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277265 d9540149-EarlsferryHighStreet(JohnSTurner)Jun2003.jpg
Earlsferry High Street
Grid reference: NT483999
Location: 56°11’22"N, 2°50’1"W
Population: 940  (2004 est.)
Post town: Leven
Postcode: KY9
Dialling code: 01333
Local Government
Council: Fife
North East Fife

Earlsferry is a tiny town on the coast of Fife, within the East Neuk, along the north shore of the Firth of Forth. The village of Elie stands beside it to the east; the two have run into each other long since and were together constituted a burgh in the twentieth century. Earlsferry though has been a royal burgh for centuries.

A broad beach joins Earlsferry and Elie to seaward, guarded on the west by the headland of Chapel Ness at Earlsferry, and to the east by Elie Ness. The village is eight miles east of Leven.


Earlsferry is an old village first settled in time immemorial. 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's being promoted to royal burgh status due to MacDuff's later influence over King Malcolm III.[1]

By the middle of the 12th century, the Earls of Fife, of the Clan MacDuff, had instituted a ferry for the use of pilgrims en route to the shrine of St 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 gave the village its name. There are the remains of a small chapel on Chapel Ness, built for the use of these pilgrims.

The date of Earlsferry's being made a Royal Burgh is unclear as its original charter was destroyed in a fire. It 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.[1] Neighbouring Elie is a newer place, but it had become sufficiently important by the seventeenth century to merit the building of Elie Parish Church in 1639. Its harbour was more sheltered than that of Earlsferry and it began to poach trade away from Earlsferry, in particular after Earlsferry's port was choked with sand after a storm in 1766.

Modern period

The Reformation ended pilgrimages to Earlsferry[2] and no home-grown industry managed to replace it. Traffic to the town declined so much that when Earlsferry harbour was filled with sand by a severe storm in 1766, the remaining trade moved to Elie.

In the 1770s the Lady's Tower was built in Ruby Bay, on the east side of Elie Ness, as a changing room for the Lady Anstruther. It is said that Lady Anstruther would bathe in the waters next to Lady's Tower, a servant ringing a bell all the while to ensure locals stayed away.[3]


Earlsferry is 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 1896.

There has been a formal golf club here in 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.[4]

The well-regarded golfer, clubmaker and course designer James Braid was born in Earlsferry in 1870.[5]

Modern times

Elie's harbour was expanded in 1850. The nearby railway, built in 1857, was extended through Elie to Anstruther in 1863.[1] The villages opened up to the affluent tourist trade of Victorian times in the 1870s, which saw regular steamers from North Berwick and Leith.[6]

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.[1]

Elie and Earlsferry have run into each other so that one may hardly know where one finishes and the other begins. The modern villages now largely share shops and other facilities, but they do retain a flavour of their historical identities.

In recent decades, the villages have become a 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. Attractions include the beach, golf, restaurants, surfing and sailing.

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

The famous Floral clock in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens was originally constructed (1903) using the clock mechanism salvaged from Elie Parish Church.[7]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Earlsferry)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "A Potted History of Earlsferry". Elie and Earlsferry Online. http://www.smartcommunity.co.uk/community/singlearticle.php?articleid=11. 
  2. "A Walk Around Earlsferry". Elie and Earlsferry Online. http://www.smartcommunity.co.uk/community/singlearticle.php?articleid=12. 
  3. Mackintyre, Lorn (2008). Portrait of the East Neuk. Alvie. p. 124. ISBN 9780951180051. 
  4. Ronnie Leask (12 October 2008). "NO4800 : Periscope in starters hut Elie Golf Course". www.geograph.org. http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1003227. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 
  5. "The Golf House Club History". The Golf House Club, Elie. http://www.golfhouseclub.co.uk/ghc/history.php. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.