ALTHOUGH he would have been aware of Palea Kameni, Greece’s famed “Burnt Island”, Aristotle certainly never visited its Fife namesake. Nor did he ever play an amusement arcade claw machine. Ask any historian, they’ll tell you the same.

Yet, as the father of logical thinking and originator of the maxim “hope is a waking dream”, the cynical Greek polymath would have had some pertinent thoughts on Scottish seaside holidays and those mechanised grabbers which ably introduce impressionable young minds to the illict thrills of gambling.

It’s highly likely he would conclude that these two evergreen summertime staples only exist thanks to that indefatigable human folly – hope. An inexplicable emotion which single-handedly keeps our coastal economies afloat. 

Whether fuelling expectations of sunshine or winning fluffy toys, hope is blind to the Gulf Stream’s volatility and the villainous algorithmic programming of metal claws. No matter how many times we are left soaked and skint, hope remains. 

And hardwired as it is into the Scottish genome, it was hope that prevailed as my family and I recently ventured to Fife for a few days of forced fun. 

Our destination was The Bay Hotel, a very literally-monikered hotel and caravan park perched boldly upon a dramatic cliff-face which juts out onto the Forth at the panoramic enclave of Pettycur like Morrissey’s jaw.

The Herald: The Bay Hotel

We’d visited before, eight years ago when we all resented each other much less. I certainly recall the backseat driving as markedly less aggressive in 2015.

Change may be inevitable in life, but it was to my surprise that The Bay Hotel, unlike us, had remained remarkably unravaged by time. Perhaps, then, this break could also remind us of the people we once were, before familiarity bred contempt. See: hope.

This visit was different in one other marked way. The Wallace family who own The Bay Hotel are now famous, with their highs and lows recently serving as the narrative arc of an impressively slick BBC documentary that succeeded despite its rather uninspired title, Life on the Bay. Haud me back fae the remote control. 

Yet, the show was so good that it has now been commissioned for three series – that’s one more than Fawlty Towers. But it’s immediately apparent no-one should expect Basil-esque bedlam here, given the courtesy of our welcome upon arrival. 

That’s the thing about hotels – they can’t help but reflect the personalities of the owners. Just as a fish rots from the head down, resulting in chaotic establishments, the positivity generated by good management at the top also filters through the staff hierarchy.

Such a kinetic energy is detectable at The Bay Hotel, where laughter of families echoes down the hallways and staff emanate a genuine camaraderie.

Having started out as a simple caravan park with 160 vans in the 1980s, the complex has now evolved to its current state as a sprawling multi-million pound enterprise with a VisitScotland four-star hotel at its epicentre.

It’s a location described as boasting one of the most remarkable sea views in the country. Slight hyperbole perhaps in a place such as Scotland which boasts a wealth of natural marvels, but there’s no doubt the panoramic veranda on our family suite took full advantage of the Forth’s sweeping magnificence. All the scenic south-facing guest rooms are built on two levels and can comfortably accommodate large families.

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On that note, providing hospitality for children is a prime objective for The Bay Hotel. Wee ones might even look up from their phones every now and then thanks to a sizeable soft play area, leisure zone, pool/snooker room, swimming pool and on-site playparks. 

These attractions ensure the younger generation’s energy levels are sedated in the evenings, allowing parents to occupy themselves with nightly entertainment – while temporarily altering their brain chemistry at the stylish Waterfront Lounge. 

And at Horizons Restaurant, award-winning head chef James McKay has created a menu that deftly balances tradition and more adventurous dishes, all utilising Fife’s freshest local produce and certain to satisfy the most discerning palate. And sensitive ones too, with plenty of gluten-free options. 

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Not that I was afforded much time for gastronomic indulgence – bleeps and bloops from the leisure zone had proven an effective siren’s song for my nine-year-old daughter. She had her eyes trained upon a huge teddy sat alone in a grotesquely oversized claw machine that may have scooped dogs out of Romanian village wells in a previous life. 

Not listening to my warnings on algorithmic programming, Robyn emotionally manipulated me into parting with a multitude of coins that disappeared so fast it was difficult to tell if they had ever existed at all. Schrodinger’s pocket money.

Optimism was fading. Darkness was descending. As a balm for our melancholy, I casually promised that the next day I would take her to a magical place where the sun always shone and claw machines always paid out – Burntisland. Hope returned.

The next morning we woke to a rumble of thunder that could only be described as ominous. This was true Scottish summertime weather, more suitable for a canoe than a cagoule, but upon my daughter’s insistence that I kept my promise we ventured outdoors. 

Ink-black clouds depleted hope as fast as the folk on the beach were sprinting back to their hotel rooms. Something truly bleak brewed. Even places with such rich and varied architecture as Burntisland can look devastatingly uninviting in a storm. 

But not all towns boast havens for grooming young gamblers such as Kingdom Amusements, which offered us shelter seconds before the first almighty deluge descended. And thankfully, as I had promised, an abundance of claw machines offering prizes big and small greeted us.

Robyn immediately homed in on one which did not offer teddies – the prizes here being multitudes of tokens. 

As all claw machine aficionados know, such machines without physical prizes are a joyless gamble – but one that can potentially pay off with a little luck. And perhaps, with the weather being so Biblical, we might even be afforded a miracle. 

So, pulling upon my last dying vestiges of hope, I funded my daughter’s immediate aspirations and dreams to the tune of £10. 

As the first pound coin dropped in, it was immediately apparent something unusual was occurring. This particular claw machine seemed to have broken free of its algorithmic slavery, like some self-aware AI that had cast off its programmer’s chains and decided it was our lucky day. 

It grabbed every time. Within 10 minutes, Robyn had amassed 4000 tokens – enough for a teddy twice the size of Bungle’s brother back at The Bay Hotel’s leisure zone.

Although our surplus of tokens was met with a raised eyebrow by the genial lady behind the prize counter, she kept her suspicions to herself and exchanged them for a scale model effigy of Cocaine Bear.

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Robyn with her super-sized teddy bear and friend Pixie with her own, more modest, haul from Kingdom Amusements


Upon driving back to the hotel, the rear-view mirror offered comfort that the police were not on our tail. We were now fired up with enough hope that we once again entered the leisure zone to try our luck with the other big teddy – but noticed it was gone. 

Had another claw machine miracle taken place in Fife that day? Well, perhaps – depending on how you perceived the rare double rainbow shimmering into existence outside, with the far end of the larger beam dissolving into the rooftops of Burntisland. 

Of course, Aristotle would have been deeply cynical about any suggestion of cosmic interventionism. 

As a philosopher who believed God was a psychological entity that only manifested itself in the form of knowledge, he once said: “It is those who act rightly with wisdom who carry off all prizes and rewards.”

Yet, bold as it is to contradict Aristotle, our ill-gotten gains proved the miserable old bore wrong. And if he had ever left Greece to make the trip to the real Burntisland, perhaps he would have clawed back some faith in hope and miracles too. 

  • Bill stayed at The Bay Hotel, Burntisland Rd, Kinghorn, Burntisland KY3 9YE.01592 892222,