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Holiday Memories of Elie & Earlsferry

By David Pearson

(Author’s note: I was inspired to put pen to paper after reading Pat Andrew’s piece, which stirred all kinds of memories. My family holidayed in Elie every summer from 1951-65, and then in 1968. They were the happiest of times and I’ve tried to ensure in my piece that I am not just writing about me and what I did, but rather about what I remember about Elie and Earlsferry then.)

Like Pat Andrew, my family also holidayed in Elie throughout the 1950s and well into the 60s. There’s every chance our paths may well have crossed!

We first went there in 1951 when I was three; in June to begin with and then, when I started school, this switched to every July, and always for the whole month. My gran – Jean Pearson – stayed for much of the year in The Garden House and would, I imagine, have been a weel kent figure around the neighbourhood. She then moved to Inverallan, a large detached house just beside St Michael’s Church.

Mum and Dad rented Links View Cottage on Links Road in Earlsferry. It was within a little in-shot, and the windows looked on to the 4th fairway. The front door was actually round the back, where there was a nice wee garden with a corrugated shed and various strawberry beds. It was owned by a Mr and Mrs Bromley, who lived in KIlconquhar.  The house next door was for many years a boarding house run by two sisters called Black (I think) and they had a black and white collie called Dandy. I’ve been racking my brains trying to remember the dog’s name.

The thing that now strikes me about these holidays – though I don’t think I thought about this then – was the strong level of routine that characterised the days. I would get up around 8.15 and my first job was to go out the cottage and down Allan Place to the High Street and cross over to Boullett’s bakery, next to Cummings grocer’s, for four morning rolls (6d!).

Then, after breakfast, I would wait for my cousin Robert to come for me. He and his family also holidayed here, staying in a caravan up at Black’s Farm. I would see him each morning run across the golf course to our cottage. He and I would go along to play our morning round of golf. We didn’t play on the big course, but behind the sports pavilion where there was a small children’s course and a larger 9-hole course, which we always referred to as the “Ladies Course” – not very pc I know.

To avoid carrying our clubs along the road each morning, one of the first things we always did at the start of the holiday was to arrange to leave our clubs with a lady called Mrs Ballantyne. Just across from the sports club car park were two small hutted golf shops, one belonging to Tom/John Reekie (golf professional) but run by his wife, a red-haired freckled-faced lady, and the shop next door with the name Jock Ballantyne above it. We presumed he had died and it was his widow who ran the shop. She had a little store area beside the shop, and she allowed us to leave our bags there at the end of our game to save taking them back and forward. She was a lovely lady, always very nice and friendly to us, and I regret now that we didn’t ever think to give her a present at the end of the holidays.

Once our game was over it was still only around 11am, and we might then go along to Earlsferry shops, sometimes into Tony’s cafe but often next door to the shop/post office. Pat’s mention of the name Dunsire rang a bell with me, but I recall the name Inez Moat above the shop, and I think there might have been another shop in Elie itself. Ice lollies were often purchased there, especially banana lollies, and also a particular favourite of mine called a Top Ten.

And, of course, in the 60s the shop was managed by the Obarski family, and this all detailed in the excellent article by Irene Stevenson elsewhere on this website.

Our Mums and Dads would probably be down on the beach, so we would go and join them for what was left of the morning. Dad hired a beach hut from Garlands and we kept buckets, spades, chairs, etc, sometimes a radio. It seems amazing now, but it never got broken into and I don’t think it ever crossed our minds that it might.

Back up for lunch and then back down to the beach for the afternoon. Dad would usually call into Tony’s for ice cream – single nougats for him and Mum, cones for Robert and my sister and me. I remember the fine days, but of course there would be cold and windy rainy days. One of the first tasks, regardless of the weather, was putting up the windbreak. Dad had a large wooden mallet for the purpose and mum had characteristically written the name Pearson along the top, as she was wont to do.

And so, the afternoons would pass very agreeably. The CSSM set up just along from us, although Robert and I always managed to avoid getting involved.

Around 4.30 we’d all head back up the road for tea. Often it would be a salad with meat of some sort. Mum always made a point at the start of the holiday of placing a big food order with Jackie Bruce, who had a grocer’s shop on the High Street. As we ourselves are a family of shopkeepers mum would always give her business to a local shop rather than go to supermarkets in St Andrews.

After tea we’d head along to the sports club for a game of tennis. Robert and I, his sister Shelagh, and their mum (a very good tennis player) would play, my sister too and occasionally schoolfriends of hers. 

Hardly a day would go by without purchasing something from the pavilion cafe, usually an ice-cold coke or an iced drink.  I remember the proprietrix,  Mrs Scott. I played putting at least once every day. Mum told friends of hers once that one summer I returned home after the holidays with 90 putting tickets. I recall an old man called Sandy who manned the putting hut, and then for a few years a man called Dave King.

Robert and I would sometimes go across the rocks at West Bay before going back to Links View Cottage to watch TV – an old black and white set with a small screen and a solitary channel. I can vividly recall watching Maverick with James Garner some nights.

Over the month our entire extended family would be based in Elie. My dad’s brother and his family of five would stay at Gran’s house, Inverallan. It had a garden which backed on to the 18th fairway and at the bottom of the garden was a little self-contained flat with kitchen, toilet, etc.  My Dad’s other brother, wife and two children would also be staying in holiday accommodation somewhere in Elie.

And that was how I spent my childhood holidays in Elie. Of course, weekends followed a different pattern. Through the week my Dad and uncles would play on the big course, but in those days it would be shut on Sundays, so we might go to the West Bay beach for a change, or maybe to St Andrews, visiting Craigtoun Park with its miniature railway, Rufflets Hotel or perhaps the Tudor Tearoom with its cuckoo clock. And, of course, the villages in between.

in Earlsferry I recall a private hotel (St Albans?) along the High Street, also a painters/decorators shop (Donaldson) and a turreted house towards the Chapel Ness end that suffered a serious fire and was later demolished perhaps? [Earlsferry House at Glovers Wynd]

The Town Hall used to screen movies for a time and I can clearly remember going one evening with Dad to see Rio Bravo, a western with John Wayne. To this day it is one of my favourite films, partly because it is a great movie, but because it makes me think of that night on holiday (would be 1959 I think).

What people can I recall, apart from those already mentioned? There was a lady called Jessie Braid, who lived in Allan Place. I wonder if she was a relative of James Braid. There was also a lady called Mrs Ockleford, who seemed to me to have been what we might now call a local activist – perhaps she was on the local council. I have a vague recollection that she raised objections to certain things, though I can’t recall what they might have been. I have a picture of her frequently dressed in a red outfit with a hat that had a feather in it.

Who could forget Mr Haig? He was present throughout every summer holiday I spent there. As Pat has said, he seemed somewhat gruff and grumpy and the sort who might eat broken bottles and young infants for breakfast, but I’m sure he wasn’t. I think maybe his son joined him latterly. I have a recollection of a young man with a cap that I felt at the time was Mr Haig Jr.

There was Mr Humphrey who ran the newsagent in Elie and there was a small gift kind of shop a few doors down from him. Across the road was Adamson’s Bakers and next door a Hairdresser – a man who used to draw moustaches on the boys who came in for a haircut.  And  Boullet had a large branch with a tearoom, I think. Others that come to mind are Speed, a delicatessen if I recall correctly, and Terras shoes, among others.

The Ship Inn was just a shabby looking wee pub, not the trendy bar and diner it would become. Only recently did I discover that the Ship Inn owners also ran the 19th Hole in Links Road. My cousin and I would pass by the 19th Hole regularly as it was just along the road from Links View Cottage, and we found amusement in shouting in the open doorway as we passed!

Tony Brattesani and his wife ran the Washington Cafe, though we always just called it Tony’s, and I can picture its bright yellow frontage. He seems to me now to have been a somewhat dour, subdued character and his wife rather nippy. We were regular customers over many years. My dad remarked once that whenever we arrived on holiday each July and walked into his shop on our first day he behaved towards us as though we’d just been in the day before!

I have vivid memories of Hudson’s Dairy and Mr & Mrs Hudson who ran it. Across the road from the dairy was the library. My cousin and I went in there one wet day and spent time rummaging around among piles of books scattered about the place – perhaps there was a stocktake that day, but the place seemed rather untidy!

On one of the roads that led down to the beach, just diagonally across from Tony’s, was a large house that I think was maybe a kind of orphanage or children’s home, boys largely, and they seemed a very lively bunch, making quite lot of noise in the gardens there. [St Margaret’s Children’s Home, run by Fife Council – now privately owned Earlsferry Care Home.] 

I was never in any of the hotels at the time, though a few years later, maybe around 1970, my family had lunch in the Marine Hotel, and then when the 1970 Open Golf Championship was played at St Andrews I spent a week at the Victoria Hotel. Later still my wife and I stayed overnight in the Queen’s Hotel. All now sadly long gone.

Looking back, they were wonderful holidays and if I could spend my last day on earth anywhere, I think I would choose to go to Elie and Earlsferry and think over those good times with family, when life was still in front of me.

© David Pearson June 2020

17 thoughts on “Holiday Memories of Elie & Earlsferry

  1. Your recount was very similar to my holidays from the age of 6months (not that I can remember anything from then!). That was 1949. We travelled by train from the west and sent hampers on ahead of us but brought a bike, a case, a golf bag and tennis racket with us. Like you we went for the month of July. The first cottage was Links Cottage, which was one of a few down an opening opposite the links. The opening was set back from the road and had grass in front. We then moved along the road to the house next to Mackies garage (the one nearer Chapel Green end). The house was 3-stories. The Mackies stayed downstairs and we had the 2 floors above.
    The CCSM was part of our day as all the activities kept us occupied.
    The lady who worked in Cummings was called Teen and she cycled down from Kilchonquhar every morning. The Cumming’s son was actually our GP in Hamilton and I was at school with Ann Cumming.
    My boyfriend (now husband) continued to holiday in Elie as my mum and dad bought a static van at Shell bay. We now live in Fife!

  2. The books scattered around in the Library were probably the ones for sale that were surplus to requirements – they were in the room separate on the right I think – I still have a few that I bought there. Like you, we came for July and half of August and I live in the family home opposite St Albans. I also first came when I was six months old during the war.

  3. I’m sure Ms Huntly, the librarian, would have been keeping things in order. She was always recommending books for me to read and played a not insignificant part in my literary education. She also taught me remedial maths. Her house on Woodside Road was a celebration of the colour green.

  4. It was Mrs Huntly who was in charge of the book sales – somewhat dishevelled ld stock and only 6d from what I remember. I loved ferreting around looking for unexpected treasures.

  5. I have owned Links View Cottage for about 35 years and enjoyed every year of it, summer and winter. Like you, I came as a child and my mother before me. I have 2 children, both married with children, and no matter where they have been on holiday they always say Elie is the best. If you are ever here when I’m here do not hesitate to come and see your old holiday house.

  6. Thanks to everyone for plugging some gaps in my memory/knowledge. Now you mention it Alison I recollected the shop assistant’s name was Teen. I never knew the name Huntly, so thanks Pat and James for that info. And Rosemary thank you for your kind open invitation. I still have very sharp images in my head of what the rooms looked like. I would love to see inside the cottage though I am sure it will look very different. In the early 60s my parents got the opportunity to purchase the cottage for the princely sum of £300!!. At that time there was no indication of how the area would develop as a much sought after holiday destination. If only they had been able to see into the future…

  7. What a wonderful recollection of Elie/Earlsferry day’s! Thank you.
    I remember the Pearson’s and was very friendly with your cousin Kathleen. I would love to have a chat with you sometime to catch up as we have lost contact. Irene Stevenson

  8. I’m adding to my brother David Pearson’s excellent article with his wonderful memories. Our Elie holidays were truly magical and I loved every minute of our time in Earlsferry. When I smell honeysuckle I think of Links View Cottage – the Anderson shelter in the garden was a favourite hidey hole.

    Another routine was first day of holidays our mother would walk down Allan Place to the High St to Betty Oddy’s to stock up on wool for some serious knitting on the beach The shop was near Cummings and the post office. Betty later moved to Elie High St (about no 51) and my aunt and uncle rented her flat near the Elie Deli a few times.
    The family also rented Laburnum Bank in Fountain Road (before I was born) and we had an Easter break about 1960 in Craignorth on Links Road which was then a B&B. Our final summer in Elie in 1968 was in the upper flat of Kirkmay just along the road from Links View.

    My mother and aunts would frequent a wee coffee shop on the same side of Earlsferry High St as Bruce’s but going towards Chapel Ness. I think it was called the Auld Hoose and had small leaded windows and pantiled red roof. Very quaint but we were rarely allowed in (ladies’ time!). The lady who ran it later took over a similar coffee shop at the far end of Crail on the left hand side heading to Balcomie.
    Our Gran Pearson’s cousins, the Allans had St Ford Farm and I remember strawberry picking beside the railway line, then disused after Beeching.

    By the time I was allowed to go to the cinema, Earlsferry Town Hall no longer showed films, but we would go to the Regal in Anstruther to see the latest Hayley Mills’ film and my favourites, the Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night”and “Help”.

    I always joined the CSSM for the badge but like my brother didn’t take part in the tide fights or sausage sizzles but in 1968 I joined an older group of teenagers, run by what became the SUSM who met at “Square One” at Toll Green (opposite Elie Deli) where we drank coffee and went to beach barbecues on West Bay singing “We shall overcome” to guitars. Very trendy.
    The library was my first port of call (after an ice cream at Tony’s) when we arrived. I can still recall the dark wood, stacks of books, and slightly musty smell. But for me it was the source of Famous Five books and histories on Elie and Earlsferry which I loved.

    I remember the railway carriage Pat Andrew talks about – it looked a fab place to stay.

    Jack House, the famous Glasgow writer, once described Elie as “Elie for the Elite” and 2 stories my mother told us summed that up. The tale of the manager of the Marine Hotel one evening ejecting a certain well-dressed knighted gentleman from the dining room as he was wearing a polo neck rather than shirt and tie.
    The other illustration of this “elitism” was my mother’s tale of the local chemist’s winning the Elie open golf competition. As he was a shopkeeper he was not permitted into the clubhouse even on a rainy afternoon, and Mrs Ogleford had to present the cup with one foot in the French windows and one outdoors where the bedraggled prizewinner stood. Another world from ours today.

    My family, brother, cousins and friends share so many happy memories of our years in Elie. We felt safe going about the village and the beach was perfection with clean yellow sand, and clear, inviting sea Regardless of weather I would go swimming every day. We were so lucky to spend our summers there. I loved playing tennis and afterwards buying an iced drink from Mrs Scott in the Pav. My overriding memory is the sound of the clunk of an ice cold coke bottle emerging from the big red machine with the sound of “the Price of Love” or “It’s All Over Now” on the Juke Box which my cousin frequently put on. An old piano in the Pavilion often had someone playing Chopsticks or something more intricate on it. Finally one of Boullet’s or Adamsons’ freshly baked rolls for lunch followed by the one of Tony’s ice creams just made for heaven indeed!

  9. A fascinating account of Elie in the 1950’s. I lived at Aldersyde High Street from 1948 to 1957. My paternal granny lived next door at Nelson Cottage. My grandfather John Nelson Smith ran a joinery business in Earlsferry for several generations. He was an extremely good amateur golfer who won the Scottish Amateur Championship in the 1930s.
    In the summer we used to spend most days on the beach either Earlsferry beach or West Bay dependent on wind. The weather always seemed good, but maybe we block out the bad days.
    Nelson Cottage had a lane that ran up to Links Road. The garden of my Great Aunt Nessie who was a music teacher and organist at the episcopal church lived adjoined ours so we could play in either garden.
    I remember the shops. Boullet’s for our rolls, Cummings for our groceries ( I particularly remember Teenie- as I used to call her), the chip shop and of course regular visits to Tony’s for his delicious ice cream. I used to help deliver the milk from Hudson’s dairy.
    Who could forget Haig’s donkeys who used to come down from Kirkcaldy every summer. Played a bit of golf on the “ladies course” though tended to be more interested in the steam trains on the adjoining line. Later when we had moved to the west coast we always came back in the summer by train and threw our coins out of the window on the Forth rail bridge.
    A few of the many happy memories. Still go to Elie most weeks as we live near Kinross, but not the same somehow

  10. Gordon I think I remember you fair hair sightly younger than me we were in seabech at bottom of cadgers wynd. But more to the point I am searching various Earlsferry golfers including JN smith could you make contact with me via email so I can do a proper bio of him. There was a civic reception and procession in 1926 (?) when he was beaten by Cyril Tolley in Amateur at Sandwich i think. graham johnston

  11. I,too, spent many summer holidays in Earlsferry, in the 1950s staying with my grandmother, Margaret Simpson. She lived at Ardwell, opposite St Alban’s Hotel.She had a little flat at the front of her house and in the summer months she rented the main house to summer visitors. My grandfather died at the Somme in 1917. His name, Walter Simpson, Builder, is on the War Memorial outside the Church in Elie.The War Memorial is unusual, as it has both the name and occupation of those who gave their lives. My grandmother was a widow for many years and times were hard. My mother and aunt used to be sent to the beach after a big storm to collect driftwood and any sea coal that had been washed up on the shore. I have lovely memories of searching for cowries and watching hermit crabs reversing into new shells for a good fit. My mother’s sister Helen, married Betty Oddy’s brother Arthur. Betty is still alive and lives in Comrie. I played with Michael and Biddy Scott from Perth. They had a big labrador dog.

  12. We may well have crossed paths at some point. Very interesting to learn that Betty Oddy is still alive. I have been enjoying all the photographs take on the FB page, such glorious weather showing Elie and Earlsferry off so well. How I miss those days…..

  13. Margaret – I remember your grandmother very well – we had, and I still have, Kirklee Cottage next door but one to Ardwell. Did Helen not stay in one of the houses in Chapel Green Road, possibly The Gyle but not sure about that. Brother Michael and I were friendly with a family called Armstrong who rented Ardwell in July for a few years, they came from Leslie and we blotted our copybook by boiling up a sea urchin in one of the cooking pots – not sure what we were trying to do! but we were not popular as it stank.

  14. Hi, David. Good to hear from you again. After my report on ‘Th last shop in Earlsferry’ I had some feedback and one was from Betty Oddy! I had a long phone call with her. She is now 95 and as bright as ever. It was so good to revive old memories. Did Mrs McQueen not have an antique shop before Betty took on that shop?

  15. Oh my gosh reading all of the above is just like being back in Elie and Earlsferry for all my childhood July holidays. So many shops etc that I remember. Does anyone remember the Bayview cafe near the Ship Inn with the jukebox and you could buy the old records from it.
    We rented a cottage called Nelson Cottage a few times plus Tam Reekie’s house in Earlsferry. I remember going into his shop at the golf course and my Dad buying us little golf clubs and tennis rackets. Oh the memories of such good fun in Elie and Earlsferry from the age of 5 to 15. Even enjoyed the CSSM sausage sizzles etc.

  16. My paternal grandparents John and Louise Smith owned Nelson Cottage and after my Grandad died in 1951 my Granny used to rent it out every summer. Until 1957 my parents lived next door in Aldersyde and I went to Elie Primary School until I was eight. John Nelson Smith was a well known scratch golfer who won many tournaments in the 1950,s. As expressed in a previous post I have many happy memories of Earlsferry which, of course a bustling place at that time

  17. As you may have seen from a previous post my paternal grandparents John & Louise Smith lived in Nelson cottage. After my Grandad died in 1951 my Granny let out the house during July and August. We lived next door at Aldersyde until I was eight and I went to Elie Primary School. Well remember glorious summers on Elie Beach or West Bay where the sun always shone. Happy memories

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