. And for film lovers…..The 2 mile long West Sands beach is where the opening scenes of the Chariots of Fire movie were filmed!

It must have been almost 8 by the time I returned to the cottage – I’m staying in a self-catering cottage in the village of Kilconquhar, just over a mile from Elie. As I was getting my bike out of the shed I got chatting to the neighbour who had just got home from work, and he was interested in my car because of the stickers. He was thoroughly confused because my numberplate has the blue ‘SCO’ and Scotland flag band, but the numberplate holder is VW Wolfsburg (Germany), and above that there’s a ‘Gloucestershire Born and Bred’ sticker.

He also didn’t have a Scottish accent: It turns out that the neighbour was born in Cirencester, and his son was born in Cheltenham! What a small world it is! 400 miles from Cirencester on the Eastern tip of Fife, and just by chance I come accross someone originally from Cirencester who now lives up here. That is amazing! Serendipity, even. That’s Airbnb at it’s best – you don’t get that sort of interaction with the ‘locals’ (even if they’re not actually local) staying in a caravan park, or in a hotel (well you might, but it is so much better staying in a part of the area where people actually live.

My cycle in to Elie was lovely. I followed the cycle route signs and took the longer route, signed “Elie via Shell Bay”. It doubled the length of the route but in the Fife countryside that makes it a very god idea (and also meant I didn’t have to cycle on the main road). Instead once I got to Shell Bay the route goes on to a farm track which then leads straight in to the golf course just outside Elie. It was high tide but the beach still massive. With people still swimming and sunbathing at 9 o’ clock at night, felt like being in Greece. The coast up here is brilliant!

After cycling down to the harbour and enjoying the views across the Firth of Forth to North Berwick and the Pentland Hills, I had a quick drink at the pub on the beach, and then cycled the shorter route back to Elie, as the Sun started setting (this is 21:45 in the evening), and in the distance across a field I spotted an actual wild deer. They can run fast but it did stop just outside the woods and enabled me to get a photo of it. Taken at a distance – can you see it in the photo below!?

Back at the cottage and I cooked myself a Macaroni Cheese for dinner. It was gone midnight by the time I actually ate – I blame the long hours of daylight for that – and even at that time it wasn’t properly dark. I was up early as well, sunlight was flooding in through the bedroom window at 5am!

Just imagine what it would be like in the Winter though – those hours of daylight would be darkness. I’ve certainly picked the best time of year to come here.

Today I’m heading in to Dundee (about 25 miles to the North), to visit the V&A – A design museum opened in 2018, it is the first Victoria & Albert museum outside London. Looking forward to that! Afterwards I’ll maybe spend the afternoon in Elie. I do love this town!


Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer

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