MAY is Mental Health Awareness Month and National Walking Month. And just like  a ridge which holds two mountains together, mental health and walking are very  closely connected.

Walking is wonderful for mental health. When you walk (or do any form of exercise) endorphins are released in your brain which makes you feel calmer and happier. Exercising improves physical  health such as helping to reduce blood pressure, which in turn  helps wellbeing.

There’s also the opportunity to connect with nature – just sit and watch a river rush by or listen to birds and wildlife, it’s great for mindfulness.

Walking can also be a social activity and there is evidence that  it can be easier to open up about how you’re feeling when walking side by side with someone.

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One of the best places in Scotland for walking, particularly for someone getting into hiking or hillwalking for the first time, is the Kingdom of Fife. I’ve picked out  the five areas you should explore.

The Anstruther to Crail section of the Fife Coastal Path

THE full path is 115 miles long but this is my favourite section. Not only does it allow you to take in charming Anstruther as your beginning and end (assuming you walk back the way you came), it takes you past the extraordinary rock formations and caves known as The Coves before reaching the final destination of the fishing village of Crail.

There are also excellent views across the Firth of Forth and to the Isle of May throughout.

This route was also voted the best walk in Scotland by Which? magazine in 2020 and the Fife Coastal Path recently made it onto a list of the 15 most photographed walking trails in the world!

Benarty Hill, via Lochore Meadows

THE hills of Fife are the ideal introduction to hillwalking and Benarty Hill is a wee cracker.

“Benarty” comes from the Gaelic words “beinn” and “àrd” to simply mean the “High Hill”, but it is probably most commonly known as the Sleeping Giant. Beginning at the popular Lochore Meadows, this route has a bit of everything – woodland walks, a steep but well made path, and a grassy plateau which leads to the summit.

Once you’ve made it to the trig point, the best part of the day awaits: walk just a few metres northwards over a low fence where you will be presented with a very special view over Loch Leven, Scotland’s largest lowland loch. I would say it’s the best view in Fife.

You can also wander westwards along the ridge to explore the craggy north face which gives the hill so much character.

Ravenscraig Park

THIS Kirkcaldy park has a lot to offer and can easily be a half-day out. Must-sees are the ruins of Ravenscraig Castle and Dysart Harbour, which are on opposite sides of the park and connected by the Fife Coastal Path.  The woodland offer walks are also good, withplenty of chances to stop and take in the views over the Forth.

West Lomond Hill,  via Craigmead

THE Ben Nevis of Fife is the  highest hill in the region and offers excellent views over the Kingdom, southwards over the Firth of Forth and northwards to some of the Southern Cairngorms.

A number of approaches are possible, with the path from Craigmead (a large car park which lies between West and East Lomond) the most commonly used. Other routes take in the Bunnet Stane and John Knox’s Pulpit., but parking there is usually limited Don’t underestimate this hill though – make sure you’re properly prepared and able to navigate.

Maspie Den, via Pillars of Hercules

A RELATIVELY new and large car park at Pillars of Hercules near Falkland has made it easier for walkers to access the Falkland Estate. It has a number ofmainly woodland paths leading to popular sights including the Tyndall Bruce Monument.

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But the star of the show is surelyMaspie Den. It’s a beautiful and all too short walk through woodland following a stream and ascending to reach a small waterfall. There are a number of mini waterfalls on the approach, which follows a well made path, which passes through  a small tunnel on the way.