St Monans, sitting in the centre of the East Neuk is recognised as one of Fife’s prettiest villages, thanks to a combination of its place on the coastline and an intriguing history.
There’s the Auld Kirk, perched on the edge of the Forth; Newark Castle and doocot, the salt pans and the windmill.
Community pride has also brought recognition through the Beautiful Fife and Scotland annual competitions – and let’s not forget the novelty Welly Garden at the harbour which draws admiring glances from those travelling though the village on the Fife Coastal Path.
Add a highly acclaimed restaurant, the picturesque harbour and superb views out to the May Isle and across to the Lothians and it easy to see why ‘Sminnins’ seems to be growing in popularity, evidenced in the growing number of holiday homes.
But there’s another attraction, one that has been there for well over a century, ignored or taken for granted by many locals, invisible to many others, In fact, visitors who make the journey to visit it have difficulty finding it.
Yet, its fame has spread way beyond the East Neuk, even beyond Scotland; it is now an international attraction.
You could pay over £200 for a photograph of it on Getty Images and there is at least one shot of it in every portfolio of a growing band of photographers.
There are even whole sections of websites, such as Flickr and Tumblr, dedicated to pictures of it. Locally, it’s traditional name is just quite simply ‘The Blocks’.
But call up Google, Bing, Yahoo or any other search engine, type in “Zigzag Pier” and you will find a growing library of ‘The Blocks’.
Jutting out from the east pier, ‘The Blocks’ is actually a breakwater, a fairly nondescript trail of concrete calming the entrance to the harbour proper that has been a popular haunt for anglers for generations.
The relatively sudden burst of interest from photographers is harder to explain.
No doubt the zigzag shape helps cut into the waves but at low tide the breakwater isn’t at its most photogenic. But on a rising tide it takes on an entirely different and seemingly ever-changing personality.
Attempting to capture it is not without its challenges. It is, in the main, concealed behind the main harbour wall.
The village sub-postmaster, Peter Marr, a St Monans man and a keen photographer himself with a print of the breakwater on his shelves for sale, has had to guide the occasional visiting snapper to the pier.
And, of course, once you are there you have to scale a small ladder on the harbour wall to achieve a clear view of the ‘Zigzag Pier’, and that’s not the most secure of places when the waves are lashing.
Putting aside the concerns of life and limb, there is also your kit to consider; expensive digital camera gear doesn’t have a good relationship with salt water, and that can make for a very expensive picture if it’s stormy.
And while there are images a-plenty of a wave-whipped breakwater, its tranquil presence seems to equally fascinate.
Photographer Maria Gaellman of www.scotland-photo.com, said: “With the St Monans jetty, I particularly love the unusual shape and the beautiful backdrop of East Lothian; in mist/fog you can capture the nothingness – a jetty going into the empty space which gives a kind of serenity/peacefulness feeling.
“In rough weather, you can capture how nature sometimes is cruel.
“What I find particularly challenging with photographing St Monans pier is the wee ladder you need to climb up on and the narrow wall you stand upon – especially when it’s windy and it’s easy for the wind to catch you and it’s very easy to fall into the sea.
“It can also be a challenge – due to the high demand at times – to find the spot due to other photographers having the same idea!”
The attraction of ‘The Blocks’ would seem to be that because of the tide, waves and sky no two pictures are exactly the same, and that’s from one frame to the next.
The frustration, and the magnetism, is when you’ve got the picture you wanted and walk away, there’s real possibility of a better one just happening.
The photographers’ point of view...
“In mist/fog you can capture the nothingness - a jetty going into the empty space which gives a kind of serenity/peacefulness. ” –Maria Gaellman, www.scotland-photo.comwww.scotland-photo.com.
“I was attracted to the breakwater for composition - it has a fantastic ‘leading line’ which draws the viewer in; it’s truly unique -to my knowledge an incredibly dramatic outlook. – Graham Macfarlane, Graham Macfarlane Photography
“I find the Zigzag Pier fascinating as it’s quite unique in its form and the way it stretches out into the Firth of Forth. When the distractions of the water are smoothed out in a long exposure, the shapes and form of the structure create a powerful composition. Also it’s great that it is not immediately visible to those who wander out along the pier, as you have to climb up on to the top of the harbour wall to see the zig-zag portion of the breakwater. As a professional landscape photographer I like it because it sells!” – Stewart Mitchell, www.earthlylight.comwww.earthlylight.comwww.earthlylight.comwww.earthlylight.com
“It’s like no other pier I have ever seen in the UK. I enjoy working on the coast in many regions in the UK, particularly Scotland and this pier is such a strong graphic shape that it gives me as a landscape photographer a powerful and intriguing focal point to work with when constructing an image. It took me a while to track it down, as its hidden away behind the larger pier wall! – John Pottter Photography, York.
“I think it is the combination of snake-like shape of the breakwater, and with the right composition and tide, the lack of distracting elements in the frame that can give this a minimalist, slightly surreal feel.” – Camillo Berenos , Camillo Berenos Photography.
A Stevenson design?
The ‘Zigzag Pier’ dates back to the latter part of the 19th century.
Although it juts out from the Alexandra Pier – so named because the foundation stone was laid on March 10, 1863, which was a national holiday to mark the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra of Denmark – it would seem the breakwater was a later project.
A decade after the new pier opened, the middle and west piers were built.
That project, completed in 1879, seems to have included the concrete breakwater to shield the entrance.
If indeed the ‘Zigzag Pier’ was part of those later works then it was built by the famous Stevenson family and most probably designed by Thomas, father of author Robert Louis.