St Monans – a Photographic Gem

From the main road, you may catch a glimpse of Newark Castle, the Kirk spire, or the Windmill, but the best views are reserved for those who head down into the village to explore the harbour area and the coastal path with its breathtaking views, local landmarks, and great variety of birds and other wildlife (look out for dolphins and even whales).

The village possesses several very photogenic landmarks. At the eastern end, past a long row of houses built on a raised beach is a windmill. The windmill was used to draw water for salt-making. The grassed over remains of several Salt Pans are still visible, and one is exposed to show its ground plan more clearly.

The windmill overlooks a rocky shoreline populated with cormorants, herons, redshank, oystercatchers, turnstone, eiders and many others – you might be lucky enough to spot a rare passage migrant or see a kestrel as it hovers and swoops to catch its prey. The open air swimming pool may have a mill-pond surface that reflects dramatic skies.

That row of houses, by the way, is named Miller Terrace after the firm whose boat-building shed used to dominate the skyline of the village. Millers build their last boat about ten years ago, but there are still vessels in active service, including Lochranza and Iona ferries and Fair Isle’s Good Shepherd IV.

At the western end of the village is the Auld Kirk, poised at the edge of the sea so close that the coastal path along its side wall cannot be used at high tide. The location is testament to the village’s close affinity to the sea. There is even a boat hanging from the ceiling inside, a constant reminder to the congregation of their close connection to the trade of many apostles. The Kirk is also notable as a location for film (e.g. The Railwayman and Whisky Galore) and TV (everything from a Johnny Cash Christmas Special to a recent Countryfile).

Fishing still provides employment for many villagers. Some venture just a little way offshore with creels to catch crab and lobster. A few are crew on the boats that sail from nearby Pittenweem. There are also several fish merchants who smoke and prepare fish for the wholesale and retail trade, with a fleet of vans that travel all over central Scotland. The van that visits your street each week may say it’s selling Pittenweem fish, but the odds are that it loaded up in St Monans.

Beyond the Kirk lie the ruins of Newark / Inverie castle … there are plenty of good angles for photographs from a distance, but do remember that the ruins are officially off limits and unsafe …

Heading back to the harbour, you are in a conservation zone. Most of the houses are over two hundred years old, and some considerably older. As you reach the harbour, there is a slipway with a winch-shed, and on the slip way you will see the “Welly Boot Garden” – a couple of boats, some fish-trays and dozens of pairs of decorated wellies that sprout a profusion of flowers in the summer months. Now listed in tourist guides, the garden helped the village to win Beautiful Scotland awards, and even made an appearance at the Chelsea Flower Show.

The West End is where you will find Craig Millar’s Michelin listed restaurant, while at the other end of harbour is the quirky, popular, and glowingly reviewed East Pier Smokehouse. On Station Road you can visit the Giddy Gannet or the Muffin Man. The harbour is also where the most dedicated photographers head, but the final destination of their quest is not very obvious until they get there.

Prime time is dawn and dusk, but throughout the day, photographers cluster standing, crouching and kneeling on the harbour wall with their cameras set rock steady on tripods. They are taking photos of what is known locally as the Blocks, but among the photographic fraternity has become known as the zigzag pier. It has its own fan club pages on the web, and some travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to capture it, often with long exposure photos using a high-factor neutral density filter. In such photos the pier itself will mostly be pin sharp, but the sea is transformed into a glassy and surreal backdrop, with blurry, moody skies and intense sunrises and sunsets.

Of course, you don’t need fancy equipment to get a good picture of the pier, but if it’s a sunset over the pier you are after, be sure to get there early to bag your spot, since it can get quite crowded.