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Issue 8 - Fife–Scotland'sfringeofgold

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 8
May 2003

 

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Fife–Scotland'sfringeofgold

GavinSmithextolsthevirtuesoftheKingdomofFife,renownedforitsgolf,attractivecoastandrichhistory

KingJamesVI(1542–1625)wrotethathiskingdompossessed“afringeofgoldonabeggar’smantle”.The“fringeofgold”wasaspecificreferencetothecoastofFife.Indeed,thecountyhasforcenturiesbeenknownas‘TheKingdomofFife’,anditsspiritofindependenceevenensureditssurvivalduringlocalgovernmentreorganisationinthemid1970s,whenitwasindangerofbeingsubmergedinneighbouringTayside.Today,theareaispromotedbytheKingdomofFifeTouristBoard.

EventhemostcursoryglanceatamapexplainswhyFifehasforsolongnurturedaspiritofindependence.TothenorthitisboundedbytheFirthofTay,andtothesouthbytheFirthofForth.Beforethecreationoffixedlinksbyrailand,later,roadbridges,Fifewasnottoofarfrombeinganisland.

Theearliestphysicalconnectionbetween‘thekingdom’andthecountrytothenorthandsouthcamewiththeconstructionoftheTayBridgebetweenWormitandDundeein1878,andtheForthBridge,whichopenedin1890betweenSouthandNorthQueensferry.

ThefirstTayBridgefamouslycollapsedonestormynightinDecember1879.Seventy-fivepeopleperishedwhenthetraincrossingitplungedintothewatersbelow.Theeventwasimmortalisedinthebest-knownofthepoetWilliamMcGonagall’sspectacularlybadverses.Therailbridgewassubsequentlyrebuilt,andin1966aroadbridge,linkingNewportwithDundee,cameintooperation.

In1964theForthRoadBridgeopenedtotraffic,removingthenecessityofalengthydetourtothewestandtheKincardineBridgeovertheForth,oraferrycrossingbetweenSouthandNorthQueensferry,whichfrequentlyinvolvedwaitinginlongqueuesoftrafficduringthebusysummermonths.

Today,withinsightoftheQueensferrysandthetwoForthbridges,theportofRosythplaysapartinthemostrecentchapterofFife’smaritimehistory.May2002sawthelaunchoftheSuperfastFerriesvehicleandpassengerservicewhichoperatesonadailybasisbetweentheportandZeebruggeinBelgium.ThisisthefirstferryservicetolinkScotlandtotheEuropeancontinent.

Historically,itwasinevitable,giventhecounty’sgeographicalsituation,thatFiferswouldturntothesea.FishingplayedagreatpartinthelivesofthefolkwholivedintheancientvillagesoftheEastNeukareaofFife–villagessuchasCrail,Pittenweem,StMonans,ElieandEarlsferry,whicharesomeofthemostpicturesqueanywhereontheScottishcoast.

Today,fishingboatscontinuetooperatefromtheEastNeuk,basedprincipallyinPittenweemharbour.Nearby,inAnstruther,thefascinatingScottishFisheriesMuseumtracestheheritageofScotland’slongandoftenarduousassociationwith‘thefishing’.

Aswellasbeinghometofishingfleets,theportsoftheEastNeukalsotradedextensivelywithEuropeinsaltedfish,coalandlinen,anactivitywhichbroughtsignificantprosperity,nottomentionmanycasksofsmuggledbrandy,wine,tobacco,clothandsugarduringthe18thcentury,whensmugglingactivityinBritainwasatitsheight.ItisrecordedthatCrailwasexportingsaltedfishtoEuropeasfarbackasthe9thcentury.

TradewithEuropealsoinfluencedthearchitecturalstyleintheEastNeuk:wealthymerchantscopiedfeaturessuchasDutchcurved-gablehousefronts.Manyofthesearestillvisibletoday,andgiveFife’sfishingvillagesanalmostcontinentalappearance.

Thehighest-profileplaceinFifeisunquestionablyStAndrews,whichliesatthenorthernmostpointoftheEastNeuk.Tomostpeople,StAndrewsisknownasthehomeofgolf,andalsofortheattendanceofPrinceWilliamatthecity’suniversity.StAndrewsisScotland’soldestseatofhighereducation,foundedin1411.

ThepresenceofHisRoyalHighnessmayhaveledtoaninfluxofhopeful,well-bredyounggirlstostudyatthisancientseatoflearning,butstudents,touristsandgolfersfromtheworldovermixonthecity’scharacterfulstreets.StAndrewsisrichinhistoryofallkinds.Abovetheharbourstandtheimposingruinsofthe12thCenturycathedral,andnearbythe13thCenturycastlelooksoutovertheNorthSea.

Ifallyouwanttodoisrelaxbythesea,thennotonlydoesStAndrewsboasttwoaward-winningbeaches,butmanyotherinvitingexpansesofsanddottheFifecoast.Keenornithologistsarespoiltforchoice,withcoloniesofthehistoryofthesportthatScotlandgavetotheworld.AwayfromStAndrews,therearenearly50golfcourseswithinFife,allofferingavarietyofchallengestovisitors,manylocatedinremarkablypicturesquesettings.

IfStAndrewsoffershistoricalrichesinnorth-eastFife,thenattheoppositesideofthecounty,acrossinthewest,Dunfermlineisitsequalintermsoffascinatingheritage.

DunfermlinewasScotland’sancientcapital,andfeaturesaroyalpalace,a12thCenturyabbeywhereKingRoberttheBruceisburied,andtherestored15thCenturyAbbotHouse.AfterthedeathofMacbeth,KingMalcolmCanmoreheldcourtinafortifiedtower–theruinsofwhichremaininwhatisnowPittencrieffPark.

Morerecently,AndrewCarnegie,thegreatsteelmagnateandphilanthropist,wasborninaweaver’scottageinDunfermline’sMoodieStreet,whereamuseumcelebrateshisachievements.HavingmadeavastfortuneinbusinessintheUSA,Carnegieproceededtodonatelargesumsofmoneytopublicprojectsthroughouthisnativeland.Inhishometown,hesetuptheCarnegieDunfermlineTrustin1902,whichenabledthepurchaseofthePittencrieffEstateforthelocalcommunity.

TothewestofDunfermlineistheRoyalBurghofCulross,atreasure-troveofgemsoftraditionalScottishvernaculararchitecture,thankstotheeffortsoftheNationalTrustforScotland,whichspentsomefourdecadespainstakinglyrestoring16th,17thand18thCenturypropertiesinthetown.

StMungo,thepatronsaintofGlasgow,wasreputedlyborninCulrossduringthesixthcentury.OverlookingtheFirthofForth,theburghwasonceanimportantportfortheexportoflocallyminedcoal.Initsday,theFifecoalfieldwasamajoremployer,andcommunitiessuchasCowdenbeath,Lochgelly,Lochore,LumphinnansandKeltyallgrewrapidlyduringthe19thcenturyasthecoaltradedeveloped.

DistillinghasalsoprovedtobeanimportantpartofFife’sindustrialheritage,withthewell-knownHaigfamilyatthecentreofwhisky-makinginthecountyforseveralcenturies.Today,CameronbridgeDistilleryatWindygatesisavastplantturningoutgrainspiritforblendingpurposes.ItisalsowheretheentireUKoutputofthatmostquintessentiallyEnglishdrink,Gordon’sGin,isnowdistilled!Cameronbridgeisownedbyoneoftheworld’slargestdrinkscompany,Diageo,whoalsoemployseveralhundredpeopleattheir150acresLevensite,justafewmilesaway.Itisherethatprocessing,blending,bottlingandpackagingoperationsforadiverserangeofDiageoproductstakeplace.

ThoughnotabletoclaimsuchanillustriousheritageasDunfermline,thecoastaltownofKirkcaldyisrightlyproudtobeknownasthebirthplacein1723ofthegreatpoliticaleconomistAdamSmith,andin1728oftheequallyrenownedarchitectRobertAdam.Acenturylater,KirkcaldywasoneofthefirstplacesinBritainwherepowerloomswereused.Thisdevelopmentrevolutionisedtheweavingindustry,making‘thelangtoun’,asKirkcaldyisaffectionatelyknown,animportantindustrialcentre.Italsohasamoreobscureplaceinhistoryastheworldcapitalofthelinoleumindustry!

TwocontrastingFifetownsareGlenrothesandCupar.Theformerisnowthecounty’sadministrativecentre,rarelyfeaturingintouristguidebooksonaccountofitbeingaplannednewtown,largelyconstructedduringthe1950sand’60s.Duringthe1970sitearnedthenickname‘siliconglen’,asitattractedanincreasingnumberofhigh-techoperationstoitsindustrialestates.

TheoldcountytownofCuparliesintherichagriculturallandsoftheHoweofFife,andwasformerlytheseatofjusticeandgovernmentinFife.Itwasthecounty’s‘capital’from1213,untilGlenrothesusurpeditspositionduringlocalgovernmentreorganisationin1975.TheintriguingtownofFalklandnestlesatthefootoftheLomondHills,itsmainstreetdominatednotbywell-knownretailnamesbutbythemagnificentFalklandPalace.ConstructionwasstartedbyKingJamesIIpriorto1500,withworkcontinuingforthenextfourdecades,mostlyundertheauspicesofJamesV.FalkandbecameafavouriteruralretreatfortheStuartkings,whowouldhuntdeerandwildboarinthesurroundingforests.

FalklandPalacehasbeenrestoredoveralengthyperiodbytheNationalTrustforScotland,whohavecleverlyrestoredthegardentoitsoriginaldesign.JustincaseyouthoughttheScotsonlycaredaboutfootballandgolf,itisworthnotingthatFalklandPalacehastheoldestsurvivingtenniscourtinBritain,datingfrom1539.

ForvisitorstoFifewhofancysomethinglessgenteelthantennis,KnockhillRacingCircuitnearDunfermlineisScotland’snationalmotor-sportcentre.KnockhillhostsaroundoftheprestigiousBritishTouringCarschampionshipeachseason,alongwithFormulaThreeand‘Superbike’events.Would-beDavidCoulthardscangettheirowntasteofhigh-speedcompetitivedrivingonthetrackatKnockhillinavarietyofracingandrallycars,whiletherearealsokarting,quadbikeand‘off-roading’facilities.

Clearly,theKingdomofFifecontinuestoofferawealthofrichestoanyonechoosingtovisitthisgoldencornerofScotland.