The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

I was a bit lazy this morning did not get on the road until 8.30 followed my usual route, Knock Hill Dairsie Mains and onto the A91 for Cupar. I stayed on the A91 all the way out to Bow of Fife then left for Letham. I once met a lad from Letham, he told me he was moving abroad, going to live with his daughter. “That will be nice for you” I replied “Where does your daughter live?” – “Edinburgh” he told me.

Monimail Tower, only a fraction of what must once have been a grand country residence of the archbishops of St Andrews. The main structure still standing was intended as a self-contained suite of rooms for the archbishop himself.

Built into one corner of a high walled courtyard. What strikes you right away is the elaborate detail of the tower. On the south side, there are traces of an imposing range, lit by large windows, which may have contained the main hall of the residence. Lining up with the remains of the curtain wall, some distance to the north, is the stump of a circular tower, with shot-holes which must once have overlooked the outer angles of the north-east corner of the courtyard.

Reputed to have been built by Cardinal David Beaton, who was archbishop between 1537 and 1546, and who was a great patron of architecture. The parapet has the date 1578, and the coat of arms of Sir James Balfour (who had acquired the property in 1564). the medieval residence was abandoned after the first Earl of Melville built Melville House nearby in about 1700, although the tower retained as a feature in the garden, (nice garden ornament).

You can go up into the tower all the way to the roof for some magnificent views all the way over to the Lomond Hills, and down into the walled garden below.

The upper room in the tower was fitted out with some furnisher and rug on the floor.

The room below was a small museum with artifacts from the first settlers in Fife and on the walls were the stories of those associated with the building itself. One thing I will say about living in a tower such as this, they are not child friendly, those stairs are a disaster for anyone under 7 and over 70.

Nearby was this home, built on a lorry trailer, the registration and plates were Polish and the trailer very reminiscent of trailers common on the continent (twin axils, close coupled and in the centre of the trailer) before articulated semi-trailers became the fashion.

I went off down the drive to Melville House just for a nose and found this rather beautiful treehouse, and some clever metalwork as a gate closer.

Next stop Fernie Castle and although only a few miles away, I found I was battling into the face of a strong headwind, oh no, help ma boab.

Fernie Castle was once the possession of the Fernie’s of Fernie, however, in 1510 it was granted to a man rejoicing in the name of Florentinus Adinulty, by James 1V. The conditions of the estate being granted left us with good insight into what was expected of the buildings around the residence of a laird. He must provide granary, byre, stable, and dovecot, together with orchards, gardens, beehives, hedges, and oak plantations.

Interesting that beehives should be part of the conditions, for often today you will come across beehive alcoves in boundary walls or the walls of old buildings. They did not have hives with movable frames at that time, so swarms would be collected in straw skeps and these would be placed in the alcove in the wall for protection from the weather. The bees would be killed off, or somehow persuaded to leave their hive at the end of the season and the honey collected

The castle itself (now serving as a hotel) is much as it would have been when Adinulty built it. A rectangular main block with the hall at the first-floor level and a circular tower, at the north-west angle. A square tower containing the entrance and stairway on the south-west angle. The castle was enlarged, when ownership returned to the Fernie’s in the later sixteenth century, by the addition of a fourth story. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries would see further additions, by which time the castle had passed to the Balfour family.

Again only a few miles farther on along the A92 Dundee road, which proved to be busy with heavy lorries and vans, then half a mile or so up an unclassified road lies Collairnie Castle, but I was battling to keep any kind of momentum in double figures so strong was the wind today.

Collairnie Castle, I loved this building with its crow-step gables and ornate turrets. There are lots of architectural details in this building just for decoration such as horizontal stringing and decorative moldings, around shot-holes, they’re to deflect the incoming shot. However, the finest features of the castle were two ceilings decorated with paintings of the coats of arms of the owners of the castle and their connections, (showing just how close-knit these Fife families were). At first sight, Collairnie Castle looks like a tower-house but this was in fact only a small part of what had been a considerably larger L-shape castle, which this tower was only a wing. On the lintel above the main entrance is the date 1581 which also has the initials of the owner carved into the stone, David Barclay and his wife Margaret Wemyss. Above the door, a gabled window has been inserted and it carries the date 1607 and the initials of Helen Balfour, the wife of the later David Barclay; this gable probably came from the main body of the building.

Back onto the A91 then at the crossroads, I turned onto the A913 for Cupar. The crosswind was killing on the long climb up from the crossroads and even once I crested the summit, now mostly downhill all the way into Cupar, I still struggled with the wind until Kilmaron Den. In Cupar I stopped in at Cupar Motorcycles (safe enough today for it was closed) for a wee seat on the wall to finish off the water in my bottle. The climb out of Cupar on what was by now weary legs was a killer, head down and keep the pedal turning, grinding away in low gears, actually I found when I reached home that the bike had not been out of the lowest ring on the front chain-set from leaving Cupar, it was tough riding today. This is why the French call TT (Time Trial) ‘The Race of Truth’ no place to hide, no peloton to shield you from the elements and tow you along with it until you are ready to make a dash for the line, no TT means you are on your tod.

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