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Issue 68 - Exploring the Kingdom

Scotland Magazine Issue 68
April 2013

 

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Exploring the Kingdom

Charles Douglas visits this mix of historic treasures, rich farmland, holiday resorts and industrial endeavour.

Flanked to the east by the North Sea, to the west by Clackmananshire and Kinross, with the M90 streaming north to the City of Perth. The peninsula that is known as the Kingdom of Fife is underscored by the Firth of Forth and topped by the Firth of Tay. Accessed from the south, by rail across the iconic Forth Bridge and the equally imposing Forth Road Bridge, soon to be joined by a second crossing, Fife is made up of a complex mix of historic treasures, rich farmland, holiday resorts and industrial endeavour.

The region's acronym of “Kingdom”, according to the Irish William F. Skene's Chronicles, has its origins in it having been a long ago Pictish realm presided over by Cruithne, son of Cinge, son of Luctai, son of Parthalan, son of Agnoiun, etc, etc, way back into the mists of time. A more recent attribution is that the strategically situated Dunfermline, was, for a period of four hundred years, the principal seat of the Scots monarchy, from Malcolm III to James I.

Dunfermline, originally home to neolithic settlers, sprang up around the great abbey building raised in 1128 by David I, and the graveyard there contains the tombs of the Scottish kings and queens who occupied the adjacent, now ruined palace. A significant visitor attraction here is the Abbot House, the oldest secular building, built in the midfifteenth century to house Abbot Richard Bothwell and his successors until 1540, when Commendator George Durie moved into apartments at the Palace.

Restored in the 1990s, the teracotta-harled Abbot House features a series of lively exhibitions ranging from a replica of the Head-Shrine of St Margaret to memorabilia of the early Scottish Suffragette Movement, and is indicative of the changing styles of Scottish architecture from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.

The transatlantic steel industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was born in Dunfermline in 1895 in a humble dwelling at the corner of Moodie Street and Priory Lane, now transformed into a heritage centre. His gift of Pittencrief Park to the people of the town hosts an annual festival to celebrate its associations with King Robert the Bruce. Along the coast at the Royal Burgh of Culross, allegedly a port city founded by St Serf and now maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, is the lodging created by the successful merchant and trader Sir George Bruce in 1597 and known as the “Palace”, having been visited by James VI in 1617.

Stewart kings made use of the undulating and wooded Fife hinterland for hunting, basing themselves at Falkland Palace which was much improved in the renaissance style by James IV and his son James V, and provided a safe childhood retreat for the latter's daughter Mary, Queen of Scots. In the forest of Carden, adjacent to the former mining village of Cardenden, they practised falconry in pursuit of deer and wild boar.

Sport of a very different kind can nowadays be enjoyed at Knockhill, where a motor racing circuit was established on the outskirts of Dunfermline during the 1970s. At Kirkcaldy and Oakley there is KartStart racing; quad racing at Craigluscar and at Newton Hill at Wormit, there is fly fishing and pigeon shooting.

Kirkcaldy, tucked into a sheltered east coast bay, is Fife's largest settlement, originally a trading port servicing the Low Coutries of mainland Europe. Known as the “Lang Toun” because of its mile long main street, the town prospered through its salt panning, coal mining and nail manufacturing activities, and more recently the production of linen and linoleum, which grew into a global industry. It was also the birthplace of the economist Adam Smith, author of
The Wealth of Nations.

At the heartland of the “Kingdom” is Glenrothes, the county's administrative centre containing the headquarters of Fife Council and Fife Constabulary.

One of the first post-Second World War New Towns, it is a hub for manufacturing and engineering industries, houses the Adam Smith College, Fife's largest indoor shopping centre, and Wok n' Spice, in this writer's opinion one of the best Chinese restaurants in Scotland. In 2012, Glenrothes was named “the cleanest, most beautiful community in Scotland” by the environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful.

Alongside the most northerly stretch of the Firthof Forth beyond Kirkcaldy lie a string of small seaports and fishing villages referred to as the East Neuk of Fife: Elie, Lundin Links, Colinsburgh, St Monans, Lower and Upper Largo, Pittenweem, Anstruther, Cellardyke, Crail and Kinsbarns.

With their narrow streets, picturesque pan-tiled dwellings and harbours, all of these hamlets provide first rate holiday accommodation and it is said that over the summer months the population of the coastal community trebles. Every year in April, the Fife Point to Point takes place at Balcormo Mains, near Leven, one of the first fixtures of the horse racing calendar.

Excellent local facilites are to be found at St Monan's Seafood Restaurant and especially at Geoffrey and Katherine Smeddle's Five Star Peat Inn at Ceres, a gourmet magnate.

At Anstruther, an opportunity to visit the 14th century Kelly Castle, managed by the National Trust for Scotland, should not be passed over. Once lived in by the youngest daughter of Robert the Bruce, it was saved from demolition in the 1950s by the sculptor Hew Lorimer.

On the High Street at Ceres, there is the Fife Folk Museum, a celebration of local life.

Christianity arrived in Fife as early as the fourth century when certain body parts – a tooth, an arm bone, a kneecap and some fingers – belonging to Saint Andrew who was martyred at Patras were brought ashore by a Greek monk called Saint Rule. Other relics followed in the seventh century, and by the ninth century, the spot where Saint Rule had landed, had grown into a flourishing Culdee religious community named St Andrews. Created a bishoprick in the 11th century, the burgh rapidly emerged as the ecclesiastical Capital of Scotland, with routes of pilgrimage threading through the coastal and inland landscape, north from the Firth of Forth and south from the Firth of Tay.

All of this ended with the Reformation when the vast and imposing St Andrews Cathedral was dismantled, but you only have to stand at the centre of the ruins to appreciate just how enormous the cathedral must have been.

The Reformation was preceded by much cruelty and martyrdom, with 16th century reformers such as Patrick Hamilton and George Wishart being burned at the stake in view of St Andrews Castle. Along with the cathedral, St Andrews Castle, pounded by the canon of the French fleet during its brief Protestant occupation, was two centuries later abandoned when it was considered to have outlived its usefulness. Afterwards, the town fell back on its university which, founded around 1413, is the oldest in Scotland and widely known to have been where Prince William met his future bride Kate Middleton, while both were studying there.

University staff and students preamble through the quadrangle of St Salvator's College where the chapel is used for religious services on Sundays. On the two mile stretch of the town's West Sands was filmed the opening scenes of the iconic 1981 film
Chariots of Fire.

In addition to all of this, St Andrews is globally acknowledged as the home of golf. This is principally because the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, founded here in 1754, exercises legislative authority over the game worldwide (except in the United States and Mexico). Secondly, it is because the famous links (acquired by the town in 1894) has become the most frequent venue for the Open Championships , the oldest of the game's four major trials of skill and ability.

Played on the third Friday of July, it returns to the town in 2015.

To exit Fife from St Andrews, the road travels north to connect with the Tay Road Bridge, opened in 1966, and west towards the market town of Cupar and onwards to Auchtermuchty.

On the outskirts of Newburgh are the remains of Lindores Abbey, founded in the late twelfth century by David, Earl of Huntingdon and recently recognised as the spiritual home of Scotch Whisky. The first written record of "Aqua Vitae" was ordered on 1st June 1494 by Friar John Cor, a Tironensian monk domiciled at the Abbey, which confirms the longevity of Scotland's national drink.

A major visitor attraction at Cupar is the Scottish Deer Centre accommodating 14 species of deer from around the world, Fife's only wolf pack, otters and wildcats. The complex also includes a Raptor Bird of Prey Centre.

The little town of Auchtermuchty was the setting for the fictional Tannochbrae in the popular 1990s ITV television series Dr Finlay's Casebook, and has not changed much in appearance since. Although he was born in East Wemyss, it was the lifelong home of the legendary accordionist Jimmy Shand.