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Issue 33 - Fife & Dundee – three's a crowd

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 33
June 2007


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Fife & Dundee – three's a crowd

The east coast north of Edinburgh is dominated by three vastly disparate towns. Dominic Roskrow explains why that is good for visitors

If you’ve been following news events in Scotland recently, you’ll be aware of the social and political undercurrents swirling just beneath the surface in the eastern regions beyond Edinburgh.

In recent months St Andrews has played its now traditional role as the stage set for royalty, acting as match maker for a romance that many thought would produce Britain’s next Queen, though sadly that would no longer seem to be the case. And just a few miles north, Dundee has been establishing itself in a vastly different way, becoming Scotland’s first Nationalist city, as the party who wants to break up the very Union that the royals are the head of, swept out all opposition in recent elections.

Throw into the mix a quieter but increasingly determined player in the form of Dunfermline, a population centre that is growing economically, socially and culturally, and it adds up to a heady mix of vibrancy and variety in east Scotland.

Nobody’s trying to claim that the east-west yin-yang relationship of Edinburgh and Glasgow doesn’t still dominate the Scottish landscape; one refined and stylish, the other gritty and earthy; one traditional, historic and arty, the other dynamic, modern and arty; one the natural home of royalty, gentry and privilege, the other the natural base for industry, endeavour and new wealth.

But the triple whammy of St Andrews, Dundee and Dunfermline offer plenty of options for the traveller who wants to venture across the Forth Bridge.

So why should you visit these places and what do they have to offer?

As the name implies, St Andrews has had a strong religious link from the earliest of times. It is thought that humans first settled some 8,000 years ago and for much of the early period it was populated by Picts.

Christianity arrived in Scotland with St Columba in 565AD and probably reached the area around St Andrews in the early part of the ninth century, by Celtic speaking Culdees. King Constantine II built a church for them and the king’s successor, Constantine III became a Culdee himself and died in St Andrews.

That church was finally moved and became Blessed Mary of the Rock. Its ruins can still be seen at Kirkhill.

The legends surrounding the naming of the town are well reported. They tell of how St Rule, or St Regulus, brought the relics of the Apostle St Andrew to the town and marked out an area of consecrated ground with 12 crosses. But it was not until after the Norman invasion and the establishment first of a bigger church and then of the original foundations for the cathedral, that the name of St Andrews was established.

The remains of the cathedral we can see today are the result of centuries of additions and extra work. The cathedral was, at one time, second largest only to Norwich, and it was at the centre of disruption and controversy throughout its troubled history.

It was badly damaged by storm and fire, it witnessed desecration and neglect at the time of the Reformation, and it witnessed a series of gruesome and high profile martyrdoms.

But until it fell into disrepair and out of favour it was also the magnet for thousands of pilgrims who travelled from across the world. Its role as a cathedral came to an end in 1559 when it was ransacked by a Protestant mob, though even today the land remains consecrated.

The other key landmark in St Andrews is the castle, a fortified home to bishops who needed to be well protected. The first castle was probably established in 1200 and had a bloody and controversial history to rival the cathedral. It, too, served in the frontline of the Reformation, with ambushes, battles and even the digging of mines to gain access all part of its chequered history.

The thirdinstitution forming a pillar in the town’s history is, of course, the world famous university, a recognised seat for learning excellence. Established and recognised by Pope Benedict XIII in the early part of the 15th century, it has emerged from three distinct colleges as a more tranquil, ordered and cerebral piece of local history, and today its chapels, quadrangles and old buildings add a further dimension to the town.

Further up the coast Dundee was established as a small port by the 12th century and grew in the next 200 years to become one of Scotland’s most important towns. Like St Andrews, the town built strong religious links, with Dominican monks arriving in the city in the 13th century.

It also built up a reputation as a trading centre, and was a centre first for wool up to the 17th century, linen and leather. Whaling was also a key industry and during the 18th century it started producing one of its most famous products – marmalade.

In the 19th century the town became home for a large number of Irish immigrants fleeing the famine, and it became an overcrowded and dirty place, subject to regular outbreaks of cholera and typhus. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that amenities and facilities improved and the town cleaned itself up.

Today Dundee attracts a large number of students and has a thriving social scene.

Museums, leisure centres, shopping centres and an ice arena have all helped to invigorate the town and it has carved out a unique atmosphere and character of its own.

If St Andrews is the Paul McCartney of Scotland and Dundee is John Lennon, then Dunfermline is its George Harrison, less celebrated than the other two but making a significant contribution in a modest and quiet way. Which raises a question about Scotland’s Ringo, but more about Stirling in another issue.

In actual fact Dunfermline can lay claim to the deepest vein of history of all, having been the seat of the ancient kings of Scotland. In an area of natural beauty Dunfermline was a prosperous city, too, and for many years during the Middle Ages it exerted considerable influence.

Arising from a small fort, it grew rapidly, partly as a result of the establishment of a religious house near the castle of Malcolm Canmore, who had wrested the crown that had belonged to his father from Macbeth and had settled there; and partly because the sister of Anglo-Saxon prince Edgar Atheling was shipwrecked in the Firth of Forth and took the incident as a sign of God to settle in the area and bring civilisation through religion to the local people.

The town had its troubles too, and was nearly destroyed by fire after it was set alight on the instruction of King Edward I of England. It survived though, and in the 1320s the Scottish royal household moved back to the castle. Robert the Bruce was born there in 1274.

Dunfermline would be the birthplace of several royals but the bloody battle of Pitreavie, which pitted the forces of Oliver Cromwell against those of the King, Charles, and which resulted in the slaughter of more than 2,000 Royalists, would serve to draw a line under 600 years of residency in Dunfermline Palace by Scottish kings.

While the town never again achieved such a central role in Scottish history, it continued to contribute to Scotland’s industrial base, with coal and linen being main products from the area.

It also produced some significant personalities. Andrew Carnegie’s influence is all over the town, and Robert Henryson, who wrote Aesop’s Fables, also lived here.

St Andrews, Dundee and Dunfermline individually offer much to the visitor.

Collectively they offer a unique opportunity to view Scotland’s complex and diverse history in depth.