The Ancient Kingdom - Interesting facts about Fife
The Kingdom of Fife
Fife is one of the remaining ancient kingdoms of Scotland. Often referred to as 'Scotland in miniature', it’s alive with history, culture and natural beauty. Every year sees an increase in tourists from all over the world who are discovering for themselves what the region has to offer.
Fife is situated on the East coast of Scotland, facing the wild North Sea. A natural peninsula nestled between the two great rivers of the Firth of Forth to the south and the Firth of Tay to the north. There are four main towns in the region - Dunfermline, Glenrothes, St. Andrews and Kirkcaldy.
Edinburgh is of course the capital of Scotland but it wasn't always the case. Dunfermline - one of the many Royal Burghs in Fife - was once the seat of royalty and the capital of Scotland.
Further back in time ancient tribes inhabited the area. They were the Cruithne or more commonly known as the Picts. The Cruithne inhabited the lands north of the River Forth which was called Albany. Fife was one of their kingdoms and this is why it is still referred to as a 'kingdom' today.
Fife Main Towns & Villages
Ancient History of Fife
The ancient people who inhabited Scotland - the Picts - had Fife as one of their Kingdoms - known to them as 'Fib'. The word 'Pict' was actually used by the Romans and means the painted or tattooed people.
The various Pictish tribes finally merged with those of the Gaels. At this time Scotland was named Alba. Later, these tribes merged with a new clan called the Scots, so eventually leading to the land being referred to as Scotland.
There is still an air of mystery surrounding the Pictish people. Research continues into building up a bigger picture of their lives and culture. Their enigmatic air is stronger because they left no written evidence. Their communications are beautiful symbols carved on ancient stones that have still to be fully deciphered. The legacy of the Picts can be found all over Fife and other areas of Scotland.
The famous bridges over the River Forth
There are two main bridges over the river Forth separating Fife from Lothian. The distinctive cantilever Forth Rail Bridge was opened in 1890. It has the second longest single cantilever bridge span in the world. In 1964 the Forth Road Bridge opened linking Lothian from South Queensferry to Fife at North Queensferry.
With the opening of both bridges there was an end to an historical period that had lasted since the 11th century. Queen Margaret, wife to King Malcolm III of Scotland founded a ferry service for religious pilgrims to travel from Edinburgh to Dunfermline Abbey and St. Andrews. People used the ‘Queen’s Ferry’ for over 800 years.
History will change again in the near future. A third bridge over the River Forth is under construction. There are currently competitions running all over Scotland for naming the new road bridge.
The Royal Burgh of Dunfermline
Ariel View Dunfermline Abbey, Palace and The Glen
The Royal Burgh of Dunfermline
One of the major towns in Fife is the Royal Burgh of Dunfermline. A Royal Burgh - pronounced 'buraah' - is a town that was granted a Royal Charter. This gave the towns certain privileges over others – especially in relation to trading - and many were actually situated on royal lands.
Dunfermline was once the capital of Scotland. Situated about 3 miles north of the Firth of Forth it has an ancient and rich historical ancestry. The town still has the remains of the royal palace, where King Charles I of Scotland & England, was born on 19th November, 1600. He was the last monarch to be born in Scotland.
Dunfermline Abbey - the burial place for many of Scotland's past royalty - is still in use today. The Remains of King Robert the Bruce; King Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret (Saint Margaret), are within the Abbey. In addition the graves and monuments of King Malcolm IV, King Alexander III and King David I as well as numerous dukes and earls were also placed within the historical confines of the Abbey.
The site where the Abbey stands goes back to 800 AD when the Culdees – who were early Celtic Christians - built a site of worship. Later it became a Benedictine Priory founded by Queen Margaret in the 1070's. Her son, King David I extended the building and renamed it an abbey instead of a priory.
Entrance to The Glen/Pittencrief Park & the Louise Carnegie Memorial Gates
Pittencrief Park, Dunfermline
One of the most beautiful and popular areas in Dunfermline is Pittencrief Park - known locally as 'The Glen'.
Open to the public and free entry it was gifted to the people of Dunfermline in 1902 by the town's most famous son, Andrew Carnegie. The park is about 76 acres and has a variety of interests and settings to suit all tastes. These include picnic areas, woodlands, natural deep running burns and caves, picnic areas, play areas, along with both sunken and formal gardens. These are in addition to the historical interest sites such as Pittencrief House.
The park is known locally as 'The Glen' due to its geographical feature of a rugged rock rift that runs through the town. It’s also historically significant in that it contains the ruins of an old tower house. This is believed to be the site of 'Malcolm's Tower' still on its defensive site – an outcrop of rock.
Other areas of historical interest include 'William Wallace's Well' where he is reputed to have hidden from the English. There are also the remains of St. Catherine's Hospital and the Almshouse dating from about the 13th century. One of the most popular attractions is the 13th century Royal Palace that can be seen from the park.
The name Pittencrief comes from the Lairds who owned the estate before it was bought by Andrew Carnegie. Pittencrief House, now a small museum, is one of the focal interests. Built in 1610 for Sir Alexander Clerk it was a private home for 300 years. One of the most famous people to stay in the house was Brigadier General John Forbes. In 1758 in America he defeated a French force at Fort Duquesne. This was renamed Fort Pitt and later changed to Pittsburgh.
Pittencrief Park hosts numerous events, sports and festivals throughout the year and continues to be a popular venue for people of all ages.
St. Andrews Castle
St. Andrews University where Prince William & kate Middleton met.
St. Andrews the town of history, miracles and royal romance
The land on which St. Andrews sits has had human occupation since the Stone Age and was certainly an area occupied by the ancient Picts.
In 906AD the area became the seat of the Bishop of Alba. The present town was founded in about 1140 by Bishop Robert.
St. Andrews is of course named after the patron saint of Scotland. The name of the town arose when a monk arrived from Patras in Western Greece. He reputedly carried with him human artefacts belonging to St. Andrew. Namely an arm bone, three fingers from the right hand, a tooth and a kneecap. When this stranger arrived on the beach at the place where the town would eventually be, the King of the Picts went to the shore to meet this odd stranger with his peculiar relics. It was at this time that a miracle is said to have occurred. When the King reached the shore a huge St. Andrews cross, coloured white appeared in the blue sky. This was the colour and emblem that would become Scotland's national flag - the St. Andrews Cross and Andrew became Scotland's patron saint.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club based at St. Andrews is one of the most prestigious in the world and regarded as the 'Home of Golf'. However, it’s not the oldest golf club. That title goes to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers based at Muirfield in Edinburgh founded in 1744. The Royal and Ancient was founded in 1754 when a group of nobleman had a silver golf club made to be presented annually to the winner of the golf tournament held there.
In Scotland, in the mid 1400's King James II banned both the sports of golf and soccer. This seems to have been because the ordinary folk were, reputedly, more keen to play sports than to practice archery, which was necessary for defence. In addition they would often go off to play golf or soccer rather than attend church services.
This ban was not lifted until 1502 when King James IV reversed the decision as he wanted to play golf himself. His granddaughter, Mary, Queen of Scots was known to have loved the game. So much so, that she was chastised for playing a round of golf two days after her husband, Lord Darnley, had been murdered. Mary is sometimes referred to as the 'Mother of Golf'. She used a small cottage near to St. Andrews when she went there to play the sport. On losing a golf match, Mary presented one of her ladies-in-waiting with a beautiful necklace. It is also thought that the Queen is responsible for introducing the name 'caddy'.
Until very recently St. Andrews was more celebrated for its association with golf than for love. However, since the town was the meeting place for Prince William and Kate Middleton it is now famous, for the present at least, for royal romance rather than sport.
St. Andrews university is the oldest university in Scotland and third oldest in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge. It was founded in 1410-1413 and today continues to be regarded as one of the best academic centres not only in the UK but in the world. The university is not only open to citizens of the UK, but has a large number of international students as well.
The Dark Side of Fife
Fife is without doubt an area of great beauty and culture. However, like many other places it has its dark side. Although many of these incidents happened a very long time ago it still leaves a deep scar of sorrow and shame.
The later half of the 16th and 17th centuries saw an increasing paranoia about witches, devils and the so called dark arts. Almost any word or deed could be twisted out of context and viewed as the work of some witch or demon.
Many who were known for their healing expertise, herbalism and general good deeds, were tried for witchcraft. A handful managed to escape with their lives. Many more were executed in the traditional Scottish way of first strangling the victim then burning their body at the stake. Executions like this were carried out in a few places in Fife such as Inverkeithing, Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy.
Confessions from these poor souls were only gained after extreme torture, making their admissions of working with the devil highly dubious. Perhaps, not unlike today, there will be a handful who dabbled in diabolic arts. Nevertheless, for the most part these unfortunate people only practiced their ancient traditions in the form of folk/herbal brewing and healing. And like the present day Wicca, did not worship or acknowledge any demonic entities. The majority of the accused were probably just ordinary people who made the wrong kind of enemies or looked and acted oddly. This was sometimes enough for charges to be brought and a verdict of guilty to be pronounced.
However, the old 'craft of the wise' is not the only mysterious inhabitant of Fife. For the Kingdom also has its fair share of spirits and ghosts wandering the many ancient castles and houses of Fife.
Fife's ghostly inhabitants
The following is a selection of the ghosts and spirits that are said to wander throughout various locations in Fife.
The Abbot's House, Dunfermline.
The house has had many different owners over the centuries. However, one former occupant is reputedly still living there - the spirit of a Benedictine monk. This spirit is said to be friendly but there may be others who are not so nice.
People have reported being pushed on the Queen Anne stairs by an unseen force and sudden cold spots occur with no natural explanation. The late Princess Margaret, sister to the present Queen, apparently refused to have her photograph taken in certain areas of the house because she felt very uncomfortable in certain rooms.
The Alhambra Theatre, Dunfermline.
The theatre, like the Abbot’s House, may also have the ghost of a monk. Many people have reported seeing a 'dark shadow' walking through the building and described the figure as resembling a monk. If this is the case, he might be an early inhabitant of St. Andrews church that lay near to the site.
Paranormal researchers feel it could actually be the spirit of an Italian actress who played at the theatre in the 1920s.The story says that she was having an affair with her co-actor. When her husband discovered the actress and her lover, she ran to hide from him in the 'actor’s box'. When her husband entered she stepped back, fell and broke her neck.
The old projection room is reported to be a particularly uncomfortable area but it’s unclear what, if any, spirits are the cause.
Balcomie Castle, Crail.
The castle is situated near the beautiful little fishing village of Crail, on the Fife coast. The spirit of a small boy has been seen on numerous occasions and has even been heard whistling. This unfortunate wee soul was, for some unknown reason, locked into one of the castle's dungeons. He was apparently forgotten about and found later having starved to death.
MacDuff's Castle, East Weymss.
A woman called Mary Sibbald is reported to be the ghost who haunts the now ruinous MacDuff's castle. She was a petty thief who was finally caught and executed at the castle for her crimes. People have reported seeing her shadowy figure roaming the ruins and the surrounding area.
Falkland Palace, Falkland Village.
A royal castle has stood on this site from at least the 14th century, when the crown acquired the land from MacDuff of Fife. It was a favourite place of many later royals, who used it as a hunting lodge, including Mary Queen of Scots.
Falkland also has one of the oldest tennis courts in the world, constructed in 1539 where the Kings and Queens of Scotland would play 'real' tennis.
This beautiful palace also has a darker side. In 1402, the Duke of Albany, who was regent of Scotland for his brother the King, had his nephew and heir to the throne locked up in the palace, where the young heir starved to death. The Duke was exonerated from blame by Parliament, but rumours and suspicions continue to this day.
Interestingly despite its long history, Falkland is reported to have only one frequent ghost. It is an unknown female spirit who is always described as looking heartbroken. The stories claim that she roams the castle looking for her lover who was killed in battle. When the spirit is witnessed she is said to be glowing with a grey mist surrounding her.
Balgonie Castle, Markinch.
The original structure dates back to 1360 when the tower - Fife's oldest - was built by Sir Thomas Sibbald of Balgonie.
The castle, which has been fully restored, is very popular as a romantic venue for weddings. The ceremonies being held in the beautiful castle church and the main reception held in the Great Hall.
The castle is reputed to have several different hauntings. One of the most common is that of a spirit called 'Green Jeanie' who is said to be one of the former ladies of the house. She walks around the castle looking out over the lands surrounding it and also peers into the rooms of the castle. There is also the ghost of a dog, a shadow hooded figure and a spirit that is said to be a soldier. In 1912 during restoration a human skeleton was found under the floor of the great hall - the person's identity is unknown.
Kellie Castle, Pittenweem.
Kellie Castle - dates back to the 14th century and is reported to be haunted by two main spirits. The first is that of James Lorimer who lived on the property in late 1800's. He is often seen sitting in one of the long corridors of the castle. The second spirit is reported to be that of Ann Erskine. This unfortunate lady fell to her death from one of the high castle windows and still haunting the area to this day.
I hope you have enjoyed this brief tour of Fife.
There are of course many other places of interest just as beautiful and interesting as those mentioned in this article. However, that is for another time.