Wednesday, 30 November 2011

BROUGHTY FERRY

Although Broughty Ferry is a suburb of Dundee, the residents clearly have an independent streak. It was recently reported that, after several years of trying and failing to be included in Dundee's annual Blues Festival, the Blues Bonanza, the pubs of Broughty Ferry are planning to hold their own festival over the same weekend (planned for the last weekend of June in 2012). I wish the good folk of Broughty Ferry well: sock it to 'em guys!

There should be plenty of incentive for music lovers to venture out to this part of the city, because it is a popular seaside resort, referred to as "the jewel in Dundee's crown". Its miles of pale-coloured sand proved a hit with the wealthy entrepreneurs who made their money from Dundee's textile industry and spent their money on homes in the area, causing it to become known as "the richest square mile in Europe". Long before their arrival, the settlement was home to fishermen whose homes clustered around the harbour. Next to the harbour is Broughty Castle Museum, housed in an imposing castle, built in 1496, which lords it over the mouth of the Tay. Other attractions include and arts and crafts complex called the Eduardo Alessandro Studios and Barnhill Rock Garden on the Esplanade.

Map of the area.

'Broughty Ferry beach' photo (c) 2005, carolsouthern - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

DUNDEE

The name Dundee conjures up sugar and spice and all things nice. One of my mother's favourite home-made cakes is Dundee cake, which not surprisingly originated in Dundee. What may be less well known, though, is that the earliest commercially made Dundee cakes were produced by a marmalade company called Keiller's, who can claim another first in that their marmalades are thought to have been the first commercial brand of marmalades. The story of how the marmalades first came about is an intriguing one. It is thought that in 1700 a Spanish ship carrying a cargo of oranges was forced to shelter from a winter storm in Dundee harbour. A local grocer called James Keiller bought up a large quantity of the oranges at a bargain price, but found them too bitter to sell as they were, so his clever wife dreamt up the idea of making them into a preserve to sell in pots, which were a roaring success. The company no longer exists, sadly, having been taken over by Robertsons. Sweet-toothed visitors to Dundee nowadays can console themselves with a visit to Shaws Dundee Sweet Factory, which produces hand-made sweets in a 1950s style workshop. Another trip down memory lane for those interested in industrial heritage is the Verdant Works, a 19th century restored jute and flax mill open to visitors, which tells the story of the city's former textiles industry.

Dundee, on the north bank of the River Tay, reachable from the south via the Tay Road Bridge, is Scotland's fourth-largest city. There is no shortage of historical and cultural interest in the city, with its 16th century Claypotts Castle, St Marys Church, which dates partly from the 14th century, and two historic ships: the frigate Unicorn, built at Chatham and launched in 1824, now berthed at Dundee's City Quay, and Captain Scott's research ship Discovery, built in Dundee, and now come home to rest at Discovery Point.

Culture vultures should head to McManus Galleries, where British and European paintings are on display as well as a local history exhibition, spread over eight galleries on two floors. Barrack Street Museum features natural history displays. The city is not short of open, green spaces. Dundee Law, a hill formed from volcanic rock 174 metres high, offers panoramic views over the city. Camperdown Country Park includes a wildlife centre and Templeton Woods. Other spaces include Clatto Country Park, the University Botanic Gardens and, this being Scotland, a sprinkling of golf courses.

For a list of events in Dundee, see here.

Map of the area.

'HMS Unicorn' photo (c) 2006, Robert Orr - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Monday, 28 November 2011

TENTSMUIR AND TAYPORT

The north-eastern corner of Fife appears on the map as a big splodge of green. This is Tentsmuir Forest, a mature pine forest whose shy inhabitants include red squirrels and roe deer. Waymarked trails have been laid out so that walkers and cyclists can explore the forest. The forest lies adjacent to huge sandy beaches just begging for long walks with the family dog. The Tentsmuir Point National Nature Reserve is a favourite sunbathing spot for the common and grey seals who live in the area, while the birdlife includes eiders and bar tailed godwits. Add to this the heather-covered dunes and a range of flora, and you have a diverse and constantly evolving habitat.

Thus we find ourselves at the mouth of the next major river on this side of the Scottish coast, the Tay. The estuary town of Tayport came about as a result of the ferry which was set up to service pilgrims making their way between St Andrews and Arbroath. The town has gone through several name changes in its time. By the time it had acquired the name of Ferryport on Craig in the 18th century, it had established textile and shipbuilding industries, and the attendant influx of people looking for work in these industries led to a growth in the town's size. Visitors might want to have a look at the town's website, which includes a map showing a selection of walks taking in some of the main points of interest. Tayport's Auld Kirk, although no longer used as a church, is well known for its wonky clock tower. For golf enthusiasts there is the Scotscraig Golf Club, the world's 13th oldest club.

Map of the area.

'IMG_0076' photo (c) 2007, Chris Pearson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Sunday, 27 November 2011

LEUCHARS

Earlier in this blog, I have made numerous references to communities falling foul of desperate economic times, with mines, factories, even whole industries disappearing as a result of Government policies and cuts. Sadly, Leuchars is about to become a victim of the present Government's "slash and burn" approach to the defence budget. After a desperate struggle to keep its RAF base, the town learned in July that the Typhoons which have been based there will to move to Lossiemouth, which is reckoned to have better facilities for them, and after this takes place, in 2013, the base will become an army barracks. A sad end for a base which during the Cold War was in the front line of the UK's air defences.

However, no amount of Government spending cuts can obliterate the town's heritage. The 12th century St Athernase Church has a beautiful and interesting tower and exterior with Norman arches, and inside are a number of relics, including part of a 9th century cross-slab found nearby. Leuchars used to have successive castles, but now only the mound on which they were built remains. As for the origins of the air base, this all started in 1908 when the War Office acquired land here for the purpose of testing "man-carrying kites", and this is what grew into one of the world's longest continuously operating airfields. Incredibly, the golfing mecca of St Andrews has no railway station nowadays (cuts again!) meaning that Leuchars station is the main point of arrival for golfing enthusiasts travelling by train.

Map of the area.

'RAF Typhoon FGR4 - DM/ZJ923' photo (c) 2010, Shandchem - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Friday, 25 November 2011

ST ANDREWS

In 2001 a young woman arrived at the 15th century University of St Andrews to start an art history course, little knowing that her attendance at the University would change her life forever. That young woman was Kate Middleton, and on the same course was the heir to the British throne, Prince William. The pair became friends, and romance soon blossomed, no doubt helped along by the beautiful surroundings and bracing sea air of this lovely corner of Scotland. Then, after an on-off relationship lasting some years, they finally delighted the world in April this year by getting married in Westminster Abbey. It is said that the University of St Andrews, one of Britain's oldest and most prestigious universities, has a particularly good track record when it comes to matchmaking, but this must be the most famous St Andrews pairing of them all.

Apart from academic excellence, the other thing St Andrews is famous for is golf. The British Golf Museum is located here, and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club is the world headquarters of golfing. The Old Course, dating from the 15th century, includes a right of way which crosses the 1st and 18th fairways called Granny Clark's Wynd. I have been unable to find out who Granny Clark was - perhaps someone could enlighten me. As if all that golfing isn't enough for the fresh air fiend, there are two magnificent beaches: West Sands and East Sands, the latter with a Leisure Centre.

The old medieval quarter of the city is stuffed full of ancient ruins and buildings. The 12th century ruined St Andrews Cathedral, is reached via a thoroughfare called South Street, which has narrow "rigs" (alleys) branching off it. The Cathedral tower can be climbed, giving magnificent views over the city. Nearby is the church and tower of St Rule, who is reputed to have brought St Andrew's bones to Scotland. The Town Hall is on the site of a former tollbooth, and has a number of relics from those times. The city's castle was built around 1200 and includes a bottle-shaped dungeon. The 16th century West Port was the old city entrance. The St Andrews Preservation Trust Museum, in converted fishermen's houses, tells the city's social history. Other attractions include an aquarium and the Victorian Botanic Garden.

For a list of events in St Andrews, see here.

For a map of the area, see here.

'St.Andrews' photo (c) 2009, Brian M Forbes - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Thursday, 24 November 2011

FIFE NESS AND CAMBO GARDENS

The long northern shore of the Firth of Forth, with its seemingly endless string of picturesque towns and fishing villages, culminates at the easternmost tip of Fife, Fife Ness. As well as a coastguard station and lighthouse, there is a wildlife reserve here which is a prime spot for observing migratory birds, with around 150 species recorded at this location over the years, arriving from 14 European countries. There is a coast path through grassland and wild flowers from where, as well as the migratory birds, puffins, gannets, eiders and terns can be seen. There is a cave on the shore of the Ness known as Constantine's Cave, after Constantine II, King of Alba, who is thought to have been killed by the Danes here in the 9th century. A bit further up the coast towards St Andrews is the Cambo Estate with its gardens with box hedges lilacs and roses. The gardens are a delight for snowdrop enthusiasts, with 70 acres of woodland carpeted with these delicate white harbingers of early Spring.

'Cambo snowdrops' photo (c) 2010, Maria Keays - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

CRAIL

Crail, the oldest of the burghs of the East Neuk of Fife, received a royal seal of approval in the 15th century when King James II of Scotland described it as "a fringe of gold on a beggar's mantle". And quite right too, because this is an exceptionally picturesque fishing village and popular tourist destination. Crail's fishing activities date back to the 12th century, as does its lovely old church, which unusually sports an exterior enhanced by patches of green vegetation. The medieval quarter of the town includes Marketgate, which was once the largest marketplace in Europe. The harbour is picture perfect, flanked by a jumble of pretty cottages. There used to be a castle to the east of the harbour, but its ruins were cleared away by a particularly zealous town council in 1706. Crail's Golfing Society was formed in 1786, making it the seventh oldest golf club in the world. Golfers using the course can luxuriate in the bracing sea air coming off the waves lashing the adjacent magnificent coastline. The Crail Museum and Heritage Centre tells the town's fascinating story.

To the north of the town is a disused aerodrome which has been turned into a Raceway. The airfield played an important part during the First World War, when it was a naval air station, and during the Second World War, when, as HMS Jackdaw, it provided a base for planes which took part in the final attack on the Tirpitz in 1944. In the 1950s there was a Joint Services School for Linguists, then the Royal Navy took over and renamed the base HMS Bruce.


Map
of the area.

'Crail' photo (c) 2010, candyschwartz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

ANSTRUTHER

One does not expect to find a grim reminder of the Cold War near an attractive Scottish seaside town, but that is exactly what awaits visitors to Anstruther. For over 40 years, a large bunker lay hidden underneath an assuming farmhouse 3 miles north of the town, its existence a closely held secret. Scotland's Secret Bunker is now on display as what must be one of the country's most unusual tourist attractions. Reached by a tunnel, the bunker covers an area of 24,000 square feet on two levels 100 feet underground. In the event of a nuclear alert, the bunker was designed to house senior ministers and military commanders. Visitors can view the dormitories, the command centres, and the equipment which was installed in order to facilitate some sort of continuation of governmental and military control in the event of an attack. There was even a studio installed for BBC staff to issue emergency announcements to the panic-stricken public.

Back in Anstruther itself, another museum, the Scottish Fisheries Museum, is housed in a handsome whitewashed building by the harbourside. The museum includes a large number of historic boats and a variety of buildings as well as a historic boatyard. The town is a delight to wander round, with a maze of narrow alleys and wynds (narrow paths). Although fishing has now largely given way to tourism, it is still possible to take sea angling trips. Another popular outing from the town is a boat-trip to the Isle of May, whose vast numbers of seabirds include the much-loved puffin, in fact this is one of the best places in the country to view these comical birds. The island also has the largest colony of grey seals on the east coast of Britain. The Scottish Seabird Centre has a webcam on its website so that wildlife enthusiasts can view the seals from the comfort of their living rooms.

Map of the area.

'Anstruther Fife' photo (c) 2008, SeaDave - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Monday, 21 November 2011

PITTENWEEM

With neighbours like Patrick Morton, who needs enemies? This 16-year-old son of a Pittenweem blacksmith unleashed hell among the locality in the early years of the 18th century when he spread unfounded rumours accusing several members of the community of witchcraft. His victims included Beatrice Laing, who was repeatedly tortured and eventually freed, only to die alone in St Andrews, and Thomas Brown, who starved to death in a dungeon. The worst fate of all, however, befell poor Janet Cornfoot, who was dragged to the seafront by a rabid mob, swung from a rope attached to a ship, stoned, beaten and crushed to death under a door weighed down with rocks. This terrible episode recently came to the attention of Australian folk artist Emily Barker, who was moved to write a song called Witch of Pittenweem for her new album, Almanac.

But today, such horrors are all but forgotten in this picturesque fishing village in the East Neuk (corner) of Fife, its bustling harbour lined with quaint cottages and inns. In an earlier post, I mentioned that "weem" comes from the Gaelic for "cave", and Pittenweem derives from "the place of the caves". One particular cave in the village came to be known as St Fillan's Cave, which the saint used as a chapel in the 700s. The harbour's expansion was largely down to Sir John Anstruther, who needed somewhere to ship out the coal and salt being extracted from his land. Each year in late July/early August Pittenweem holds an Arts Festival lasting for 9 days. Some 100 exhibitions are planned for the 2012 festival.

Map of the area.

'Pittenweem' photo (c) 2006, yellow book - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Sunday, 20 November 2011

ST MONANS

St Monans is a former fishing and boatbuilding village which now makes its living from tourism. As far back as 1915, it was reported in the Glasgow Herald that St Monans had designs on becoming a spa town to rival the likes of Harrogate and Tunbridge Wells, thanks to the iron content of the water in St Monans Well. The same article claimed that "visitors will find St Monans entirely indifferent to the war, and the attitude of the community towards the military requirements of the hour seems distressingly unpatriotic". Nowadays, however, the town is a magnet for yachting enthusiasts, while those interested in historical landmarks can visit the St Monans Windmill, built in the 18th century to pump seawater into coal-fired salt pans. Visitors can view displays which tell the story of the salt-panning industry, which died out in the 1820s. The Church of St Monan lies on one of the oldest religious sites in Fife, dating from at least the 9th century.

Map of the area.

'St. Monan's Church, Fife which is Gothic in design orginally planned to be cruciform in shape when built in the 14th century.' photo (c) 2010, Shandchem - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

EARLSFERRY AND ELIE

Skinny dipping is not a modern phenomenon, if the activities of Lady Jane Anstruther are anything to go by. The 18th-century beauty used to go bathing in the altogether in the bay at Elie, but in order to preserve her modesty she used to send a man round the streets ringing a bell to warn the townsfolk not to take a peek while she was going for her dip. She had a summerhouse built on Elie Ness at Ruby Bay, known as The Lady's Tower, which is still there, but is now a ruin. Also on the Ness is a white lighthouse built in 1908. Two other notable coastal features here are Chapel Ness with the remains of a chapel dating from 1093 and Kincraig Head, a volcanic plug with high basalt cliffs which attract a variety of butterflies and birdlife.

The old market town and ferry port of Earlsferry and the former fishing village of Elie are to all intents and purposes one place now. Earlsferry gets its name from the ferry which used to operate between here and North Berwick in medieval times, the "Earl" part of the name probably referring to the Earl of Fife. Elie's harbour dates back to 1582, but fishing has now given way to watersports. Of course, no resort in these parts would be complete without its golf course, and the course here has a particularly long history. The Golf House Club at Elie was established in 1875, but golf is believed to have been played here a far back as the 15th century. Elie Parish Church on the High Street was built in 1639, and the tower was added in 1726.

Map of the area.

'Elie from Earlsferry beach' photo (c) 2007, Andy Hawkins - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

LOWER LARGO

In 1676, in Lower Largo, one Alexander Selkirk was brought into the world, the son of a shoemaker. The boy grew up to become a sailor, and went on buccaneering expeditions to exotic South Seas locations. In October 1704, following a decision to desert a ship whose seaworthiness he had grave doubts about, he became a castaway on an island in the Juan Fernandez archipelago. It is believed that Selkirk was the inspiration for one of literature's most famous characters, Robinson Crusoe. Selkirk is commemorated by a statue in his home port.

This old fishing village on Largo Bay became popular with tourists on the arrival of the railway in 1856, although the railway is now gone, one of Dr. Beeching's victims. However, it remains popular especially with sailing and windsurfing enthusiasts. The adjoining resort of Lundin Links was developed by the Victorians, who established a golf course and gardens there. Towering over this area is Largo Law, which can be reached via a path from Upper Largo. This 952-foot high mound is actually an extinct volcano, a reminder of more turbulent geological times in Scotland's past. There are terrific views over the Firth of Forth from up here.

Map of the area.

'Lower Largo' photo (c) 2008, Katherine - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

BUCKHAVEN AND LEVEN

Originally settled by Norsemen, Buckhaven once had the second biggest fishing fleet in Scotland. Writing about the beach in his 1860 book "The Fife Coast from Queensferry to Fifeness", Henry Brougham Farnie noted that it was "a favourite resort of the inhabitants - the males to saunter about in nautical speculation combined with a pipe - the females to work at the nets and lines." He also observed that the women of Buckhaven were less gaudily dressed than their counterparts in Newhaven, wearing "an eminently practical arrangement of stout blue". The story of the town's fishing past is told in Buckhaven Museum. The town's theatre is housed in a converted church that was once located in St Andrews. The local fishermen bought the church in 1869, then dismantled it and brought it piece by piece to Buckhaven to be re-erected. Neighbouring Methil is home to a disused power station; its docks played an important role during World War II for moving coal and other resources.

Leven is a small resort but manages to pack in two golf courses, Leven Thistle Golf Club and Leven Links Golf Club. It has a broad sandy beach, and two lovely areas for walking, at Letham Glen with its woodland valley and at the Silverburn estate with a large formal walled garden surrounded by woodland. During the recent Halloween festivities, the local Sainsbury's petrol station in Leven caused quite a stir when it staged a fake murder scene, complete with an outline of the "body" on the floor and fake blood. People came flocking to the scene thinking that the murder was for real, and when the truth came out, a number of them complained about the joke being in bad taste.

Map of the area.

'Buckhaven Fife Coast3' photo (c) 2008, Jim Galt - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Monday, 14 November 2011

EAST AND WEST WEMYSS

The sandstone caves which are a feature of this stretch of the Fife coast are known in Gaelic as "weems", and this is where the name Wemyss comes from. West Wemyss used to be an important port for the transport of coal, but the 18th-century tollbooth is all that remains today. Wemyss Castle, which stands between East and West Wemyss is reputedly where Mary Queen of Scots met her second husband Lord Darnley. A beautiful garden has been established around the castle, which is open to visitors by prior arrangement. The forerunner of Wemyss Castle, the ruined MacDuff Castle is in East Wemyss. The aforementioned caves include a cave known as the Glass Cave, which used to house one of the country's earliest glassworks. A third settlement in the area is known as the Coaltown of Wemyss, which, as its name suggests, was established in order to provide housing for the local coalminers.

Map of the area.

'West Wemyss' photo (c) 2006, yellow book - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Sunday, 13 November 2011

KIRKCALDY

Kirkcaldy is also known as the “Lang Toun” or “Long Town”, and its main street is certainly that, at 4 miles long, linking the original Royal Burgh to several of the surrounding communities. The origin of the name Kirkcaldy is thought to be from the Pictish words Caer and Caled, meaning “place of the hard fort”. The area’s history stretches back to the Bronze Age, when the it was used for burial sites, but the real beginning of the town of Kirkcaldy was when it became a burgh under the control of Dunfermline Abbey. There are many fine historic sites and buildings to visit. The ruined Ravenscraig Castle overlooks the sea from its position in the clifftop Ravenscraig Park on the eastern edge of Kirkcaldy. The Old Kirk, consecrated in 1244 by the Bishop of St Andrews, ceased to be a place of worship in 2010, but was bought up by Kirkcaldy Old Kirk Trust, which aims to preserve its heritage and maintain it for community use. Apart from the Old Kirk, Kirkcaldy’s oldest building is the 15th-century Sailor’s Walk, now restored. Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery features paintings by Scottish artists as well as local pottery. Kirkcaldy was the birthplace of the architect and interior designer Robert Adam, while its political claim to fame is that the local MP is ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who grew up in the town and whose father was a Minister of the Church there.

The discovery of coalfields in the area and the arrival of the railway in 1847 led to the town’s port gaining in importance, having gone into a decline following its heyday in the 1600s. As is so often the case, all this economic activity dwindled away, although it was recently reported that the harbour is to welcome cargo ships again for the first time in over 20 years, in a partnership development which aims to reduce the number of lorries on the country’s roads. At the eastern edge of the town is the old port of Dysart, where tall ships used to bring cargo from the Netherlands. It is a picturesque quarter with narrow alleys and old buildings. Each April, Kirkcaldy plays host to one of the biggest street fairs in Britain, the Links Market. The market is believed to have started in 1304, giving traders, farmers and craftsmen the chance to showcase their wares. It was Edward I who, a year later, granted permission for the fair to be held annually. The event has now changed beyond all recognition, with fairground rides a prominent feature, and it has earned a reputation as the longest street fair in Europe, running for almost a mile along the esplanade.

Map of the area.

'Ravenscraig watchtower   This is Scotland' photo (c) 2009, Nigel Wedge - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Saturday, 12 November 2011

KINGHORN AND PETTYCUR

The harbours of Kinghorn and Pettycur are separated by a headland. Kinghorn Harbour is flanked by a curved sandy beach backed by mostly white buildings of varying heights along with the 13th-century Parish Church with its distinctive bell tower. The church has a “Sailors’ Aisle” with a model of the first Unicorn frigate. Set above a rocky shore between Kinghorn and Kirkcaldy is Seafield Tower, built in the 16th century and believed to have been five stories high.

Pettycur used to operate as a ferry port and at one time was the main crossing point for traffic heading north from Edinburgh. The “Edinburgh Almanack” from 1828 lists the sailing times: four times a day from Newhaven to Pettycur, and three times a day the other way. The accompanying rules and regulations stipulate that “passengers having carriages, horses, cattle or goods...must have them down to the Piers three hours before high water”. To the north of Pettycur is a hill called Witch Hill, where presumed witches were executed during the days of witch-hunting.

In March 1286, Scottish history changed course after Alexander III met his death while riding his horse above the cliffs at Kinghorn. It is thought the horse stumbled, throwing Alexander over the cliffs. There is a monument to him on the Burntisland Road commemorating this event. Alexander’s death gave rise to turbulent times, with six regents being appointed to rule Scotland, and the Wars of Independence which were caused by the disputed succession to the throne.

Map of the area.

'Kinghorn and the Forth Bridge' photo (c) 2009, Nigel Wedge - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

BURNTISLAND

I love local town websites bursting with old photographs, memories of times gone by as shared by the local people, local history and so on. Burntisland has a particularly good example of such a website. The website shares its past with the world in the form of old school photographs, snaps of the local pipe band, old images of the streets over past decades, maritime memorabilia, a history of the now demolished Grange Distillery, biographies of local people, including David Danskin, founder of Arsenal Football Club, and other delights too numerous to mention. Every community should have a website like this; it is a great way of preserving the locality’s past for posterity and making it available to anyone with an internet connection.

Burnisland’s wide sandy beach forms part of Pettycur Bay, and above the beach is a public park called Burntisland Links, granted to the Burgh by Royal Charter in 1541 by King James V of Scotland. The Parish Church is where, in 1601, the Authorised Version of the Bible originated, as it was here that the version was proposed by James I. The church is full of nautical memorabilia such as a model of the Great Michael, a ship which foundered in a storm in the Firth of Forth. Above the town library is the Burntisland Edwardian Museum, which includes a walk-through recreation of the town’s fair in 1910. Rossend Castle, which overlooks the docks, was once a royal residence, but is now used as office space.

Map of the area.

'Burntisland from the prom' photo (c) 2007, Karen Bryan - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Thursday, 10 November 2011

ABERDOUR

Aberdour, the self-styled “Jewel of Fife”, is a seaside resort at the mouth of the River Dour. From its main beach there are views across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh Castle, with Inchcolm Abbey (see previous post) in the foreground. Activities available for visitors to the resort include golf with a view, walking and watersports. St Fillan’s Church has a 12th century nave and chancel. The castle, which overlooks the harbour, dates from the 14th century, but was built on the site of a 12th century towerhouse. During the 16th and 17th centuries the castle was extended and converted into a luxurious home with impressive formal terraced gardens and a bowling green. There is also a dovecote and a 52-foot deep well.

In a move redolent of David Cameron’s “Big Society”, it was recently reported that members of the public in Aberdour are to be issued with speed guns. Volunteers will be trained to use the guns to identify speeding motorists, but will not be able to arrest anyone. The move is an attempt to raise awareness of the dangers of speeding. Good luck with that, folks.

Map of the area.

'Aberdour coast' photo (c) 2009, flickrtickr2009 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

DALGETY BAY AND INCHCOLM ISLAND

The Fife Coastal Path goes through Dalgety Bay, passing the half-flooded Ross Plantation and the ruined 13th century St Bridget’s Church, consecrated in 1244 by the Bishop of St Andrews. An earlier version of the church was mentioned in a papal document in 1178 which described it as “The Church at Dalgetty with its appurtenances”. The churchyard offers wonderful views of the bay and over the Firth of Forth, and a path from the church leads down to a sandy cove. The listed Donibristle House, of which only the 18th century wings remain, lies on the shore of the much smaller Donibristle Bay. Meanwhile, to the east of Dalgety Bay is a jolt of modernity in the form of an oil and gas terminal.

A short distance offshore opposite the oil and gas terminal is Inchcolm Island. This small island manages to pack in both historical interest and wildlife. The ruined Augustinian abbey, Inchcolm Abbey, with its well-preserved 13th century octagonal chapter house was once referred to as the Iona of the east. There are also ruins of 9th century hermit’s cells. In the waters surrounding the island is a large colony of grey seals, and there is also a fulmar colony. During the summer a ferry takes visitors across to the island from South Queensferry.

Map of the area.

'The Island of Inchcolm' photo (c) 2011, David Blaikie - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

INVERKEITHING

Inverkeithing is one of the oldest royal burghs in Scotland, the recipient of royal charters from William the Lion in 1139 and Robert III in 1399. However, its origins stretch back much further than that. The Roman Governor of Britain Agricola is thought to have set up camp here between 78 and 87 AD. The year 1651 saw the Battle of Inverkeithing, part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, between the English Parliamentarians and the Scottish Covenanter Army. The English won the day, giving Oliver Cromwell control of the Firth of Forth. As well as a range of attractive old buildings, the town has an interesting Mercat, or Market, Cross topped with a royal unicorn carved in 1688. Inverkeithing Museum is housed in a medieval friary also known as the Greyfriars Convent, which was once used as the Franciscan Convent’s guesthouse. The friary gardens are an attractive public park. The shipbreaker’s yard at Inverkeithing was the last resting place of the famous Cunard liner Mauretania, which was taken there in 1965 to be scrapped. There is footage of the ship being broken up at the yard on the British Pathe website.

Map of the area.

'19960605 18 near Inverkeithing' photo (c) 1996, David Wilson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Monday, 7 November 2011

NORTH QUEENSFERRY

The village on the opposite side of the road and rail bridges from South Queensferry is called – you guessed it – North Queensferry! We are now into the county of Fife, which stretches up as far as the Firth of Tay. North Queensferry, which lies literally in the shadow of the two bridges, is home to Scotland’s National Aquarium Deep Sea World, which promises a “spectacular underwater safari” by virtue of its underwater walkways which visitors can walk through while marvelling at the sea creatures swimming all around them. The attraction was dug out of a disused quarry which used to be used for quarrying granite. Two years ago, an unfortunate diver working at the aquarium suffered multiple lacerations after being bitten by an angel shark. One of North Queensferry’s claims to fame is that it is the residence of Britain’s most unsuccessful Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. It was in Queensferry that Gordon married Sarah in 2000. Another well-known personality associated with the village is Iain Banks, the famous author, who was brought up there.

Map of the area.

'North Queensferry and Forth Road Bridge' photo (c) 2010, Katherine - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Sunday, 6 November 2011

SOUTH QUEENSFERRY

On approaching South Queensferry, the impressive sight of the dark red Forth Rail Bridge looms into view. The bridge, which is one and a half miles long, took seven years to complete from 1883 until its opening on 4 March 1890. On its completion, Edward Prince of Wales inserted a golden rivet to mark the occasion. There was a Visitor Centre but it has closed, and now there are ambitious plans for a new 'visitor experience' with a visitor centre in North Queensferry.  Of course, motor vehicles also need to get across the Firth of Forth, but it was not until 1964 that the nearby Forth Road Bridge was opened. Before such feats of engineering became possible, the only way to get across was by ferry. A ferry service was set up during the reign of Macolm III mainly catering to pilgrims heading north to St Andrews, and this crossing became known as the “Queen’s Ferry” after Malcolm’s wife Margaret, who is credited with starting the ferry, hence the present-day name of the town.

There are many strange and bizarre traditions in the United Kingdom, some stretching back so far through the ages that their origins have been lost in the mists of time. One of the strangest I have ever heard of is that of the Burry Man in South Queensferry which takes place during the town’s Ferry Fair in August. On the second Friday of August, a man submits himself to the indignity of being covered from head to toe in “burrs”, the sticky flowerheads from the burdock plant. This eccentric garb is complemented by a fetching floral hat. The Burry Man is then paraded around town on a seven-mile route, sending terrified children scattering in his wake. The Burry Man’s walk is made all the more challenging by the fact that he has to walk with his legs apart due to the adhesive nature of his newly acquired second skin. He also has to hold his arms out, hence his use of two waist-high flower-adorned poles. The gruelling trek around town, accompanied by two attendants, takes nine hours and includes visits to a number of pubs, factories and so forth. At each of these the Burry Man is offered a drink of whisky, which due to his unusual facial covering, he has to drink with a straw. The effects of said whisky no doubt also add to his comical gait! Theories about the origins of the ceremony abound, but one popular supposition is that it was meant to ward off evil spirits. The people of Queensferry must have a masochistic streak, because another annual tradition is the “Loony Dook”, on New Years Day, at which people dive into the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth, many of them in fancy dress.

Map of the area.

'Forth Rail Bridge' photo (c) 2010, asturdesign - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

CRAMOND

Cramond lies at the mouth of the River Almond which flows into the Firth of Forth. With its quaint village atmosphere and attractive waterside setting, Cramond has become a favourite base for people working in Edinburgh. The waterfront is lined with brilliant white cottages, while just offshore is Cramond Island, accessible by causeway at low tide. The Romans built a fort near the river mouth in AD142, and the town was a supply depot for the Antonine Wall. In 1997 a Roman sculpture was unearthed in the harbour mud which has come to be known as the Cramond Lioness because it depicts a bound male prisoner being killed by a lioness. The sculpture was put on display in the Museum of Scotland after restoration, and the boatman who found it received a handsome reward. Half a mile inland from Cramond is a 16th century tower house called Lauriston Castle. To the west of Cramond, Dalmeny House, a Gothic Revival mansion built in 1815, contains works of art by such eminent artists as Gainsborough. In contrast to its Gothic Revival exterior, most of the rooms are in the Regency style, and one of them is devoted to Napoleon with one of Britain’s largest collections of Napoleonic memorabilia. The church in Cramond, the 15th century Cramond Kirk, was another of Oliver Cromwell’s victims: his soldier’s made off with the Kirk’s bell.

Map of the area.

'Cramond' photo (c) 2005, Bill Higham - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Saturday, 5 November 2011

LEITH

Leith is officially part of Edinburgh, although its inhabitants are proud to consider it a separate community. In fact, not only is Leith part of Edinburgh, but it was chosen as the site for the Scottish Executive building which was opened in 1996. Leith’s history has been punctuated with dramatic events and battles. In 1544 the English mounted the so-called “Rough Wooing” invasion, during which South Leith Parish Church was burnt by Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of England. In 1650 an army led by General David Leslie put up a spirited fight against Oliver Cromwell, who tried to break through the fortifications defended by Leslie’s men. There have also been two notable royal arrivals at Leith. In 1561 Mary Queen of Scots landed at Leith harbour on her return from France. In 1822 the first visit from an English monarch for nearly 200 years took place when George IV landed at Leith. The visit was organised by Sir Walter Scott, who thought it would be a jolly idea to get the King to wear a kilt for the visit. Unfortunately for George, this led to him being caricatured as “our fat friend in tights and a kilt”. However, in spite of this, the visit was heralded as a success, leading to an increase in goodwill towards the crown.

Trinity House Maritime Museum occupies a building once used as a hospital for mariners. The hospital was funded by “prime gilt”, a tax levied on cargo passing through the port. The hospital was founded in 1555 and graffiti from this time is still visible in a section of the original building. The cellars from the original building, used by Cromwell as a store for his army, still remain. Golf is an ever-present feature of this part of the Scottish coast, and it was in Leith in 1744 that the earliest surviving written rules of golf were compiled by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith. The public park of Leith Links was once a golf course – its earliest incarnation comprising just five holes. The former dock area of Leith has been converted into a vibrant mix of swanky restaurants, bars, cafes and shops centring on Commercial Quay. Another more chain-oriented shopping and dining centre is Ocean Terminal.

For a list of events in Leith see here.

Map of the area.

'The Shore, Leith' photo (c) 2006, Christine McIntosh - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Thursday, 3 November 2011

PORTOBELLO

This beach resort on the outskirts of Edinburgh, with the intriguingly un-Scottish name of Portobello, was very popular with Victorian and Edwardian daytrippers. The resort got its name from the fact that its founder was a seaman who served under Admiral Edward Vernon in the 1739 battle of Puerto Bello in Panama. The original name of the area was the more Scottish sounding Figgate Muir, at a time when there was an expanse of moorland here. It was on this moor that William Wallace gathered his men for the campaign which would lead to the Battle of Dunbar.

There is an amusing piece of newsreel footage on the British Pathe website filmed in Portobello in 1927 depicting members of 8th Brigade taking part in a series of traditional “sports day” sports such as sack racing, three-legged racing and a kind of jousting tournament. The town, which went into something of a decline following its heyday as a resort, has had a bit of a makeover in recent years. The beach is cleaned daily and several of the imposing buildings on the promenade have been refurbished.

Map of the area.

'Portobello' photo (c) 2010, eGuide Travel - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

MUSSELBURGH

Musselburgh’s history stretches all the way back to the Romans, who, having invaded Scotland in 80AD built a fort here. They also built a bridge over the River Esk, but apart from the foundations, this was later replaced in the 13th century. The bridge was used by Edward II in his retreat from the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Later in 1332, the town earned its label the “honest town” for its part in caring for the dying Regent of Scotland, the Earl of Moray. There are many fine 18th and 19th century buildings in the town, and visitors can follow a trail highlighting places of historic interest with information boards telling the story of Musselburgh’s involvement in numerous battles, as well as the roles of Oliver Cromwell and Sir Walter Scott in its history. The Old Town Hall and Tollbooth, housing the town museum, is one of the oldest buildings of its kind in Scotland, dating from 1590.

Tourist attractions in Musselburgh include a venerable old church, St Thomas’Church, which has been turned into a Dolls Museum. In the village of Inveresk on the edge of the town is the Inveresk Lodge Garden where the many interesting plants are complemented by an Edwardian conservatory and aviary. To the west of the town is the late 17th century Newhailes Estate. The other thing that Musselburgh is known for is horse racing. Its racecourse is the premiere racing venue in south east Scotland, and its year-round fixtures include a Gold Cup Day on Easter Weekend.

Map of the area.

'Inveresk Lodge Gardens Musselburgh' photo (c) 2010, Karen Bryan - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

PRESTONPANS

In 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie, as Charles Edward Stuart was affectionately referred to, led the Jacobite Rising in an attempt to regain the British throne for the exiled House of Stuart. The first major conflict of the campaign took place at Prestonpans on 21 September and led to the government army loyal to the Hanoverian George II suffering a defeat at the hands of a Scottish onslaught. According to the “compleat history of the rebellion” written by James Ray in 1749, the battle “elevated the Jacobites to such a Degree that they esteemed it Madness and Infatuation in every Body who did not immediately join their Standard”. The battle is commemorated by a stone cairn to the east of the town indicating the year of the battle.

On Halloween 2004 a ceremony was held in Prestonpans in which 81 people executed during the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries were publicly pardoned. The 81 were just some of the 3,500-odd people in Scotland, mainly women and children, who were killed in the witch hunts. Even their cats were included in the mass executions, in fact some of the people hunted down and executed were accused on the sole basis of owning a black cat!

Prestonpans gets its name from the salt panning which used to be an important local industry, although the salt industry has now ended. One interesting feature of the modern-day Prestonpans is the town’s series of murals. There is a Murals Trail which can be followed in person, or if this is not possible the murals can be viewed on a website showing a map of the trail and an image of each of the murals. The town held a Global Murals Conference in 2006.

Map of the area.

'It's a Wednesday Night' photo (c) 2010, pathlost - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/