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.
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.
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.
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!