The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

 I woke at 5 am, again at 6.10, and 6.25, this is hopeless may as well get up. Fussed around, checking everything I would be taking with me, then checking it again. Out to the van to get the bike out, check that over although it had been serviced only yesterday. 

It is always the same all the planning, research, preparation yet when it comes down to the start line, the butterflies start. Cycled around to the bus station for the 8.55 bus, only three people waiting. Onboard I picked up a Metro newspaper and settled in, the butterflies took flight. I did read that one of the early signs of dementia is the loss of smell, if you can not smell a rose or onion then you are in trouble, (I think you must be bad if you can not smell an onion). I had my Kindle with me so read a few more chapters of Royal Flush to while away the miles.

The weather forecast was for overcast skies and a 7-12 mph wind from the west-southwest. It was hot and sticky and windless as I disembarked from the bus in Kincardine and peddled my way towards my first abbey at Culross.

Longannet Power Station

Construction of the Kincardine power station began in the mid-1960 2.5 miles downstream from the existing Kincardine power station, I heard a lot about its construction from my brother, an apprentice served joiner, who found work there as a shuttering joiner, near the start of construction. The 74 acres site was reclaimed from the River Forth using ash from the Kincardine station. Longannet began generating electricity in 1970, with a design lifespan of 30 years and was in full operation by 1973, at that time Longannet was the largest coal fired power station in Europe, with a generating capacity of 2,400 megawatts.

It 1990 the electricity industry, along with much else was privatised by the then Tory Government under Margaret Thatcher, and would now have to pay the National Grid, £40 million connection charges, due, they said, the distance from the South of England, although it was very much in the centre of Scotland to which the National Grid also supplied electricity. Under the UK Transitional National Plan, that place limits on the sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulates emissions, the plant tested additional technologies that could have permitted it to operate beyond 2020 under the EU industrial Emissions Directive, but it was all too little, too late to safe Longannet and it was finally closed on 24th March 2016. at the time of its closure it was the third largest, after Belchatow in Poland and Drax in England, and the 21st most polluting. Longannet’s massive chimney stack that stood 600 feet (183m) in height, was a landmark that dominated the skyline of the Forth, there were no cooling towers normally associated with such power station Longannet instead used water from the River Forth.

When fully operational the plant burned a staggering 4,500,000 tonnes of coal each year, delivered by road, rail or straight from the Longannet mines, that was established in 1960s and built on the north side of the River Forth and east of Kincardine. The mine connected with the Bogside, Castlehill and Solsgirth collieries forming a single, five mile long tunnel. The coal was delivered from the power station’s storage area, with a capacity of 2,000,000 tonnes, and from there transported by conveyor belt to the boiler house at a capacity of 3500 tonnes of coal per hour. Longannet’s four boilers each consumed around 250 tonnes of coal per hour and produced 1800 tonnes of 168 bars high pressure steam per hour, that in turn drove the 300 MW General Electric Company turbo generators, for all its size its thermal efficiency was never better than 37%.

Blair Castle was like a five-star hotel where retired miners could go each year for a fortnight, my mum and dad looked forward to going each year. Just up the road from the home was the Valleyfield pit, the last place my father worked. He was a Deputy (sort of underground safety officer) and so was in junior management, this put him on a monthly salary and entitled him to join the Superannuation scheme. The money would be taken from his pay each month and when he retired it paid out as an extra pension. On his death, mum received 50% of the original pension for the remainder of her life. I was mum’s carer for the last years of her life, and each month she would receive confirmation from the pension scheme, to tell her that a further £200.00 had been paid into her bank account. Each time she received such notification she would say “Your dad is still looking after us”.

Culross next stop. Culross Abbey is found at the top of a very steep hill that can only be walked up because the road is made up of huge round stones set into the surface. However, it is well worth the climb.

The legend of Culross,

When the princess, daughter of the king of the Lothians, became pregnant out of wedlock, her family threw her from a cliff. She miraculously survived the fall and found herself alongside an unmanned boat. With no way back she pulled herself on board, whereupon the boat proceeded to sailed her across the Firth of Forth and beached itself at the shore of Culross. Mother and child were now cared for by Saint Serf; who become foster-father of her son. The boy would later become Saint Kentigern of Mungo, his mother St Teneu.

Culross Abbey, the earliest of two abbeys in Fife.

The Cistercian monks were established in Citeaux in Burgundy (eastern France) and were a rather austere order. St Bernard joined the order in 1112 and it is from this date forward that the order saw its greatest expansion. The first Cistercian house founded in Scotland was at Melrose in 1136. Culross came into being in 1217 founded by Malcolm, earl of Fife, it was a daughter house of Kinloss in Moray, itself a daughter house of Melrose.

The Cistercian cut themselves off as much as possible from the world outside. Work around the abbey was carried out by illiterate lay brethren, seems strange that the Cistercians should agree to settled in Culross, a township with its own parish church already in existence. Excavation suggests that the abbey was built over the remains of an earlier community that of St Serf.

The central belt of Scotland lies on huge coal deposits and by the 16th and 17th century Culross was a town that thrived on the coal under its feet. In 1575 a pit was sunk here and would became the first pit to be established in Scotland, and in 1595 the Moat Pit became the first pit in the world to extend under the sea. The coal was not brought back onto the land but a large circular tower was built on a small outcrop off shore and the coal shipped from there. The Moat Pit was destroyed in a storm on 30 March 1625. Sir George Bruce of Camock, with the wealth from the coal built the Palace of Culross and established the family monument that stands in the north transept of the Abbey church.

One other industry that sprung up along the Fife coast was salt panning. It was the abundance of coal that made it possible. Large iron pans would be flooded with sea water and fires lit under them to evaporate the water, leaving the salt behind, this was a very lucrative trade salt being needed for a variety of industries from cloth dying to fish packing, and was the third biggest export from Scotland at that time. Coal and salt out and returning ships would ballast there holds with Dutch roof tiles, they were the corrugated iron of their day, and can still be seen on many roofs along the Fife coat. The town of Culross declined as a port from the 18th century and by Victorian times it was a backwater. The harbour itself was filled in and the sea cut off by the coastal railway.

During the 20th century, Culross was recognised as being a bit special with so many unique historical buildings and preservation and restoration work started in 1930 is still ongoing.

Just outside the town is the 18th century Dunimarie Castle. Built by the Erskine family to replaced the original medieval castle. Dunimarie Castle was the home of Mrs Magdalene Sharpe Erskine, the only surviving daughter of the late Sir William Erskine of Torrie Baronet. She was born in 1787 and died in 1872. in 1853 she decided to turn Dunimarie Castle into a museum, as she was heir to her brother’s collection of furniture and paintings. I visited the castle a long time ago, and what I remember most was the abundance of fine French furnishings. Sir James Erskine 3rd Baronet had a vast collection of French furniture and Dutch paintings, having bought much of his collection in Paris in 1815, where he was on Wellington’s staff. The French furniture collection came from Cardinal Fesch, the brother of Napoleon’s mother.

The uniqueness of the town has made it a magnet for film-makers, from Kidnapped in 1971 to the filming of Outlander, starting August 2014.

I pressed on into Dunfermline, I was really feeling strong and peddling well. Entering the Glen it was swarming with people, you could not get another car in the car-park if you tried, the fine weather had brought them out like Livingston Daisies. I had noticed the same at Culross, lots of cyclists too. They are going to take it ill out when the Furlough money stops, and they have to go back to work, those that have jobs to go back too.

Dunfermline

It was Malcolm 111, known as Canmore (1057 – 1093) that established Dunfermline as his home and capital. Heavily wooded land high above the River Forth made it ideal for defence and hunting. There was a Pictish or Celtic settlement, with a church, already in existence, it was in that same church that Malcolm and Margaret, a cousin of Edward the confessor, were married.

Malcolm was credited for bringing about the federation of Pictish kingdoms in Scotland, Malcolm Canmore is also attributed with the introduction of surnames.

Margaret his wife was a very pious woman, it is said that she gave up her wish to enter a nunnery in favour of her marriage to Malcolm. And if half of the way history paints her is true she must have been a religious pain in the bottom. It was Margaret that brought the Celtic Church into line with the Church of Rome, with regard to Lent and Easter. She schooled the court in civility and encouraged the fashion of wearing brighter clothing at court.

The Benedictine priory established in Dunfermline, along with the priory on the Isle of May were the beginning of monastic life in Scotland. In the early 12th century David 1 re-established his mother’s small Benedictine priory as a full abbey in the Romanesque style. This was to be the family mausoleum. Margaret died a few days after her husband and son in 1093, and following her death she was canonised, Saint Margaret.

The Canmore Dynasty ended with the premature death of Alexander 111. Whist returning home from meetings at Holyrood (Edinburgh), to the castle at Kinghorn. Alexander fell to his death over the clifftop at Kinghorn. Tragedy heaped on tradition, the only successor to the crown of Scotland was his infant granddaughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway, who died whilst on her way to take up her rightful place as Queen of Scotland. From this point on Scotland’s fate lay in the hands of the ruthless Edward 1 of England leading to the Wars of Independence.

The Stuart Dynasty that came after made frequent use of the Royal Palace of Dunfermline, up until the 17th century. Dunfermline was gifted by James V1 to his wife Anne of Denmark as part of her Wedding Gift and many improvements at the Palace and abbey were carried out at her instigation. Charles 1 and his sister Elizabeth were born in the Palace, however, after the restoration of the crown on the death of Cromwell, Dunfermline like many of the Royal Palaces in Scotland became redundant.

The Abbey saw many visitors including King Robert the Bruce and Edward 1 who stayed in the Monastery in 1303/04, whether by design or accident the Monastery was set alight when he left. Royal visitors, and their entourage, and pilgrims, brought much industry and money into the towns coffers. The Cathedral would have been a much different place to the one we see today. Inside the walls would have had plastered panels covering the walls on which would have been painted over with scenes of biblical stories in bright gaudie colours. Likewise many of the building around the abbey would have whole gables painted in a similar manner, to those painted gables we see in parts of Ierland today.

Dunfermline’s other claims to fame and favourite sons.

Andrew Carnegie was born in a weaver’s cottage in Moodie Street on 25th November 1835. This was a turning point for hand-weaving in Dunfermline, when weaving sheds were introduced and soon after steam driven looms. Bad enough that the weavers lost their livelihood, but mill owners took on women in preference to man. The new faster steam driven looms, where dexterity was called for was much better suited to women. This insighted riots and troops were sent from their barracks in Edinburgh to quell the mob. A few hand-weavers turning out a high quality linen did survive for a while after the introduction of the mills, but the days of the weaver were over and Carnegie’s father William sold up and in 1848, and moved the family to Pittsburgh, the rest as they say is history.

There were six large mills established during the hay-days of the linen weaving. The most successfully mill by far was owned by Erskine Beveridge his factory at its zenith housed 1000 looms and continued until 1990. The office block was also a sales office. He introduced showrooms, much like house builders today have show homes for perspective clients to visit, there buyers could see the mill’s linen goods set out as they would appear in a domestic setting. Although the factory has gone the warehouse and office block still remained now converted into desirable (sales agents code for expensive) flats.

Visitors to the town will find plenty to interest, the Louise Carnegie Gates at the entrance to the Glen. Made from elaborate wrought iron these gates are a bit special. Lookout for the images of small birds, animals and flowers discreetly hidden within their decoration.

A highly ornate doocot located on the north perimeter of the park is though to have been built in the 18th century.

Down the Glen you will find a double bridge, the second built on top of the original to help flatten out the road. The bridge below would have been the only one over the Tower Burn and the favourite walk of Queen Margaret. One day whist crossing the bridge she dropped her Book of Hours that fell into the water below. When retried it was bone dry. This is said to be the first miracle associated with Margaret.

Pittencrieff House, in the park is a 17th century mansion, the former home of Brigadier General John Forges. The story attached, is that the owner did not like all the merchants, pilgrims and beggars passing his door every day and offered to pay the cost of diverting the road to what is now Bridge Street, I’m not sure he had in mind the pulling down of the City Chambers and erecting a new one in its place as part of the deal, but that is what happened. A bridge was constructed over the Tower Burn, giving Bridge Street it name, and the new City Chambers was opened in 1879 it replaced the 17th century building. Our man filed for bankruptcy.

St Margaret’s Cave, this is situated in the new car park in Chalmers Street. Before the car park was created and the ravine backfilled, St Margaret’s Cave was on the banks of the Tower Burn, as I remember it when a boy. Margaret is said to have walked along the path from Malcolm’s Tower to the cave when she wished to pray in solitude. The cave was decorated ‘suitable for its purpose’ as an act of penance by Malcolm for doubting her reason for visiting the cave.

As you travel up the High Street from the City Chambers, look up, you will see attics above the shops with very large windows. These were the studios of the pattern designers who made the patterns for the high quality damask linen manufactured in Dunfermline. The damask looms were brought over to Scotland by the Huguenots who had fled the Low Countries to Edinburgh, to avoid persecution. They kept their damask looms secret but one James Blake, a weaver from Dunfermline, went to their premises in Edinburgh and acting the daft laddie, around their workshop enabling him to gleam enough to build his own loam. With this knowledge he set up shop in the old ruined pens of the Abbey. By default he saved the weaving industry in Dunfermline.

I headed down the back road into Inverkeithing

Inverkeithing,

It is well documented that Inverkeithing was around at the time of Agricola, when he journeyed to Northern Scotland, back to AD 83, and well established by the 5th century. A church was founded here by St Erat, a follower of St Ninian. Inverkeithing was mentioned in the foundation charter of Scone Abbey, granted by Alexander 1 in 1163 as Innirkeithin and again in Pope Alexander 111’s summons of the clergy of the British Isles to the Council of Tours.

One of first royal burghs in Fife (early 1160) gave Inverkeithing particular legal and trading privileges, (it would have been able to charge a tax on imports and exports). And situated at the narrowest crossing of the River Forth with a sheltered bay, made it the choice for the King to grant it that status.

The town was also the last place that Alexander the 111 was seen before he fell to his death from a steep rocky embankment at Kinghorn in 1286.

Edward 1 of England (Longshanks) stayed in Inverkeithing on 2 March 1304 whilst travelling from Dunfermline to St Andrews, during the First War of Independence.

Around the mid 12th century a Franciscan friary was established in Inverkeithing, and today there are still the remains of what would have been the gatehouse above-ground. In the friary garden are the remains of the original stone vaults, possibly used for storage. Inverkeithing would have been a convenient stopping off point for pilgrims on their way to Dunfermline and St Andrews, and would have help swell the town’s coffers.

Inverkeithing would have had a wooden palisade, but the town was one of only a few towns to have 4 stone ports (gates) to control people and goods in and out, so that taxes could be collected, in 1515 the wooden palisade was replace by a stone wall, the remains of which can still be seen on the south side of Roman Road.

As a thriving medieval bough, Inverkeithing held weekly markets, trading in wool, fleece, hide, a hub of trade for the whole of Scotland. Along with the weekly market the town had five annual fairs, and a fair is still held there annually, that closes off the town to traffic during the fair week, (continued under charter) although today it is travelling showmen and not a trading fair as such.

In 1654, Joan Blaeu mentioned Inverkeithing as “formerly a flourishing market” in his Nova Fifae Descripto, but by the 17th century plague and war had reduced it into poverty.

In 1621 six Inverkeithing women were tried for witchcraft in the Tolbooth, and between 6121 and 1652, at least 51 people were executed for witchcraft. The high numbers are attributed to the Rev. Walter Bruce, a known witch hunter, minister of St Peter’s. Bruce was a leading light in the Great Scottish witch hunt of 1649 to 1650. However the outbreak of cholera and famine during those years would have contributed, scared people will put their trust in any savoir, albeit that trust totally unfounded. The place of execution was Witch Knowe, a meadow to the south of the town and within the Hope Street Cemetery.

The battle of Inverkeithing

Oliver Cromwell had come north to quell the Scots still royal to the King, and it was here, on the Queensferry peninsula that the Battle of Inverkeithing took place on the 20th July 1651. This was a particularly brutal battle, a well equipped, well fed, well paid and well disciplined modern army under the command of Major-General John Lambert, had landed on the north side of the river at Cruickness south of Inverkeithing Bay and took up position on Ferry Hills. Pitted against them the royalist forces under the command of David Leslie, it was a rout the battle spreading all the way to Pitreavie on the far side of Inverkeithing. It was reputed that the Pinkerton Burn ran red with blood for days and the heaps of dead resembled stooks in a harvest field.

The invasion of the Kingdom of Scotland following the Third English Civil War, was an attempt by the English Parliamentarian forces to outflank the army of Scottish Covenanters, Loyal to Charles 11 at Stirling and gain access to the north of Scotland. This would be the last major engagement of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and led to Scotland passing into Cromwell’s control. There is a memorial cairn at Pitreavie to the Clan Maclean. It is said that of the 800 Maclean clansmen who fought in the battle, only 35 survived.

Inverkeithing’s fortunes did not change until the 18th century when industry replaced fishing, and by the late 18th century the town had a foundry, distillery, a brewery, tan works, soap works, a salt pan and timber works.

By the 19th century quarrying, engineering and shipbuilding were major industries in the area, By 1870, engineering and shipbuilding had ceased, and the harbour lost freight traffic to the railway so that for the first time Inverkeithing was not on a through route for freight. The opening of the Forth Bridge in 1890, however, led to a surge in incomers and new building. By 1925, quarrying remained a major operation, and whilst the saltworks, distillery, iron foundry and sawmill were no longer in operation, a successful papermaking industry developed at the harbour. Then came Thos W Ward ship-breakers, still in operation today as a metal recycling facility.

then quickly on to North Queensferry, this stopping for picture taking was eating up the time.

North Queensferry

Margaret, with her brother Edgar the Aetheling, came ashore at what is now know as St Margaret’s Hope a bay to the west of Queensferry, she was Hungarian by birth and had come to the lands of Picts in 1068, to marry king Malcolm 111 of Scotland. Margaret had boarded a boat over on the south side then rowed across the river. It is reputed that she established the village on the north shore in order to ensure a safe and regular ferry service for passage, travellers, and pilgrims alike to make the journey, this gave rise to the village being named, North Queensferry. However, a settlement around the present village had been long established before that time. These narrowest on the Firth of Forth, would have been the natural point of crossing and a vital link to the north of Scotland for centuries before the Queen’s Ferry was established.

Anyone travelling from the north of Scotland who had business in Edinburgh, would either have to cross at Stirling or at Queensferry. The ferry would know no rank, from pilgrims, cattle drovers and their beasts, Kings, noblemen on their way to Edinburgh Castle would all have use the ferry. Mary, Queen of Scots, we know, was taken over the River Forth at this point on her way to Loch Leven Castle and imprisonment in 1565.

The oldest building in the village is the 14th century Chapel of St James (‘the Greater’ patron saint of pilgrims) founded by Robert the Bruce in around 1320-1323 and abandoned after the reformation. Later In the 18th century the land on which the chapel once stood became the cemetery of North Queensferry Sailors’ Society. very little remains standing today. The graveyard walls carry an inscription: “This is done by the sailers in North Ferrie 1752” The chapel was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s men in 1651.

The railway Pier, was the terminus for the ferry for many years, it was designed by John Rennie and built between 1810 and 1813. and in 1817 the harbour gained The Harbour Light Tower: until then the Signal House had been used for navigation.

When larger steam-powered ferries with a deeper draught came into service, the Town Pier was extended the work carried out under Thomas Telford in 1828. during the 19th century an alternative crossing came into operation between Burntisland and Granton and by 1870 there was increase calls for a bridge to be built over the Forth. The work on a bridge to carry rail traffic over the Forth commenced in 1883, under the supervision of Benjamin Baker and John Fowler, at its peak four thousand men were employed on the building of what has become the iconic Forth Rail Bridge. The bridge was opened to great fanfare on the 4th March 1890 by the then Duke of Rothesay (later to become King Edward V11).

The ferry crossing continued and year on year the number of cars using the crossing increased and by 1960 the Queen’s ferry was handling over two million passengers a year and over six hundred thousand motor vehicles. A road bridge was needed.

The very last commercial ferry to cross the Queen’s Ferry was from Hawed Pier (South Queensferry) on the evening of 3rd September 1964, and docked at North Queensferry shortly thereafter. The following day Queen Elizabeth 1 of Scotland and 11 of England, opened the new Forth Road Bridge. the Queen’s Ferry, up until then, had been in constant use for at least the last 800 years.

You do not have to look far to find building dating back to the 18th century. Houses in the Main street and Post Office Lane are dated 1693 and 1776 respectively. Brae House and White House also in the Main Street are dated 1771 and 1778 and have a sundial on the first floor level. At the Pierhead stands a small hexagonal Light Tower, (moved here from the Tower House in 1817). close by is the Tower House itself, this was originally the old ferry office. In the 19th century passengers awaiting the ferry would shelter in the ground floor the Superintendent had his office on the first floor above.

As you leave North Queensferry by The Brae, you will pass the Waterloo Memorial, and well, this is a bell-shaped stone dated 1816. a watering stop for horses. Also on The Brae are pantiled cottages with forestairs, and the Old Schoolhouse, built in 1827.

We are now onto Ferryhills Road, that will lead us into the village of Jamestown. The road skirts the edge of a redundant quarry, (worked out) and there is still a viewing platform to look down into the old workings. There was another worked out quarry nearby and the pool that was created has been repurposed as Deep Sea World.

The last real diversion from the main road came at Dalgety Bay to visit St Bridget’s Kirk, you have to go along a part of the Fife Coastal Path to get there. You get a good view of Inchcolm island on which the Abbey of Inchcolm is found. The sun was now well over the yardarm I had to push on.

Aberdour

There is evidence of human activity going back 4,000 years in the area of Aberdour from carvings on the Binn. The Roman commander Agricola used the natural harbour and set up camp at the nearby Dunearn Hill in AD 83.

Aberdour Castle, lies in Easter Aberdour, it started life as a small Hall House overlooking the Dour Burn in the 13th century, it is now a semi-ruin, but worthy of note as it is one of the earliest surviving stone castles in mainland Scotland. It was extensively added to over the next 400 years, and the parts that are still roofed where the work of Earl of Morton and done in a renaissance style, the architectural ideas of that age, the second half of the 16th century. A fire in the late 17th century was followed by some repairs, but in 1725 the family purchased the 17th century Aberdour House, on the west side of the burn (Wester Aberdour) and the medieval castle was allowed to fall into relative decay. Aberdour Castle is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. After a period of dereliction Aberdour House was developed for residential use in the early 1990s.

St Fillan’s Church

Nearby is St Fillan’s Church and one of the best-preserved of all the 12 century churches in Scotland.

Aberdour railway station, is a beautifully kept and cared for example of a traditional station, and anyone of my generation will remember all railway station were much like this.

The Shore Road will lead you to the West Sands and the Harbour. We as children would, on occasion, travel to the Silver Sands for a day out, it would be the highlight of our week, and still seems as much an attraction for youngsters and old alike today.

At Hawkcraig pier there is still the old Radio Hut where radio controlled torpedoes were being developed and tested during World War One.

Aberdour obelisk was built by Lord Morton on his departure to take up residence in Edinburgh, it was built so that he could see his former hometown from his new abode, he must have had powerful binoculars.

Burntisland

In the 12th century the monks of Dunfermline were the owners of the harbour and surrounding lands, the settlement was known as Wester Kinghorn and developed as a fishing hamlet to provide food for the inhabitants of Rossend Castle. The harbour was sold to James V by the abbots of Dunfermline Abbey in exchange for a parcel of land.

The land was granted royal burgh status by James V in 1541. The status was confirmed in 1586 giving the settlement independence from the barony of Kinghorn and was renamed at that time Burntisland. The town became so well established that a new Burntisland Parish Church, know as St Columba’s was built in 1592, the first parish church to be built in Scotland after the Reformation.

St Columba’s is unique being square with a central tower upheld on pillars, and lined all round with galleries to allow the greatest number of people to be reached by the minister’s words during the service. Inside is a rare collection of 17th and early 18th century woodwork and painting. In 1601 King James V1 chose the town as an alternative site for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This was when a new translation of the bible was first discussed, a project which James brought to fruition a decade later in the King James Bible.

The town was part of the land of Dunfermline belonging to Ann of Denmark. In April 1615 there was a riot against one of her legal officers by a crowd of over a hundred women who took his letters and threw stones at him. The rioters were “Of the bangster Amasone kind” led the wife of Baillie of Burntisland according to the Chancellor Alexander Seton, 1st Earl of Dunfermline, who supposed the women were acting at the instigation of the townsmen including the minister Mr William Watson.

Burntisland developed as a seaport, being second only to Leith in the Forth, and shipbuilding became an important industry in the town. In 1622 a leaking Spanish ship entered the harbour and promptly sunk. The crew said they were whalers, and they had whaling equipment, but the town baillies were suspicious and imprisoned the officers in the tolbooth and put the rest under house arrest, under suspicion of piracy. The lawyer Thomas Hamilton arranged their release, arguing they had committed no crime and there was peace with Spain at the time.

In 1633 a barge, the Blessing of Burntisland, carrying Charles 1 and his entourage’s baggage for Burntisland to Leith sunk with the loss of Charles’ treasure.

Burntisland was held by the Jacobite army for over two months during the rising Known as the Fifteen. The jacobites first of all raided the port on the 2nd October 1715, capturing several hundred weapons, then occupied in on 9th October. They held it until it was recaptured by the Government on the19th December.

In September 1844 a new pier was completed to form a ferry link to the new harbour at Granton Edinburgh. I have actually crossed the Forth on that ferry with my dad. This was still a time of herring and coal and Burntisland played its part in that trade.

1847 saw the opening of the Edinburgh and Northern Railway opened from Burntisland north to Lindores and Cupar. By 1850 the world’s first roll-on-roll-off rail ferry service was crossing the Forth, between Burntisland and Granton, enabling goods wagons to travel between Edinburgh and Dundee , without the need for unloading and re-loading at the ferries, (passengers however had to disembark and use a separate passenger ferries). Teh ferry was in operation until 1890 when the Forth Bridge opened. In the late 19th century, the area experienced a short-lived boom in oil shale mining and processing at the Binnend Works.

In 1918 shipbuilding was founded at the West Dock as an emergency shipyard for the First World War, specialising in cargo ships. In 1929 the yard introduced the “Burntisland Economy” steamship, which designed to maximise fuel economy. The popularity of the design helped the yard to survive the Great depression.

During the Second World War the yard contained to concentrate on economy ships but also built three Loch Class frigates HMS Loch Killin, HMS Loch Fyne and HMS Loch Glendhu. By 1961 the shipyard had 1,000 workers but in 1969 the shipyard closed and sold to Robb Caledon of Leith.

Robb Caledon was able to secure orders to the yard to build modules for the North Sea Oil and natural gas industry, and formed Burntisland Engineering Fabricators. Towards the end of the 1970s these orders too declined and in 1978 Robb Caledon was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders and in 1979 Burntisland yard was closed.

In 1990 and under new management Burntisland West Dock resumed production of major offshore oil and gas fabrications. A buy out by management in 2001 as Burntisland Fabrications or BiFab opening sites on the West Coast of Scotland and at Methil, Fife. Now again in trouble for the lack of orders.

I did not stop at Aberdour or Burntisland but pushed on only stopping off to take a picture of Monument that marks the place that Alexander 111 fell from his horse. This part of the journey is a wee bit lumpy but Suzi Quatro was doing a great job of keeping a good cadence with me.

I was feeling peckish so I pulled over near the harbour at Kirkcaldy and bought a sports orange drink, and since I deserved a wee prize for such sterling work, “Give than man a coconut – no coconuts, then a Bounty – he Bounty like them”. I retired to the harbour for lunch, the drink was nectar. I ate one of the two bars in the pack and put the other in my saddlebag for after “I wish it was after”.

Kirkcaldy – The Lang Toun

The main street in Kirkcaldy is 6.4 Km long and why it was given the title Lang Toun (or long town). The main street actually connects the old settlements of Linktown, Pathhead, Sinclairtown and Gallatown. In 1930 the formerly separate burgh of Dysart was also absorbed into Kirkcaldy.

Kirkcaldy has Bronze Age burial sites dating back to 2500BC and 500BC discovered in close proximity to the East Burn and north and west of the Tiel (west) Burn. Four dating form around 4000BC have also been found around the site of the unmarked Bogely or Dysart Standing Stone, (to the east of the present A92). Although there is little evidence of Roman occupation in Fife, a Roman camp was known to have existed at Carberry Farm on the outskirts of the town. with the first documentation referring to it as a town are from 1075, when Malcolm 111 granted the settlement to the church of Dunfermline. David 1 later gave the burgh to Dunfermline Abbey, Dunfermline Abbey succeed the church and officially recognised by Robert 1 (the Bruce) in 1327. In 1644, Charles 1 gave it independence from the abbey when he created Kirkcaldy as a royal burgh.

When the harbour was built at the East Bum the town quickly expanded as an important trading port. Trade at the time was salt, coal, mining and nail making, and by 1672 it was also manufacturing linen. What Kirkcaldy is most famous for was its floorcloth, than later in 1877 Michael Nairn went into producing Linoleum.

Anyone that remembers Kirkcaldy at that time will remember the pall that hung over the town, a smell you could not escape no matter where you were. M.R. Smith wrote the poem, Boy in the Train, the last line said it all. I ken m’se’l by the queer like smell that the next stops Kirkcaldy. By the 1960 linoleum had gone out of fashion, and the town went into decline, a decline that it never really recovered from and is now a shadow of its formal self.

Kirkcaldy’s favourite son was Adam Smith, social philosopher and economist, he wrote magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, at the time he lived in the town.

It is a long climb out of Kirkcaldy and over to Dysart, but an even harder climb up from Dysart harbour and back onto the main road, but I was still peddling well, I seemed to be getting stronger as the day progressed.

Dysart

There has been much speculation over the years about the origins of the towns name, according to the parish minister of 1793 and 1836 it was from the Gaelic “Dus-ard” meaning ‘the temple of the most high’ but the name may have derived form a word meaning a desert or place of solitude, and there is a cave near the church (now in the grounds of a Carmelite nunnery) which is traditionally associated with St Serf.

The coastal fringes of Fife were amongst the richer areas of Scotland, at one time, the churches that were still being built in Fife right up until the time of the reformation were highly ambitious buildings, and the church complex (now ruinous) here at Dysart fits that bill. The most impressive feature of the church was a tower, still standing, that rises through eight storeys to a remarkable height of 22.5 metres. In the top storey, a fireplace, so must have been habitable which is unusual for a church. A clue might be that the tower was originally designed to be defensible, having shot-holes for hand-held guns, very similar to those found at the nearby Ravenscraig Castle, both believed to have been built around the same time. Ravenscraig Castle was started in 1460, for James 11 and Queen Mary of Guelders. 1460

The small port is said to date back to 1450, exporting coal and salt, to the Low Countries. A man-mad harbour was eventually built, with limited space. The harbour was rebuilt in 1829-31 with the assistance of Robert Stephenson to include an inner basin with a nearby quarry at the harbour head and an extension of the east pier which would be raised and pointed southwards.

Salt had always supported Dysart, even during the bad times of the 17th century, (during the occupation by Oliver Cromwell (1651-1656), when many skippers were lost to the wars of covenanting, required for keeping fish fresh and exporting to the Netherlands and the Baltic Countries. The town had two nicknames, Salt Burgh and Little Holland, one because of the salt industry the other because of Dutch influence in Dysart’s buildings.

An 11 million pound scheme started by The Townscape Heritage Initiative and Conservation Area Grants scheme to regenerate Dysart’s Dutch influenced houses on the Pan Ha’, the six story St Serf’s Church Tower, Dysart Tolbooth was completed in 2014, all well worthy of a visit.

East Wemyss

A few miles further on and we come into East Wemyss, one of the many coal mining communities along the coast and (the place of my birth in Williams Street). I remember the pit bing of the Michael as a boy, with the track running up its slopping side and a row of lamps like street lights heading up to heaven. A fire, that took the life of nine men, saw the pit closed in 1967, they say, that underground the fires still burn to this day.

The old ruins of Mac Duff Castle, would have been my playground, once home to the Earl of Fife the most powerful family in the area in the middle ages and only yards from my house. Also exploring the caves on the seashore below the castle. Some of the caves show Pictish carvings, I believe Fife Council made a film about the caves to be show on their website.

One other memory from that time was the horse and cart that plied up and down the shore collecting sea coal, to burn in the gasworks at the Buckhaven end of the bay. When the ice-cold east winds blow, that would be the best time to gather the best sea coal on the beach, but you needed to be well wrapped up. The east winds were amongst the laziest of all the winds that blow around Fife, so lazy were they that they did not bother to go around you.

It was after 5 O’clock when I pulled into Leven.

Leven

Leven was the Pictish word for Flood and refers to Loch Leven nearby as a flood plane, and the River Leven that flows from it. There was a Pictish church (the scoyne) here on the Scoonie Brae. During the mid-11th century, Bishop Tuadal of St Andrews gifted the village along with the church to Bishop Robert of St Andrews following the decline of caldeen faith.

The first time we see mention of the town is in the 15th century, there are two separate records referring to the town of Levynnis-Mouth, today Levenmouth. Mostly it refers to how urgent repairs are required at the monastery and Georgie durie, the local estate owner becoming the keeper at the harbour.

In 1854 a spur line was built linking Leven and Thornton Junction on the Edinburgh – Aberdeen main line. This was instrumental in making Leven a tourist and day tripper haven. I certainly remember it as such in the 1950s, mostly visitors from the west coast, in particular Glasgow. The British Rail loop linking Thornton Junction and Leuchars Junction via St Andrews. The railway from Leven to St Andrews was closed down 1969 under cuts by the Westminster government, the link from Leven and Thornton Junction was closed to freight in 1966 and passengers in 1969. and greatly contributing to the demise of the town, turning it into a backwater. The line is still in place from Leven and Thornton Junction and there are plans in place to reopen the line.

A heritage railway has also been established near the Burnmill industrial estate, alongside the now disused Leven and Thornton branch line. Trains run along the track for half a mile, between April and October with Santa special in mid-December. The Fife Heritage Railway is the first of its kind, since the closure of Lochty Private Railway in 1992.

I sat on a seat in the car park next to the bus station, lots of new work going on. Should I press on or have I done enough, I was still feeling good and could easily have pushed on for a while yet, but it was getting late and clouds were gathering so when the Dundee bus appeared, my mind was made up for me, bus to Dairsie and short cycle home. I put my mask back on and went over to the station, bike in the boot of the bus and climb on board, only two others on the bus, must be costing the government a fortune to run empty buses around the country.

One thing I did not expect to see this early in the year was a combine working in a field, it was harvesting wheat. Back in the 1950s when I was a lad, farmers still used reapers and binders, we would walk behind, or close to the machine with a Hokey stick or something similar and when the rabbits ran from cover we would whack them with the stick, I loved Rabbit, sad that they started to spread Myxomatosis a virus that spread amongst the rabbit population at alarming speed. Dad would say “What goes around – comes around” maybe the rabbits are getting their own back on humans – coronavirus.

It was a sprint home along the cycle track, under the shower. It was not until I was sitting down with a cup of tea that the tiredness hit me, or is it old age? If the undertaker lets me I will take the X60 over to Leven and do the second stage of the trip, after today that will be a breeze. 

Much of the research was done weeks ago, the photographs were all taken on the trip today, (a bit rushed), The truth is it takes much longer to write this stuff than do the actual ride, but I hope it adds to the interest of the reader, I certainly get a lot of pleasure from doing the homework. Keep safe.

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