Tayport lies close to the north-east tip of Fife. To the north it looks across the River Tay to Broughty Ferry and Broughty Castle. To its east is the vast Tentsmuir Nature Reserve, an area of forested dunes measuring some 3km from east to west and 6km from north to south and edged by wide sands that continue all the way round to the mouth of the River Eden. It is one of those place that it would be very easy to overlook, and exploring it takes a conscious effort: but it's an effort that is certainly worthwhile.
A ferry service across the Tay was already well established when the lands here were granted to the newly formed Arbroath Abbey in about 1180. The abbey constructed shelter and lodgings for pilgrims making the trip between St Andrews and Arbroath via the ferry and this formed the core of a settlement that steadily grew over the following centuries.
At the time a chapel was built here in the early 1200s, the settlement was called Partan Craig, Gaelic for "Crab Rock." Over the following two hundred years English eroded many Gaelic place names in eastern Scotland and Partan Craig had become known as Portincragge by 1415 and as Port-in-Craige by the end of that century. In 1598 the settlement received is burgh charter in the perfectly rational, but completely corrupted, name of Ferry-Port on Craig.
Ferry-Port on Craig saw a dramatic increase in population at the end of the 1700s when tenants displaced by agricultural improvement and clearance came to take advantage of jobs in the village's textile and shipbuilding industries. Leisure opportunities also increased. Golf came early to Ferry-Port on Craig, with a course laid out in 1817. And despite the efforts of the local farmer, who twice ploughed up the course in the 1800s, it was here to stay.
A road to Newport-on-Tay, just three miles to the east, and the less weather-prone and better used ferry service from there to Dundee, meant that Ferry-Port on Craig was without a ferry for parts of the first half of the 1800s. But by the 1840s a steam ferry service had once more resumed to Broughty Ferry. This was acquired by the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway who used the route for a railway ferry service between what they chose to call Tayport and Broughty Ferry in 1851 as part of their rail service from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. The simpler name of Tayport stuck.
The rail ferry ceased operation in 1878 with the opening of the Tay Rail Bridge: only to resume operations the following year when the bridge collapsed. With the opening of the replacement rail bridge in 1887 Tayport returned to a passenger-only ferry, which continued to run to Broughty Ferry until 1920.
The opening of the Tay Road Bridge in 1966 put Tayport within a few minutes drive of the centre of Dundee. It has since evolved largely as a pleasant dormitory village for Scotland's fourth city. Some industry remains, but the harbour is now given over almost wholly to leisure craft, and attractive new housing has been built where once railway carriages were manoeuvered onto ferries.
But reminders of Tayport's earlier life and identity remain. In the centre of the village is Ferry-Port on Craig Church, established in 1607 and rebuilt in 1794 and 1825. Parish worship now takes place along the street at Tayport Parish Church, which was built in 1843 as Ferry-Port on Craig Free Church.
The village is home to a wide range of services. The pubs on offer include the attractive Bell Rock Tavern. Nearby is the Harbour Cafe, overlooking the harbour and run by the local community. On the harbourside itself is an intriguing circular building that turns out to house the public loos. An old pier not far from the harbour is home to an old lifeboat, "The Duke of Kent" which served in southern England from 1979 to 1994 before coming to Tayport to become a survey vessel. She looks to have been out of the water for some time.