The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

The morning was overcast and the wind out of the east and bitter cold. I pedalled my way to St Andrew’s castle at the end of the Scores for the start of my journey.  My first digital camera was a great little camera. Simply point it in the right direction and press the button and it would produce brilliant pictures every time. Sadly when the battery would no longer hold its charge I found it impossible to get a replacement.  Looking for a new camera was a nightmare; there are so many out there and the jargon that comes with such cameras is way above my pay grade. I did see one, that rather than charge up the internal battery, you could replace the two AA batteries when they were depleted. This would be better for traveling abroad, no need to recharge at the mains. Camera at the ready and as I snapped away, up popped a message to tell me that the batteries were depleted, ho-hum back to the house for new batteries and add two spares to an already overloaded courier bag. Must get myself a pannier bag.

There is so much written about St Andrews Castle that little needs to be repeated here. It was built around 1200 in Bishop Rodger’s time as his residence. Totally destroyed in the Wars of Independence in the fourteenth century it was rebuilt by Bishop Walter Trail (1385 – 1401). Archbishop James Beaton (1521 – 1539) modified the castle to make it more suitable for artillery defense, adding two circular gun towers, known as block-houses. Further additions were made by his nephew Cardinal David Beaton (1537-1546) at the time of his murder. The siege that followed the young Beaton’s murder was to have far-reaching consequences for the castle.

The Earl of Arran, Governor of Scotland, attempted to break into the castle by a mine, which was eventually intercepted by a countermine; both of these can be seen today. Eventually, the castle was taken as the result of a French artillery bombardment in 1547, which largely destroyed archbishop Beaton’s block-houses. After the siege, the last archbishop before the Reformation, John Hamilton (1546-1571) repaired the castle. His greatest effort was on the entrance front, which he reconstructed in a progressive French Renaissance style, with elaborate dormer windows – a good idea on the continent, but not so much in seaward-facing St. Andrews.

Next port of call, Dairsie Castle, that sits just above the River Eden. With a tailwind out of St Andrews, it was an easy pedal to the top of Knock Hill then a fast descent into the valley below (the computer recorded 31.8 mph)- the man knows no fear. Then a short sharp climb up to the castle. For much of its life it was the property of the Bishop of St Andrews. Until I returned to Fife I had only known it as a ruin but in 1993 an excavation had taken place, the expense born by the Fife Regional Council, that turned up a lot of information on its past. The castle was rebuilt and it certainly is a fine looking building today but I have little knowledge of who now owns the castle, however, it does look much more like a dwelling  than a fortification.

Close by is the little church of Dairsie. No longer used for public worship, it is now owned by the St Andrews Preservation Trust. The church was built at a time when Scotland was going through a Protestant phase, although there has been a church on this site from as early as 1160. It was Archbishop John Spottiswood of St Andrews that commissioned the building of the church we now see today, more in keeping with the reformed episcopalian worship. It is a stunning building and although a simple buttressed rectangle, it is lifted by the ornamentation of its windows, echoes of medieval church windows, and an impressive bell tower. The church has also been given a classical entrance.  War Graves from the Second World War are to be found within the cemetery. A church worthy of a visit.

Even the climb up onto the A91 into Cupar was a breeze today because the wind was at my back, then the long descent into Cupar.   The road was a little busier today, I met a pair of cyclists coming up the hill out of Cupar, they seemed to be making heavy weather of it.

Into Cupar that once had a fine castle but nothing remains of it now. The castle that did stand here, was built by the Earl of Fife in the 11th century. King Alexander 111’s wife Margaret died at the castle on 26 February 1275.

After the castle was surrendered to the English in 1296, King Edward the 1 of England stayed at the castle. In 1306, Scottish forces led by Robert Wishart attacked the English garrison at the castle and besieged it. Wishart was captured by the English at Cupar.

In 1308 the Warden of Cupar Castle, Sir Thomas Grey was ambushed on his way back from Edwards 11’s coronation by a follower of Robert the Bruce called Walter de Bickerton. Although heavily outnumbered, Thomas routed Bickerton’s men through the use of cavalry charges and by deceiving his enemy that they were greater in number than they really were.

In May 1336 English forces, led by John de Strivelyn, relieved the English forces occupying the castle after driving away the Scottish forces, led by Sir Andrew Murray, that were besieging the castle. The castle was surrendered by the English constable Sir William Bullock in 1339.

The court of the Stewart of Fife sat at the castle until 1425.

I passed Kilmaron Castle (ruin).  Kilmaron lies about 2 miles outside Cupar but was not really a castle in the true sense of the word, since it was a manor house built in 1820 to the designs of James Gillespie Graham (1776 – 1855) for the Dundee textile manufacturer Sir David Baxter (1793 – 1872). since it is in the middle of a farmers land and although I passed within yards of it, I give it a miss.

Cupar was quiet and I moved fast up through the town and turned off onto the A913 and started my long climb up to Kilmaron Farm. The road was pretty sheltered so I never saw the computer drop below 9 mph, which I felt was good considering the hill. The unclassified road marked Moonzie, is only a few yards further on and as soon as I turned off onto this road the crosswind hit me, the homeward journey was going to be hard work.  On reaching Lordscairnie Castle there was a big notice on the field gate to tell me it was private land and not to enter. What? After coming all this way? You must be joking!

Lordscairnie Castle, an L-shaped tower-house was one of the castles of the Lindsay Earls of Crawford, and was in their possession by the mid-fourteenth century.  It is most likely the fifth earl who built such a fine castle as this was in its day. He was far less picturesque than his predecessor the fourth earl (Beardie) that history was rather fond of, and supposedly one of the ghosts who haunt Glamis Castle.

Lordscairnie was entered at the base of the stair tower, and the doorway was afforded protection by what is known as a machicolation at the wall-head; that is a projection through which missiles (or boiling oil) could be dropped on unwelcome guests. The original building had five stories including an attic. The rooms (all but the great hall) were large enough to be subdivided by a party wall. The castle was originally enclosed by a courtyard wall, but of this, only the single round tower of a gatehouse remains.

The long climb out of Cupar into a biting headwind saw the computer drop below double figures for the second time today and it did not really recover all the way back into St Andrews. Strangely enough, I met up with the two cyclists that I had seen struggling out of Cupar, they were now breezing along the cycle track and I was the one making heavy weather of it.  We exchanged greetings. All in all a good ride.

After reading ‘the wee castle tour’ a friend sent me this e-mail. My memories, as a small boy going off camping with dad to the berries fields of Fife, the berries picking, during the fair fortnight, I seem to remember through much more colourful spectacles, Then again the lad is now in his nineties, so was possibly talking of a time before the war when things were no good, much unemployment in Scotland.

Walter. Thanks for the memories and the interesting photos, the castle at Dairsie is owned by a syndicate and closed to nonmembers. If you are on the main road Leuchars to Cupar passing through Dairsie there’s an Inn on the left, turning left passed the inn, the road leads towards the river. Many moons ago dad and I camped near the river (source of drinking water) along with a friend of dads, John Mac Phial and his family, no facilities were provided. We were there to pick raspberries all for much-needed money. 8.0-5 0 each day sall meal cooked by dad on an open fire. Midweek dad left the field early (farmer not happy) I had to stay in the field picking, dad walked into Cupar and back for bread, sausages, and tatties. We picked berries for a week, every penny made was a prisoner. On Friday, we were due to return home, dad filled a lugy, (small pail) with the best berries and sealed the top. We sneaked in passed the grieve man to the tent, where it was hidden in dad’s kit bag till we cleared the farm field. To save money we walked into Cupar to catch a bus for home. Back home mum turned the berries into raspberry jam, the homemade jam lasted a long time through the winter months.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: