Lochore Meadows Country Park - Fife, Scotland.
From Iron Age Beginnings
Lochore Meadows has had a long and at times sad history prior to it evolving into the beautiful country park that it is today.
I hope you will enjoy this excursion through the park and through the centuries of change that has taken place at Lochore Meadows.
Iron Age and medieval castles
On the far side of the loch, where the photograph shows the distant hills, is the site of iron age remains. Fife in general has hundreds of iron age settlements and many artefacts such as battle axes have been found.
Lochore, is also the nearby village and takes it's name from the park's small loch - Loch Ore. The village of Lochore was, like the adjacent villages of Ballingry, Crosshill and Glencraig, mining villages until the traumatic closures of the 1980s which devastated these close knit communities.
However, going back in time, the park - whose ruined castle is due for a major conservation project, was the location for many families of old.
The first arrival was a man called Duncan de Lochore in 1160. Possibly to show the locals who was boss, he built a castle on an island in the loch and this is where the castle gets is earlier name of 'Inchgall'. Intriguingly, the name 'Inchgall' means the 'island of the strangers' which may indicate that the locals didn't fully accept this 'lord of the manor'. Understandable when you remember that many of the local people had lived in the area for hundreds of years prior to the many Normans who came into Scotland after the Norman Conquest.
In the centuries that followed many families lived at Lochore Castle and it's history is a very complex one and would need a book to explain it fully.
By the 16th century the castle was quite large - even although the sad and neglected ruins don't indicate this. It is a listed 'B' building which means it is protected and it's believed that the castle would have once been around four stories high with a large forecourt and thick surrounding walls. It was said to have been one of the four strongest castles in Fife. In addition, the castle also has the traditional 'white lady' ghost. Intriguingly, another ghost said to have been observed in the nearby village of Crosshill was described as a man wearing 17th century dress. Whether this apparition is connected to the castle is unknown.
The loch was actually drained at one point in the 1700's by a man called Captain Park who had bought the estate but he went bankrupt. When later coal mining started, this led to flooding of the area and the loch as we know it today was created.
The next major transition of the area was of course the coal mines and Lochore Meadows was the location for the Mary Pit.
The Mary Pit
The Park itself was the location for one of the many coal mines dotted around the area in the early to mid 20th century. The Mary Pit was situated at the park and as a memorial to the miners who worked and died here, the stunning pit head has been left standing. In addition, there is another memorial for miners and their families at the main entrance to the park.
I've certainly heard a few stories about this particular coal mine as my Grandad and many of his family and friends worked there. I was very scared as a child, when I heard Grandad tell others about the dangers of the coal mine - one story in particular was about the coal pit rats that the miners avoided cornering as they were so aggressive.
There were other stories of course about the men who died or were physically disabled due to the horrible accidents that happened. My Granadad at one point had his foot crushed due to a cave-in and if I remember he received £10.00 in compensation. Today he would probably have received thousands.
There were many close escapes from falling debris but more especially the explosions and flooding that happened almost on a daily basis. There are rumours that the Mary Pit still holds the remains of some miners that were never found - whether these are just stories or if they hold some truth is unknown.
Having said this, when you look at the newspaper archives from around 1916 onwards there is hardly a week goes by where serious accidents - many causing fatalities - are reported. Many were due to stones falling and roofs collapsing. There were also many accidents reported of men falling off a machine called a 'kettle' and landing 70 feet or more down the mine shafts.
Miners and their families were well used to the dangers of the work that they did. However, on one particular shift, a group of miners heard a strange noise coming from above, here is the account as related by the 'Scotsman' Newspaper, September 1904:
- About a score of men who were employed as sinkers on the night shift had not been many minutes down the shaft of the Fife Coal Company's Mary Pit, Lochore, on Wednesday night when they were alarmed by a strange noise above, and immediately afterwards by a mangled corpse falling amongst them. Thomas Smith, miner, Lochore, had attempted to commit suicide earlier in the evening by cutting his throat, and after receiving surgical attention he was placed under observation. Not long afterwards he succeeded in escaping from his house, and ran in the direction of the Mary Pit, down the shaft of which he is supposed to have thrown himself. The present depth of the pit is about 150 fathoms. He was thirty years of age, and leaves a widow and one child.
It's hardly surprising then that when you are walking through Lochore Meadows very early in the morning or later in the evening, the atmosphere can start to feel mysterious as if you're being watched. Could there still be some of the tragic miners at the scene of the old Mary Pit?
Lochore Meadows Today
The iron age settlements are now archaeological sites. The castle no longer has a Lord and the coal mines are closed. However, Lochore Meadows has never been busier.
The main park centre is situated next to the loch side and not only has an information office but an excellent local history area, as well as detailed information of the wildlife and plant life that can be found around the park.
There is also a fine cafe where visitors can eat and drink indoors or outdoors on the patio. The public toilets are also - to most peoples' delight - very clean and well stocked.
Local schools and those from surrounding areas visit the park frequently to take part in actvities such as guided nature tours and orienteering. They also participate in the classes for canoeing and windsurfing.
There are numerous annual events and one of my favourites is 'Bark In The Park'. This annual doggy fun day is run by Second Chance Kennels a well known and outstanding dog rescue centre. I'm hoping to do an article on this event when it takes place later on in the summer. There are also other events for dog owners such as agility trials and breed days. For example, recently there was a very large meeting that took place by owners of Dalmatian dogs - it was indeed like the Disney movie, 'One Hundred And One Dalmatians' and a fabulous day for the dogs and owners alike.
In addition to the dog events there are also numerous sporting activities and events such as golf, fishing, wind surfing and canoeing. The annual Scottish Freshwater Swimming Championships as well as the Open Water Sprint Triathlon has been held at Lochore Meadows as well as the Fife Fly Fishing Competition.
There is also an equestrian centre near to the park where youngsters in particular can learn the joys of pony trekking and horse riding. If you simply want to watch the horses, many of them are often found grazing in one of the meadows next to the park.
The area is very popular with cyclists and there are numerous trails around not only the immediate park area, but extending into the surrounding woods and hills. There are also a couple of tracks that have been developed for mountain bikes and BMX trials.
Many of the sporting events such as cycling and marathons are used to raise money for charity and as such attracts people from a large area of Scotland outside Fife.
When I think back to my childhood walking around Lochore Meadows - or 'The Meedies' as it's called locally - before the area became a country park, I remember huge areas of meadows with old rail tracks and general debris from an earlier age. I couldn't even imagine how this area was to be transformed so dramatically in the years to come and how much it's enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.