Law’s Close – Kirkcaldy – Preserving business and trade

Kirkcaldy Harbour

2017 in Scotland is the Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology. As a marine archaeologist and Fife Ambassador it’s an opportunity for me to share the wonderful diverse and rich history and heritage of the Kingdom of Fife.

A “wee gem” in the Kingdom and a fantastic story of restoration ensuring the future of trade and business that started 427 years ago, is Law’s Close at the east end of the High Street in Kirkcaldy. Situated here is a fine living example of Scottish 16th century vernacular architecture.

For centuries Kirkcaldy was a bustling sea port with a thriving maritime trade. The merchant’s houses were built at the east end of the town opposite the harbour. One such local ship-owner/merchant were the Law family. In 1590, they built Law’s Close and for two centuries powerful local families owned this building. By the end of 18th century the house was in decline and industrialization in the 19th century saw the owner’s fortunes flounder. The property was sub-divided to provide working class housing and the ground floor was turned into a bakery. The mid 20th century saw failed regeneration of this part of the town and by the mid-1980s the building had become abandoned and in a bad state.

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In 1986 the Scottish Historic Building Trust acquired the building and during 1992-1994 a first phase of restoration was conducted and in 2005 the second phase was completed, creating two shops and office accommodation on the first and second floors. This truly remarkable preservation project restored the building to its former glory. The 16th century paintings have been conserved and the 17th century panelling restored. 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.

Law's Close ship

What is really unique about this project, is that it is possible to rent office and retail space within the building. Wow !, what a place to work and to keep the history of business alive in Kirkcaldy. If you are in Kirkcaldy and want to see a merchant’s house then a visit is a must.

Law's Close rear

To find out about renting or use of this amazing building contact:

Elizabeth Mackay

Property@shbt.org.uk

Property Manager | Scottish Historic Buildings Trust

Strathleven House, Vale of Leven Industrial Estate, Dumbarton. G82 3PD

Direct Line:  01389 750005

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The Golden Fringe of Fife – Elie Ness Light House

Elie Neil WM

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.

East Vows Beacon

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.

 

 

 

Kilminning – Between Crail and Fife Ness

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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.

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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.

 

The West Sands – St Andrews

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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.

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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.

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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.

Exploring the Kingdom of Fife

WM neil_st_monans

With winter almost over and Spring on the way. What better time than to start exploring the Kingdom of Fife. I am a Fifer born and bred and fortunate to live in my ancestors’ home town, St Andrews. My maritime career spanning decades has taken me all over the world, but home  to me is St Andrews and Fife. There is plenty to discover and do in Fife and I never stop learning interesting facts and stories of the unique and diverse history of the Kingdom and of its people. As a Fife Ambassador I am going share with you through this blog my explorations, discoveries, stories and facts of the Kingdom.

 

Culross

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As a Fife Ambassador I would like to share some of the many interesting places that make up the wonderful Kingdom of Fife. I am standing outside Culross Palace, a late late 16th – early 17th century merchant’s house. Owned  by Sir George Bruce, a successful merchant who sucessfully traded with the Low Countries and the Baltic countries. He had interests in the local coal mining and salt production industries, and is credited with sinking the world’s first coal mine to extend under the sea.

Many of the materials used in the construction of the palace were obtained during the course of Bruce’s foreign trade such as Baltic pine, Dutch red pantiles, floor tiles and glass.

Culross is well worth a visit. Stunning buildings, architecture, and the 13th century abbey, something interesting around every corner. Culross is recently famous for being the set of some of the scenes from the popular American-British television drama series Outlander, based on the historical time travel series of novels by Diana Gabaldon.

It was cold and raining when I visited Culross but that did not deter me at the end of my wanderings and exploration a well deserved, long and lazy lunch in the Biscuit Café. Great menu and well worth a visit.

 

Dysart Harbour

Dysart Harbour WM

The other day I visited Dysart harbour. Having not been there for many years it was great to see a vibrant busy harbour. The majority of motor boats and yachts all out and on the piers getting their overhauls and maintenance done.

The earliest records date the town of Dysart to the 13th century, but the local legend of St Serf dates the area to 500 AD. The harbour dates to 1450 with trade with the Low Countries. Exports of local salt and coal and in the 16th and 17th centuries trade expanded to the Baltic Countries. Dysart earned the nicknames of “Salt Burgh” and from the Dutch influence in Dysart’s buildings inspired by the shipowners who went there “Little Holland”. The early 19th century saw extensive improvements to the harbour . Sadly the demise of the uneconomic Lady Blanche Pit in 1929 saw the end of the coal trade from the harbour.

Originally known as the Shore House where cargo from visiting ships was stored during the building, which dates to the 17th century and in 1840 became the three-storey Harbourmaster’s House. Today, the house is home to the headquarters of the Fife Countryside and Coast Trust. It also has a great bistro with a good selection of wholesome food and hot and cold beverages. It is well worth a visit.

Last year Dysart Harbour played host as a film set to the very popular TV series Outlander. The Harbourmaster’s House and the west part of the harbour were turned into the French port of Le Havre. You will have to wait until the second series screened next year to see the results.

The Kingdom of Fife has a rich and varied maritime heritage and you don’t need to travel far in Fife to find it. Get out in your car, on your bike or on foot and explore!