My Favourite Run: Balmerino to Birkhill Castle and back

Balmerino to Birkhill Castle: Eilidh on the trail
Classic Fife Coastal Path scenery (Image credit: Eilidh Moir)

Balmerino to Birkhill Castle

In this edition of our My Favourite Run series, Advnture contributor Eilidh Moir takes on a northern section of the Fife Coastal Path which winds its way along the shores of the River Tay.

“This trail is one of my all-time favourites. It changes so dramatically with the seasons that no two runs are ever the same,” Eilidh says. “Just a short drive from the Fife side of the River Tay Bridge you’re in the sleepy village of Balmerino and ready to hit the coastal path”. 

“This route starts out along the River Tay shoreline before climbing into forest and woodland. There’s so much wildlife to see and easy access down to the river to take a breath or dip your toes in the water.”

Balmerino to Birkhill Castle: waymarker

The way ahead (Image credit: Eilidh Moir)

The route

  • Start/Finish: Balmerino, DD6 8SB
  • Distance: 4.5 miles / 7.2 km
  • Elevation gain: 350 feet / 107 metres
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Duration: 1 hour

There is a small car park at the end of the lane that runs into Balmerino. However, with space for just two cars, you might need to park further up towards the Abbey and jog down the road. There is only one road so it’s impossible to get lost. 

Relatively flat and technical underfoot in places, the route takes in Balmerino beach, woodland paths, farm tracks, beautifully landscaped castle gardens and views towards Birkhill Castle.

Balmerino to Birkhill Castle: Eilidh and pooch

You could easily be a hundred miles from civilisation, but in reality the city of Dundee is only a 15 minute drive away (Image credit: Eilidh Moir)

Balmerino to Birkhill Castle: why I love it

I first took this route as part of a longer Coastal Path hike back in 2017 but since then it’s become a firm favourite as a quick lunchtime or after-work run. It has all the elements you’d want for a trail run: varied terrain, technical paths, fast downhills, steep uphills, and dappled sunlight/mud/mulchy leaves (delete as appropriate per season). It’s a short out-and-back that gives you enough time to stretch your legs but doesn’t let you over-exert yourself; perfect for when you’re tight on time but ready to be outdoors. 

I do this route at least every other month and it’s always a different experience. Whether it’s a low tide exposing sand banks, the changing colour of the leaves, damp and slippy tree roots underfoot or a pheasant sighting, I always leave this run with a new memory.

Balmerino to Birkhill Castle: trail

It's a lesser trodden trail (Image credit: Eilidh Moir)

It’s a lesser trodden trail… which does make me somewhat reticent to make it better known. Many times I run it without seeing another human being. All you can hear are your own footsteps, birds singing and streams trickling with water flowing from the fields and hills above. 

The trail twists and winds around centuries old woodland, hugging the coastline to let you snatch glimpses of the water below. It all feels quite magical as the forest closes in around you to act as a shield from the elements. You could easily be a hundred miles from civilisation, but in reality the city of Dundee is only a 15-minute drive away. 

As the trail widens to reveal a Scots Pine guard of honour and the entrance to Birkhill Castle’s grounds, there’s a ‘choose your own adventure moment’. It’s possible to loop back around to the start point taking the road, following the Coastal Path signage then taking a left along the country lane. But then you’d miss out on the castle. And who doesn’t love a Scottish castle, turrets and all?

Balmerino to Birkhill Castle: on the trail

It all feels quite magical as the forest closes in around you (Image credit: Eilidh Moir)

It’s best to stay close to the edges of the castle grounds – it is someone’s home after all – but it’s not hard to pick up the trail and head down the hill to the boathouse and pebble beach. Here you’re rewarded with stunning views over the river to Dundee. It’s a good time to catch your breath before the return leg begins with a long uphill section. 

Highlight: the Boat House

Balmerino to Birkhill Castle: the Boat House

At the Boat House (Image credit: Eilidh Moir)

It’s hard to choose a highlight of this run because every bend and curve of the trail reveals new delights. However, the end of the ‘out section’ at the boathouse not only marks the turnaround point (the trail literally ends at the water’s edge) but also a moment to pause and take in the vista in front of you. 

The sweep across the River Tay down to the Carse of Gowrie, over Dundee and out towards Broughty Ferry is magnificent. This is a very special spot and one where I’ve enjoyed many sunsets, picnics, and peaceful moments. It feels remote, untouched and – most of the time – completely all mine.

My Favourite Run Collection

To view the other runs in the My Favourite Run series on komoot, click on the Collection below...

You can also check out our My Favourite Hike series.

Eilidh Moir is a runner and outdoor enthusiast who lives in the North East of Scotland. Having taken up running at the gentle persuasion of good friends four years ago, Eilidh entered her first ultramarathon in 2019. Since then she has completed numerous ultras, adventure, hill and road races. Often found in the hills of Perthshire or the Angus Glens, Eilidh’s happy places are trails and mountains. Even better when her Golden Retriever comes along for the adventure.