Tentsmuir Nature Reserve Visitor Guide

By Craig Neil
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Table of Contents


Summary

Tentsmuir is a national nature reserve encompassing mixed forest, coastal grasslands, and sweeping sand dunes.

The reserve is situated between Leuchars and Tayport in northeast Fife and is open to walkers, horse riders, and cyclists thanks to a number of trails that thread their way through all corners of the reserve.

Visitors to Tentsmuir can cycle along the Sustrans route 1 path, make use of a dedicated BBQ area and a children’s play park, go birdwatching in several hides, and look for marine animals in the Firth of Tay from Tentsmuir Sands.

Discover this beautiful area of Scotland with this guide which includes a 360° virtual tour, a detailed description, and lots of visiting advice.

Address:Tentsmuir,
KY16 0DR
Opening Hours:24/7
Admission Price:Free
Parking:Paid car park at the main entrance. Free car park at Morton Lochs.
Contact:N/A
Facilities:Toilets, play park, and food van in the main car park.

The highlights

1: Tentsmuir is set in a gorgeous location that feels a million miles away from Dundee, even though the city is located just 10 miles to the north. By far the biggest area of the reserve is the forest which is ideal for walking, cycling, and horse riding.

2: The coastline that borders the reserve is full of wildlife including waders, wildfowl and seabirds, seals, otters, and even bats. Bringing a pair of binoculars (link to recommended budget binoculars) with you is an absolute must if you’re an avid twitcher.

3: The section of forest to the northwest around Morton Loch is chock-a-block full of birds, and Nature Scot has thoughtfully provided bird hides. There are five hides that look onto the lochs which are shown on a map in the car park – four on the northern loch and one on the southern loch.

Tentsmuir Nature Reserve

Visiting tips

1: Tentsmuir Forest covers 1,500 hectares so it’s big enough to spend most of the day in. Walking around it is enjoyable enough, but because the paths are so wide and comprised of firm gravel they make a great cycle path too.

The return route from the Kinshaldy car park to Tayport Harbour is around 10 miles, while the loop around the forest from the car park to Morton Loch is approximately 8 miles.

2: Tentsmuir is especially enjoyable in summer as the gorgeous stretch of sand at Tentsmuir Sands is soft and clean. Day trippers to the beach can make use of public toilets as well as a snack van that sells hot food and drink near the car park.

The only point to note is that the waters off Tentsmuir have strong currents, so it’s not advisable to swim there.

3: Parking is very cheap at Tentsmuir, but if you want to save a couple of quid head to the Morton Loch car park which is free. To find the lochs, look for the signed turning from the B945 between St. Michaels and Tayport.


Overview

Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve is one of Fife’s most popular outdoor attractions, partly because it’s home to the biggest forest in the county and partly because it has the longest stretch of beach.

The beach, in particular, is worth a visit in its own right – especially in summer – when the 5 miles of golden sand come alive with a cacophony of squawking seabirds.

The vast dunes and sand flats of Tentsmuir Point and Tayport Heath at the northern end are a favourite resting place for a variety of wildlife and an estimated 12,000 eider ducks visit between October and March as well as seals, pink-footed geese, and the occasional pod of bottlenose dolphins.

These northernmost dunes are widely regarded as one of the most dynamic coastlines in Scotland due to the ebb and flow of the River Tay as it pours into the open mouth of the North Sea, with the sand shifting the position of the coastline by up to five metres each year.

Tentsmuir Nature Reserve

The rest of the reserve comprises managed Corsican and Scots pine trees and a couple of lochs, but the main attraction is the network of paths that wind their way through the forest.

These paths draw visitors year-round as they offer mud-free walks through the sweet-smelling pines, alongside the dunes, and onwards into the Morton Lochs where visitors can sit and birdwatch at all times of the year.

Spring sees occasional sightings of osprey and sea eagles, the warmth of summer brings with it hundreds of species of moths and butterflies, autumn welcomes the arrival of migrating geese, and winter is the best time to see the reserve’s famously-huge flocks of eider ducks.

As a place for wildlife watching, Tentsmuir is hard to beat.

Tentsmuir Nature Reserve

Tourist information

There are two entry points for cars at Tentsmuir, the first of which is a car park near Kinshaldy Beach which is accessed via a turning one mile north of the village of Leuchars.

This car park is the best option for day-trippers as for a modest entry fee (around £2 at an automated barrier) there are public toilets, a BBQ area, a children’s play park, a snack van, and easy access to Tentsmuir Sands.

The second car park is situated to the northwest of the reserve 1.5 miles south of Tayport on the B945. This car park is best used to access Morton Loch and its bird hides, as well as another hide that has been set up specifically for watching red squirrels.

Tentsmuir Nature Reserve

The Morton Loch car park also makes a good departure point for anyone looking to wander along the coastline of Tentsmuir Point and Tayport Heath before following the coastline north into Tayport for a walk along the promenade.

Admittedly there’s not a huge amount to do in Tayport, but there are, at least, shops to fill up with snacks and drinks before heading back to Morton Loch for a total walk of 6 miles.

Alternatively, there are two other routes that are recommended when visiting Tentsmuir.

The first is the Ice House Trail which starts at the Kinshaldy car park and heads deep into the forest to a 19th-century ice house (an old stone fish store).

From the ice house the trail diverts towards sand dunes near a WWII observation tower before doubling back on itself to the car park.

Tentsmuir Nature Reserve

This walk is approximately 3.75 miles long which should take around 2 hours on foot, or a wee bit longer if you stray off the footpath and onto the beach for the return section.

The second trail is a loop around the entire forest which starts at the Kinshaldy car park, heads into the forest towards Tentsmuir Point and Tayport Heath, and then about-turns south for a diversion to Morton Loch before following the path back to the car park.

This route is around 9 miles in total and is a wonderful way to see all the best bits of Tentsmuir, from the towering trees in the heart of the forest to the rough grassland that borders the beach.

Along the way you can stop at the remains of WWII barricades (known locally as ‘the dragon’s teeth’ and listed as a scheduled monument) that were built by Polish forces.

Tentsmuir Nature Reserve

There are also the remarkable sand flats of Tentsmuir Point where there’s a good chance of spotting dolphins and (very occasionally) minke whales.

There are two more waymarked trails at Tentsmuir but they’re rather short at just one and one-half of a mile respectively. Both routes are located at Morton Loch and are signed as the ‘North Feather Walk’ and the ‘South Feather Walk’.

It’s pretty much impossible to get lost on any of these routes but if you’d like to plan your day before leaving home I suggest downloading the Forestry and Land Scotland Tenstmuir route card (the link to the pdf is halfway down the page).

Discover more Scottish forests with: The Best Forests in Scotland.


Tourist map of Scotland

Tentsmuir,
KY16 0DR

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Explore this area with a detailed paper map from Ordnance Survey:

St. Andrews & East fife – 371 Explorer.

St. Andrews – 59 Landranger.

OS Explorer Maps: Best for walking, mountain biking, and finding footpaths. 1:25,000 scale (4cm = 1km in real world). Buy OS Explorer maps direct from Ordnance Survey.

OS Landranger Maps: Best for road cycling, touring by car, and finding attractions. 1:50 000 scale (2 cm = 1 km in real world). Buy OS Landranger maps direct from Ordnance Survey.


Things to do nearby

From Kinshaldy car park:

West Sands Beach. Address: St Andrews, KY16 9SF. Distance: 8.5 miles. A long, golden sand beach on a promontory overlooking St. Andrews Bay and the River Eden.

West Sands Beach is backed by the historic St. Andrews golf course. Parking and public toilets are located to the south.

St Andrews Aquarium. Address: The Scores, St Andrews, KY16 9AS. Distance: 9.3 miles. This is Scotland’s only family-run aquarium.

The attraction features over 120 species including sharks, spiders, seals, crocodiles, penguins and many others. Visitors can learn about the animal’s habitats and the challenges they face from climate change.

V&A Dundee. Address: 1 Riverside Esplanade, Dundee, DD1 4EZ. Distance: 10 miles. The V&A Dundee is a museum and exhibition space dedicated to the world of design from the fields of fashion, industry, furniture, architecture and more.

The V&A hosts a permanent free exhibition as well as a revolving programme of paid exhibitions.

Dundee Museum of Transport. Address: 10, Market Mews, Market St, Dundee, DD1 3LA. Distance: 10.7 miles. This is a popular family museum that explores transport through the ages, from the days of trams to railways, cars, ships, and everything in-between.

McManus Art Gallery & Museum. Address: Albert Square, Meadowside, Dundee, DD1 1DA. Distance: 10.8 miles.

This free museum has a number of displays that showcase the history of Dundee, its culture, and how the city has been shaped by the surrounding landscape.

Visitors can see exhibits that retell stories of Dundee’s overseas trade as well as paintings, sculptures, and ceramics.


Frequently asked questions

Can you swim at Tentsmuir Beach?

Tentsmuir beach (also known as Tentsmuir Sands) is not a suitable location for swimming as there are dangerous currents and areas of quicksand.

Do you have to pay at Tentsmuir?

The only cost to visit Tentsmuir is the car park at Kinshaldy. As of 2022, this is £2 per day. Annual car park passes are available at £70 per car (2022 price). Blue badge holders can get the annual pass for £20 (2022 price).

Note that there is no charge at the Morton Loch car park.

Are toilets open at Tentsmuir?

The toilets at Kinshaldy (main car park) are open year round.

Can you wild camp in Tentsmuir?

It is possible to wild camp in Tentsmuir, however, there are some restrictions in place. It is not allowed to consume alcohol in the reserve, and barbecues must only be used in the allocated space near the main car park.