With a new rail connection opening up a world of possibilities for locals and visitors, Robin McKelvie discovers Leven is enjoying the start of an energised and overdue renaissance

"Leven has been disconnected for too long,” explains Ross Bennett, Treasurer of the successful Levenmouth Rail Campaign, as we peer out over Leven’s new railway station. “It’s been a long, tough journey, but now it’s a delight to see trains running again to Leven. The arrival of regular passenger trains in June has already given a massive boost to Levenmouth, the wider area that has struggled since the 1980s.”

The 1980s and the aftermath of Thatcherite economics on the once mighty local collieries still hang heavy in the air in Leven; Methil and Buckhaven too. This contiguous urban trio has struggled with deprivation, unemployment, and a population triangle inverted, as Levenmouth’s young have sought a future elsewhere. There is no understating the effect of a new six mile train line that brings Edinburgh within easy commuting distance. The Levenmouth Rail Link will also bring visitors. And you should come. Standing on the platform the whiff of salty sea fills the air alongside squawking gulls. Bass Rock and North Berwick Law brood across the Forth. 

It’s a dramatic scene but I walk a further five minutes to the famed beach – once wildly popular with Glaswegian holidaymakers before the advent of cheap jet travel spirited them off to the Costas – to appreciate the full drama . . . and a romance and a spirit captured by Levenmouth-born artist Jack Vettriano, most memorably in his Singing Butler magnum opus. It’s a scene little changed since those holidaymakers made it one of Scotland’s most popular seaside resorts – the unspoiled sands stretch on for more than 2km. Today I only have dog walkers, curlews and oystercatchers for company. There’s nostalgia, too, in the form of the Beachcomber, one of Leven’s trio of amusement arcades, with a café on the upper floors offering views of the sands. It’s being revamped in time for the arrival of the Scotrail services, as are sections of the promenade.

(Image: Robin McKelvie)

I stroll by ‘Postie’, a local hero and microcosm for Leven’s recovering spirit and sense of community. Originally only tucked temporarily on the promenade as part of an art project, the locals took him to their hearts and raised the funds to make Leven his home. Rebecca Moncrieff, of boutique furniture and lifestyle store Khee tells me: “We all love Postie. Everyone is proud of him and even local kids chipped in with their pocket money to make sure he stayed.” 
Khee specialises in the sort of things you just cannot find online. “We’re something a little different,” smiles Moncrieff, “but then Leven is changing.”

Leven is still blighted with vape shops and cut price stores but among these are re-emerging and new businesses. Mercifully, chains are fairly thin on the ground so the new arrivals are the likes of an independent Italian restaurant in the main square, plus delis and even a wine bar. Already restaurants like hipster Base and Mavies modern steak house, alongside the Agenda gastro pub and Steampunk-esque McPhails, set the tone. Cummings, a Leven clothing institution, may have closed but in their place East Coast Eclectic are inbound with their vintage wares.

(Image: Robin McKelvie)

One shining light palpably demonstrating the returning community spirit is the Together Levenmouth Hub. The local charity Brag Enterprises are behind the innovative use of a building that could have fallen into disrepair otherwise. They have opened not one but two escape rooms, an indoor crazy golf course, a gift shop and a decent café. They even run community-focused events. 
Downstairs the new trains will be greeted by a gaming centre, which has designed to keep local youngsters occupied as well as draw in visitors.

Another charity, mental health-focused Fife Employment Access Trust (FEAT), has brought myriad kinds of new growth to Silverburn Park, a gorgeous, green oasis that the council struggled to run and handed over in 2012. It lies just east of Leven and is today a life-affirming place. I meet a gardener in his teens happily chipping along with another in this eighties. Duncan Mitchell from FEAT welcomes me with a beaming smile: “We grow many things in our gardens, here, but our real passion is the ‘Grow Your Mind’ project to help a wide sweep of people.” 

Already Silverburn Park have conjured up walking trails, a campsite with pods and a dredged wildlife pond to create a sanctuary alive with wildlife. This is Leven 2024-style so they have even bigger ambitions. Work is already underway on the multimillion pound reinvention of the hulking old flax mill. It will offer 10 hostel rooms, events and community space, plus a café with floor to roof windows peering out towards the forests and firth. I take a hard hat tour and am impressed both by the scope of the project and the ambition that gleams through the eyes of our high vis vest sporting group.

(Image: Robin McKelvie)

The new railway may connect Edinburgh with Leven but it also opens up the rest of Levenmouth and beyond. Walk on from the industrial legacies stretching west on the Fife Coastal Path and the rewards are Macduff’s Castle (yes, he of Shakespeare fame) and the remarkable Pictish carvings in the Wemyss Caves. East the golf courses and beaches of Lundin Links and Lower Largo ease on towards a wild stretch of sands that is bursting with wildlife, from sea eagles to dolphins. 
Even further east lies Elie and the East Neuk, with the new railhead opening up Fife’s most picturesque corner and a collage of villages and towns that demand to be captured in dreamy watercolours – as the flurry of artists who have moved in here in recent years do with relish.

I end my return to Leven with local luminary Douglas Clement, the free spirit behind the Fife Kingsbarns Distillery, who now blogs under the ‘Dream to Dram’ banner. As we pound along the sands, with the ghosts of the Singing Butler and legions of Glaswegian holidaymakers, he smiles, says: “The new rail link is going to be great for people who live in Leven, Levenmouth and the East Neuk. It opens up the world for us and in turn a whole world of adventures for people who might never have considered coming here. “In many ways the coastline between Wemyss and Elie is as spectacular as anything deeper into the East Neuk. It may not get the attention of St Andrews either but the train is a serious step in the right direction.”

(Image: Robin McKelvie)

Foodie Leven


East London meets the East Neuk here, with distressed décor and exposed brickwork. A stand-out is their moules mariniere made with
G & J Wilsons of St Monans mussels. They’ve vegetarian and vegan delights too.


Proper fish ‘n’ chips is on offer from an award-winning chippie near the new railway station. It’s nigh obligatory to enjoy them by the sands, dreaming of Vettriano. Beware the notoriously feisty local gulls.

Seaview Restaurant

Spot on steaks are served with a view of the golf course and the Forth in nearby Lundin Links. They’ve a decent Burgundian pinot noir on the wine list too.

(Image: Robin McKelvie)

Bed down in Leven

Silverburn Park

Bring your tent or your campervan, or settle into one of their cosy four-person glamping wooden eco pods – there are plans for another couple here within a stone’s throw of the beach as demand is so high.  

Old Manor Hotel

This is an old world dame living its best refurbished life in Lundin Links. Book 
a room with a terrace and drink in the views, before you enjoy a local whisky in the bar. Fife newbie Kingsbarns is a top dram.

The Ship Inn

This is a living legend of a hotel a little further east that is well worth the trip. Book a room overlooking the sands and watch the wild swimmers and players from the only cricket club in the UK that plays home games on a beach. It has an ace restaurant too. You’ll also want to linger over breakfast with a view.