The Elie Chain Walk is a Fife oddity – a series of chains fixed along the coast between Shell Bay and Earlsferry & Elie. Above crashing waves and with views across to Edinburgh, you can climb, scramble and coasteer along the Fife cliffs – it’s our Scottish version of a via ferrata!
Installed after the second world war, the Elie Chain Walk was thought to have once been used as a shortcut between Shell Bay to Elie, but no one really knows who was behind the slightly mad idea of putting chains into the Fife cliffs. With eight chains to tackle, the route takes you along the coast for over a kilometre, with steps cut into the cliffs to aid your climbing.
The chains have been replaced and upgraded over the years and for those with a head for heights and a little pre-thought care and attention, tackling the Elie Chain Walk is a fun, but slightly hair-raising, adventure. We headed out with Allan, a ranger from Outdoor Education Fife for an exhilarating lesson on how to safely tackle the Elie Chain Walk.
Fancy doing the Elie Chain Walk yourself? Watch our mini guide to coasteering & scrambling the Elie Chain Walk.
Where is the Elie Chain Walk?
The Elie chain walk can be accessed from either the Shell Bay Caravan Park or from Elie beach at Earlsferry. There is a short walk to the start and end points and the return route is via the Fife Coastal Path. We tackled the walk from Shell Bay Caravan Park – starting off with a little coasteering!
Note – Do not go coasteering without an instructor. Being able to safely coasteer (jump & scramble off the cliffs) along the Fife coast requires knowledge of both the tides and the rocks underneath the Forth. Our ranger Allan gave B very good instructions about where and when to jump (Allan also went first to check both the coasteering and the chains) and how to deal with the rough seas to get back in.
Elie Chain Walk Safety Tips
- Check the tide times – the Elie Chain Walk is right on the water’s edge and it’s easy to become trapped, or get caught out by the water lapping at your feet at high tide. Always check the tide times before you go out. The walk will take 1-2 hours, so I recommend heading out as the tide is going out. We did our walk in September and headed off at 9.30am. The tide was fully out at 12 by the time we finished.
- If you do get caught don’t try to climb up- the cliffs above the chains are very steep – and made of rocks and loose shale, so if the tide does come in do not attempt to climb out of the chain route. Either try and retrace your steps or push on to the next bay. As a last resort, call the coastguard instead of climbing out.
- Slipping off the chains – Whilst the chains are huge and well positioned to help you climb up and down, make sure you are wearing sensible, grippy footwear & think about wearing gloves – I was wearing gardening gloves which really helped with wet chains.
How do I do the Elie Chain Walk?
There are 8 chains, including some which you climb up vertically, and one particular horizontal section which is more difficult than it looks! I am 5 foot tall and didn’t struggle with reaching any of the chains.
The chain walk from Shell Bay:
Chain 1: The first chain, marked by a metal pole at the top, is a short descent, just to ease you in. Grab onto the pole first and then lean out and step down to grab the chain, there are footholes to help you down. Always keep the chain between your legs!
Chains 2 & 3 Next up is your first horizontal section which leads to your first climb. Along the horizontal sections, put the chain under your armpit as you walk along the ledge and keep yourself as close to the rock as possible – the more you swing out, the harder it is. There are deep steps to help you climb up chain 3 and another metal pole at the top.
Chain 4: Cross over the beautiful bay with views across to East Lothian and Edinburgh to chain 4. This next chain is a very steep climb up the cliffside, but it is a lot easier than it looks as there are big steps into the rock to help you up.
Chain 5: A short descent down to the next bay. Cross this to get to chains 6 and 7 in MacDuff’s Cave inlet.
Chains 6 & 7 MacDuff’s Cave: This was the toughest section of the route, firstly climb down the ledge to the bottom where there is a big rock. Grab the loose chain and lean back so you can step down. Cross the inlet – where you will see just why it is dangerous to do the chain walk when the tide is in. Chain 7 is probably the hardest chain on the route – a long horizontal chain which is quite loose – remember to keep as close to the rock as possible and just keep going!
Chain 8: At the end, it is just a final short scramble up Chain 8 to the end point where is another warning sign and views over Elie & Earlsferry and to the Ship Inn – I suggest heading across the sand for a wee drink to congratulate yourselves for finishing the walk and to steady the nerves!
We were smiling for hours after we finished – thanks to Allan from Fife Outdoors who showed us how to do the chain walk safely. We both wished we had his mountain-goat-like scrambling ability and fell in love with coasteering – stress? What stress?
Love, from Scotland x
If you have now got the buzz for another via ferrata, you can also head to Kinlochleven near Fort William where you can cross the Grey Mare’s Tail Waterfall!
More things to do in Fife
This is a paid partnership in collaboration with Welcome to Fife and Visit Scotland
I’m Kate – a travel writer and photographer living in Scotland. Love, From Scotland is the Scotland travel guide that shows you where to stay and how to get outside in Scotland.