The Kingdom of Fife with the mighty River Tay to the north and the Firth of Forth to the south has a coastline of 117 miles (188 km). Throughout history these two waterways have been busy maritime trade routes. Needless to say, there are many shipwrecks.
As a marine archaeologist and Fife Ambassador it was wonderful to read Michael Alexander’s article in Saturday’s weekend Courier and the Courier Online about the shipwrecks and maritime history of the Forth and the Tay.
Now Spring is here and the evenings are longer and living in fife you are never that far from the coast. Get out and explore the coastline, the coastal towns and harbours of the Kingdom. Maritime Fife is full of interesting facts, stories, people and places.
Fife has a rich and varied maritime heritage. An excellent example can be found in the harbour area of the burgh of Kirkcaldy where one of the best preserved 16th century townhouses is situated. Law’s Close named after a local ship-owning family. A truly remarkable preservation project was carried out to restore the building to its former glory. Of significant maritime interest was the discovery on the second floor of a wall painting of a sailing vessel which may represent the vessel in which Anne of Denmark was brought to Scotland in 1589.
For me as an archaeologist and a Fife Ambassador, the “icing on the cake” of this wonderful building preservation project is that it is possible to rent office space within the building. Wow, what a place to work and to keep the history of business alive in Kirkcaldy.
For more information visit www.shbt.org.uk
Always something interesting happening in St Andrews. Saturday evening I took my youngest son down to the 18th green at the Old Course to see a fly past by one of the world’s premier aerobatic display teams…….the Royal Air Force, Red Arrows aerobatic team.
St Andrews is hosting the Links Trophy where the world’s leading amateur golfers compete for the Links Trophy. Some of these amateurs will go on to become household names.
The Red Arrows were conducting a 30 minute display at the Arbroath Festival of Heroes. Flying the distinctive red Hawk jets with the coloured smoke trails the Red Arrows flew low over the Eden estuary, the back nine of the Old Course and passed over the 1st Tee and 18th green.
Sitting on the steps in front of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the fly past was over to quick. Flying in formation with coloured smoke trails the Red Arrows flew low over the golf course and head south-east over the town. It was a great spectacle for members of the public and the golfers. I hope the Red Arrows did not put any of the golfers off their shot!
As a Fife Ambassador I enjoy visiting the many varied and interesting towns, sites and places around the kingdom. Of course this involves enjoying the abundant, varied and interesting cafes, restaurants and pubs that are found throughout the kingdom.
What do you and the many chefs of Fife recognize as Fife’s “national dish”? As an archaeologist and historian my research has come up with reference to a Kingdom of Fife Pie. A traditional rabbit pie. So what is the best recipe for such a pie? Is there another dish or recipe that can claim to be Fife’s National Dish? Some say its Chilli Ca Canny……..
Last week I was in Dunfermline on business. I have not been in Dunfermline for many years. I was born in Dunfermline just across from Dunfermline Athletic football ground on Halbeath Road.
I have fond childhood memories of Dunfermline. As I was walking along Chalmers Street toward the entrance to Pittencrief park I passed two places which have great childhood memories for me. Stephens Bakery and Alari’s Chip Shop. 53 years ago I used to go to Dunfermline to stay with my gran. She was a baker in Stephens Bakery and I remember going to the bake-house and seeing my gran making and baking some amazing savouries and cakes. I can smell the fresh baked pies and cakes as I write this story. I also remember the amazing fish and chop shop next door called Alari’s. My gran would take me in there on a Saturday and we would have fish and chips with bread and butter along with a coke float and a cake.
I stopped and I looked in the bakers and the chip shop and childhood memories came flooding back to me. It was a very happy emotional moment.
It has been a great week of sunny clear skies and wonderful sunrises and sunsets throughout the kingdom. The other evening I was down at Elie Ness Lighthouse to catch a wonderful cloudless sunset. Looking across Largo Bay, the low tide exposing the East Vows rocks and its beacon. This was built in 1846 and the “bird’ cage on top of the beacon was intended as a safe refuge for shipwrecked mariners until they were rescued.
Unusual to see so many oil rigs at anchor in the bay. A sad sign of the downturn in the North Sea oil industry at present. The three semi-submersible drilling units are the Transocean Prospect, the SEDCO 714 and a drilling rig I worked on as a Watchstander back in 1988, the SEDCO 711.
Lighthouses have been a safety aid to mariners for centuries. During bad weather and reduced visibility the lights from lighthouse helped mariners safely navigate their vessels around coasts, islands, rivers and estuaries. During the first decade of the 20th century mariners navigating the Firth of Forth were concerned that during bad weather the lights on the Isle of May and Inchkeith Island were not visible and as Elie Ness was a rock headland it would make sense to build a lighthouse there so that vessels would not come to grief on the rocks and reefs of the headland.
The Northern Lighthouse Board is the General Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man. It was formed in 1796 as the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses. Its engineer in 1908 was David Alan Stevenson, grandson of Robert Stevenson, who built the Bell Rock Lighthouse and many great lighthouses around Scotland and cousin of the great Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson. Built by James Lawrie Builders, Anstruther, the lighthouse went into service 1st October 1908. With the light evenings as we head towards the Summer Solstice, take advantage and get out and enjoy the wonderful sunsets that bathe the Kingdom of Fife.
I have been out and about again exploring the Kingdom of Fife. A wee gem of a place to visit is Bonnet Stane, or Bonnet Stone. Near the base of the north facing escarpment of the West Lomond Hill in the Lomond Hills Regional Park and above the village of Gateside sits a most interesting weathered rock outcrop.
This interesting mushroom/men’s cap shaped rock is a wind sculpted feature made of “calciferous” sandstone. This feature is 6m long, 3m wide and 1m thick. At the base of this outcrop on the west side is a small cave known as the “Maiden Bower”. Folklore tells of a love affair of a local girl and the son of a rival family, who met at the cave. The girl’s father’s men killed the man and the girl lived as a hermit in the cave. However it is most likely an early 19th century bothy lived in by a shepherd. The inside walls show signs of where shelves and partitions would have been and remains of a metal fire sit in one corner.
It is an easy uphill walk, up farm tracks and grass fields to the stane. Well worth a visit. Fife is rich geologically. There are many interesting geological features to be seen in the Kingdom. I will be sharing some of them with you.
Your roaming Fife Ambassador took advantage of the good spell of weather recently and has been out and about in the Kingdom. You don’t have to walk or drive far to find interesting places to visit in Fife.
On a walk from Crail to Fife Ness along the Fife Coastal Path you will come across Kilminning Castle, named castle, but really a natural rock stack formation. It lies within Kilminning Coast, Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve. It is in line with the end of the runway of Royal Navy Air Service Crail Aerodrome, HMS Jackdaw, which was in service as a torpedo training school from 1939 to 1947. An airfield here dates from WWI when it was a Royal Flying Corps training depot from 1918-1919. From 1947 to 1949 it became HMS Bruce, a training establishment for boys from the age of 15. From 1952 to 1956 the accommodation was used intermittently by the Black Watch. From 1956 to 1960 it served as JSSL Crail, the Joint Services School for Linguists, a Russian language school which operated as part of the country’s response to the Cold War.
In the area of Kilminning Castle, formerly Kilminning Farm, archaeological investigations revealed the remains of an early rectilinear building and a long cist cemetery which was dedicated to St Minin (9th century). Also in the area is a substantial linear earthwork known as Dane’s Dyke. It is the only surviving linear earthwork in Fife and one of the best preserved in Scotland. It may be prehistoric in origin, it could be associated with Roman Iron Age occupation discovered within the area at Fife Ness and also associated with the Vikings and with King Constantine in the 9th century AD.
East and west of the large rock stack there have been many groundings and founderings of vessels driven ashore on the rock skellies and reefs during bad weather and storms. The types of vessels lost include schooners, steam passenger ships, steam cargo ships and steam trawlers. I myself have dived a few off these wrecks finding their remains battered and wedged in the kelp covered rocks.
It really is an area worth exploring. You can walk from Crail or Fife Ness or park and walk a short way from the car-park down a road at the end of the small industrial estate at the end of the airfield.
Did not have to go far on Saturday to bring you all another day out and about with a Fife Ambassador.
On the second Saturday of April for the last 90 years one of Scotland’s oldest historical pageants takes place in St Andrews, Fife, namely The Kate Kennedy Procession. It is organized and run by students of St Andrews University’s Kate Kennedy Club. A charitable club which has contributed greatly to the town over many decades. It is named after the niece of Bishop James Kennedy, the founder of St. Salvator’s College in 1450. The procession which winds its way through the town consists of a pageant of over 140 characters who represent the history of the university and of Scotland. Included are many characters on horseback and two period horse drawn carriages.
John Cleese a former Rector of St Andrews University
It’s a fun colourful afternoon and an excellent way to test your history and name the characters. Luckily it was a lovely sunny afternoon and there was a great fun and friendly buzz about the town.
This spell of dry sunny weather has been refreshing. What better way to get rid of the winter cobwebs than a walk along the West Sands at St Andrews.
This uninterrupted 2 mile (3km) sandy low gradient beach with a 30m wide dune zone extends from the Swilcan Burn to the Out Head, (the mouth of the Eden estuary). It skirts and protects the world famous St Andrews Links golf courses.
The West Sands has for centuries been an area of recreation for locals and visitors. Animals grazed the Links, Salmon stake-net fishing provided a living for fishermen. In the days of sail many a cargo vessel run aground on the West Sand, embayed in St Andrews Bay during storms. A great place for bathing, horse riding, dog walking, and the classic British “Day out at the beach”. Motorcar and motorcycle races took place on the sands in the early 20th century, even aircraft operated sight-seeing trips from the sands from time to time. In 1981 the sands served as the set for the opening scene in the movie Chariots of Fire. During the 2012 Olympics Torch relay this was reenacted and the sands were also featured in the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony. On many a windy day windsurfers, stunt kites, kite surfers, kite boarders and sand yachts can be seen out at the north end of the sands. Sand yachting was a popular activity in the 1970s on the sands and today a local outdoor activity company Blown Away continues this along with offering many other adventure experiences on land and sea.
The Links and the West Sands are an internationally important landscape and diverse ecosystem. They are part of the Firth of Tay – Eden Estuary Special Area of Conservation and Marine Protected Area. There are many protected species within the area.
Of historical note: In 1864, following a severe storm a record-breaking specimen of a Bootlace Worm (Lineus longissimus), was washed ashore on the West Sands measuring over 55 m (180 ft) long.
The effects of climate change, coastal erosion, flooding, and coastal storm surges are a constant threat to the area. In 2010 severe damage to the dunes, flooding of the golf courses and adjacent lands and erosion of the old municipal landfill at the Out Head occurred. A dune stabilisation programme is in operation with areas fenced off to public access whist the Marram Grass has time to stabilise the dunes.
There are many wonderful beaches along the “golden fringe” of the Kingdom of Fife. The West Sands is a must visit.