Visit Fife in Scotland
Kingdom of Fife - a beautiful part of Scotland
Tucked away on the east side of Scotland, just over the water from Edinburgh, is the Kingdom of Fife. This Scottish county is not the best known part of Scotland, but has so much to offer, from genuine Medieval castles to Cold War bunkers, and from golden sandy beaches to extinct volcanoes!
Many visitors to Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland simply race through Fife on luxury coaches or in hire cars. Some make a token stop at St Andrews, right in the topmost corner of Fife. In their hurry to get to the Highlands, they miss out on much that Fife has to offer.
I have lived in Fife for more than a decade and would like to introduce you to this varied and very historic county that was once the home of Medieval kings and queens, saints and heretics.
Image by brianforbes37 on flickr, shared under Creative Commons license.
Fife's coastline is dotted with pretty fishing villages.
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Where in Scotland is Fife?
If you have ever flown into Edinburgh airport, you will have had the thrill of flying down along the Forth River, towards the famous rail bridge and her sister road bridge. You were probably looking for a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle or other sights of this beautiful city. However, if you were on the 'wrong' side of the aircraft, you will have instead seen the coastline of Fife.
The Firth of Forth (the estuary of the Forth River) flows inland from the chilly North Sea and divides Edinbugh (on its south bank) from Fife (on the north). Visiting Fife is a simple matter of taking the train or car, heading north for just a few miles, and crossing the Forth bridges.
At the upper edge of Fife, the county is also separated by an estuary - the Firth of Tay - from its neighbors: the city of Dundee and the county of Angus.
Even though Fife is not a large county, because of its geographical situation between these two estuaries and the North Sea, it has approximately 100 miles of coastline. Its boundaries also include forested areas and the Lomond Hills.
The Kingdom of Fife within Scotland
Detail of a map shared by Eric Gaba (Wikimedia Commons User: Sting). I have added a red arrow pointing to Fife.
Crossing the Firth of Forth to Fife - (Try saying that a few times!)
The Forth Bridges cross the Firth of Forth, linking Edinburgh with Fife. The suspension road bridge was built alongside the iconic rail bridge.
(Image shared by user hotblack on morgueFile.)
Dunfermline and the West of Fife
To see the outskirts of Dunfermline today, with its new housing estates sprouting up practically overnight to house Edinburgh commuters, you might not know it was one of Scotland's most ancient and important cities.
However, you will begin to glimpse the Medieval past of this city once you explore the ancient Abbey and the palace ruins at its heart. For it was hear in the 11th Century that King Malcolm III and Queen Margaret ruled their kingdom. This is the reason that today you can still hear people speak of the 'Kingdom of Fife'.
A number of kings and queens, including Malcolm and Margaret, are buried within Dunfermline Abbey.
King Robert I (Robert the Bruce), a great Scottish warrior who fought for the country's independence in the Middle Ages, is commemorated in an inscription on the Abbey's tower. His body is buried within, although his heart was taken to Melrose Abbey.
Near the Abbey, you can visit the Abbot House Heritage Centre, which has preserved in its rooms and gardens several periods of Scottish history.
Dunfermline was also home to philantropist Andrew Carnegie, and The Red Shoes ballet star Moira Shearer.
Other interesting places in the area include the Royal Burgh of Culross. Although the industrial surroundings do not promise much, this is a pretty village whose 16th century cottages and narrow cobbled streets have been carefully preserved by the National Trust for Scotland.
The nearby village of Charlestown is today an attractive model village but was once a major Scottish industrial centre. The village was originally built in the shape of the letters CE to commemorate its creator Charles Bruce, Earl of Elgin.
Dunfermline: Once center of a kingdom
Visit the ruins at Dunfermline, and go inside the Abbey. Or visit lovely Pittencrieff Park, gift of Andrew Carnegie to the people of his hometown.
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Abbot House in Dunfermline
You can go inside the historic Abbot House, close to Dunfermline Abbey.
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Head east from Dunfermline, taking the coastal route to see seaside towns bordering a coastline that alternates between rocky cliffs and wide sandy beaches.
Aberdour prides itself on its beautiful train station, bedecked with hanging flower baskets. It also has the famous Silver Sands beach.
Things become more industrial between the towns of Kirkcaldy and Leven, although there are still some fine sandy beaches to be enjoyed.
Kirkcaldy is known as 'the Lang Toun' (the Long Town) and was home to linoleum manufacturing. You can still catch a whiff of linseed oil on the breeze now and then. It is also home to the Links Market. This street fair is one of the oldest in Europe.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is from Kirkcaldy and attended Kirkcaldy High School. The economist and philosopher Adam Smith is another of Kirkcaldy's famous sons.
Artist Jack Vettriano has a home in Kirkcaldy and grew up in this area. He reportedly would study the paintings in Kirkcaldy Art and Museum Gallery while teaching himself to paint. The Gallery today shows an original painting donated by Vettriano. His most famous work, The Singing Butler, features nearby Leven beach.
Handsome Hollywood actor Dougray Scott (Mission Impossible II, Ever After, Enigma) grew up in the nearby new town of Glenrothes.
Moving inland to the heart of Fife, you will reach the carefully-preserved historic village of Falkland, nestled beneath the Lomond Hills. Falkland Palace is a magnificent Renaissance palace. Mary Queen of Scots and other Royals would stay here while hunting nearby. The palace also houses the world's oldest tennis court, built in 1539 for King James V. The Palace and Gardens are open to the public.
A renaissance palace in the heart of a Fife village. Mary Queen of Scots was a visitor here.
(Image shared by jim.gifford on flickr.)
Kirkcaldy's industrial past
This crumbling old factory was once at the heart of linoleum production in Scotland.
(Image copyright the author, 2009)
Jack Vettriano: Fife's famous son
Whether you have been a fan for years or have only recently discovered Vettriano's art, this book by the man himself will be a delight. Combines information on the artist with full-color images of his paintings.
Visit Jack Vettriano's beach
East Neuk of Fife and St Andrews
The East Neuk is part of Eastern Fife, and the area most of interest to tourists. This region comprises of a stretch of attractive North Sea coastline running between a number of pretty fishing villages and towns.
These villages include Earlsferry, Elie, St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther, Kilrenny and Crail.
Of these, Crail is perhaps the most popular and well-known. This picturesque village has its own community of artists. It is home to a beautiful 13th Century church.
Anstruther is the largest and the famous Fish Bar, where Tom Hanks was spotted sampling a fish supper (fish and chips), can be found along the harbour.
St Monans is a quiet spot but has the nearby Saltpans and windmill that allow visitors to look back into the past, when salt was processed here.
Elie is my personal favourite, with its hidden coves and little rockpools in which you can spot ruby sea anemones.
A few miles from Crail, if you follow the signs, you will end up at an ordinary looking Scottish farmhouse surrounded by out-of-commission tanks and missiles. This is the entrance to the Secret Bunker, which dates from the Cold War. You can enter through the shop and descend a lengthy tunnel into the depths of the bunker beneath.
St Andrews is a must for many visitors, particularly golf enthusiasts, who can visit the oldest and possibly most famous golf course in the world. This small town is packed with history. Visit the ruins of the mighty cathedral or wander among the historic University buildings. John Knox preached here, and in more recent times it was home to Prince William who studied at the university.
The West Sands is a wide stretch of sandy beach to the north of the town. It is here that Scottish athlete Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame would run. Allegedly, it is this beach that appears in the movie although it is said to be wrongly credited as Broadstairs beach in Kent (perhaps both were used during filming).
East Neuk villages
The East Neuk of Fife is one of Scotland's loveliest spots. Enjoy working harbours, peaceful beaches and fresh sea air.
(Image shared by Andy Hawkins on flickr.)
Old streets of St Andrews
This beautiful image shows College Street in St Andrews at dusk. This small but famous town has plenty of cobbled streets and historical echoes.
(Image shared by skreid on flickr.)