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Elie and Earlsferry is a town and former royal burgh in Fifemarker, Scotlandmarker, situated within the East Neuk beside Chapel Ness on the north coast of the Firth of Forthmarker, eight miles east of Levenmarker.

The burgh comprised the twin villages of Elie and Earlsferry, which were formally merged in 1930 by the Local Government Act 1929 but retain a flavour of their historical identities. They are now a popular tourist destination.



Earlsferry, the older of the two villages, was 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 being promoted to royal burgh status due to Macduff's later influence over Malcolm III.

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 Andrewsmarker. The ferry crossed the Firth of Forth to North Berwickmarker, 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.

Earlsferry High Street
Elie Lighthouse

The exact date of Earlsferry 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.

Little is known of the foundation of Elie, but it had become sufficiently important 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.


After the Reformation of 1560, pilgrim and other traffic waned in Earlsferry; so much so 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.


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 course which has remained largely unchanged since 1896.

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.

The famous golfer, clubmaker and course designer James Braid was born in Earlsferry in 1870.

Modern times

Elie's harbour was expanded in 1850. The nearby railway, built in 1857, was extended through Elie to Anstruthermarker in 1863. The villages opened up to the affluent tourist trade of Victorian times in the 1870s, which saw regular steamers from North Berwickmarker and Leithmarker.

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.

Elie and Earlsferry were formally merged in 1930. The modern villages now largely share shops and other facilities, but they do retain a flavour of their historical identities. Many tourists flock to holiday homes each summer, especially from Edinburgh and Glasgow. The main attractions are golf 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.


External links

Other references

Wilkinson, M. and Tittley, I. 1979. The marine algae of Elie, Scotland: a Re-assessment. Botanica Marina 22: 249 - 256.

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