Sunday 27 October 2019

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 1B - North Queensferry to Dunfermline

Fife Pigrim Way - Part 1B

The Fife Pilgrim Way gives you the choice of starting at either Culross or North Queensferry before coming to Dunfermline, then on towards St Andrews. 

North Queensferry to Dunfermline

One of my favourite views in Scotland is of the Firth of Forth, looking out over the now three bridges crossing the river at Queensferry. I have been travelling back and forth (apologies) over the bridges for years, more frequently since I married a Fifer 20 years ago. The elegance and drama of the Forth Rail Bridge's red girders makes it one of the wonders of the modern world. However, before there were any bridges here it was a treacherous crossing.

North Queensferry and the Forth Rail Bridge

Queensferry, "The Ferry" or South Queensferry. Whatever you call it, the town that sits here on the southern bank of the River Forth takes its name from Queen Margaret, Scotland's only Royal Saint. Margaret of Wessex was an English princess born around the year 1045 in Hungary before her family returned to England. She was the daughter of Edward Æthelred, known as Edward the Exile. Not long after returning to England she and her family fled again, to Scotland after the Norman conquest of  England in 1066. With an arrow in his eye, the death of King Harold meant that her brother was next in line to the throne, a claim rejected by William the Conqueror. She sailed from Northumbria and her family arrived, as refugees I suppose, on the Fife coast near to where Rosyth now sits. In 1070 she was married to King Malcolm III and came to live in his royal residence in Dunfermline, Fife. 
Beauty and the beast? Joseph Noel Paton's arcadian rendering of Queen Margaret and Malcolm III
She is oft described as being a pious Roman Catholic who spent a lot of her energy modernising Scottish worship, moving it away from its Celtic Christianity roots and more in line with the continental practices of contemporary Rome. She may also have introduced the Anglo-Saxon language to court, replacing Gaelic. Pilgrims were already travelling to St Andrews to visit the relics of the saint there, and she established the "Queen's Ferry" across the River Forth to facilitate their journeys. Like Culross, St Andrews had been a place of worship since the 8th century, and Margaret now created a religious community at Dunfermline. She invited the Benedictine Order to establish a monastery here, and soon there were numerous religious settlements in the area; the Cistercian monasteries at Culross and Balmerino, the Benedictine abbey at Dunfermline, a Franciscan friary at Inverkeithing, the Augustinian priories at St Andrews, Loch Leven, Inchcolm and Pittenweem. Over this period numerous religious houses were established in Fife.

Margaret herself used a shrine in a small cave on the banks of Dunfermline's Tower Burn in which to pray. In 1962 the local council decided to fill in this valley in order to create a public car park, but local opposition meant that access to the cave, which I think we can safely call a grotto, was preserved. In 1990 a rather functional access tunnel was created down to St Margaret's Cave, which can be visited in the town centre if you can manage the 87 steps (free to access from Spring to Autumn). If you start descending the stairs don't be put off by thinking you have accidentally arrived at a nuclear bunker, keep going and you'll get there - just don't build your hopes up too much for a religious epiphany at the bottom. Instead you will find a robe-clad mannequin of the good lady contemplating the ceiling of her nook.
Steps down to St Margaret's Cave
Sculpture of St Margaret in her cave
Margaret died in Edinburgh Castle in 1093, three days after hearing of her husband's death at the Battle of Alnwick. After her death she was buried at Dunfermline Abbey and her grave became a place of pilgrimage, with many people praying at her graveside for cures from sickness. Many miraculous healings were recorded and in 1250 she was canonised by Pope Innocent IV and her body moved to a shrine at the abbey. After the destruction of Dunfermline Abbey in The Scottish Reformation her body was smuggled abroad by the Jesuits (although St Margaret's Church in Dunfermline has a bit of her shoulder as a relic). Now many religious buildings around Scotland carry the name of St Margaret. Nothing now remains of her shrine at Dunfermline Abbey. After the church was rebuilt as a Protestant, Church of Scotland church this very Catholic shrine was left on the outside, but it's site is marked by a small plaque. 

Former shrine to St Margaret in Dunfermline

North Queensferry to Inverkeithing

So to take up the route of the Fife Pilgrim Way from North Queensferry we need to start at the old pier, which was built hundreds of years after the time of Queen Margaret. The Rail Bridge was opened in 1890, but it wasn't until 1967 that the ferry was put out of business by the Forth Road Bridge, which had opened in 1964. Travelers in the Middle Ages arriving in North Queensferry could come a couple of streets back to visit St James's chapel, which was run by the monks of Dunfermline Abbey from at least 1320. St James was a patron saint of pilgrims. The now ruined chapel, lies in ...Chapel Place where it has been used as a graveyard by local sailors since 1752 according to the plaque on the wall here.

North Queensferry, Chapel Place
The path follows the Fife Coastal Path to Inverkeithing, under the spans of the rail bridge and then along the coast for a mile or so.

Forth Rail Bridge overhead
Looking across the River Forth
Arriving in Inverkeithing of the Middle Ages weary travelers would find a comfortable resting place at the Franciscan Friary here. This large, late 13th century "hospitium" survives remarkably intact, with a well in the garden at the back. As well as housing the friary, the town was a port and a market town, trading sheep, cattle and animal products. From the 1820s until the 1930s there was much activity at the whinstone quarries near the town, cutting stone that was used for Leith and Liverpool Docks, London pavements and the Forth and Clyde Canal. Other local employment could be found in paper making, ship building and coal mining - three industries now all but vanished from the area.

Coming into the town you pass a rather empty looking dock, a scrapyard, and the old quarry. You then come to a nondescript patch of land, called Witchknowe Park ("witches hill"). Inverkeithing has a sorry history as a "hotbed of witch-finding and punishing". Now much reduced in size, this park was reportedly the field where dozens of alleged witches were burnt alive in the 17th century. Between 1621 and 1652 the local church records report at least 51 cases, mostly women, convicted and executed for witchcraft in this town (despite having a larger population, Kirkcaldy executed 18 people in this same period according to this Scotsman article by Chris McCall) . 

Wtchknowe Park, Inverkeithing
The Hospitium in Inverkeithing
Inverkeithing High Street, with the 14th century church at the top

Inverkeithing to Rosyth

A lack of signposts for the Fife Pilgrim Way over the next wee bit, and wrong data on some of the GPX files available online means that a good old fashioned map can be handy here, but the route takes you out by Hill Street and then over the M90 and across the B890, or Castlelandhill Road as it is called. Castlelandhill? I can't see no castle? Well if you didn't know about it, there is nothing here to tell you, but you are about to walk across Fife's bloodiest battlefield.

The Battle of Inverkeithing on 21st July 1651 saw Oliver Cromwell's English Parliamentary forces pave the way for his conquest of Scotland, against an army of Covenanters and Royalists fighting under the flag of Charles II. With the heart of Scotland fortified south of Stirling, Cromwell realised that if he swept quickly into Fife he could march towards Perth and cut off Scottish supplies and reinforcements from the north. The Scottish forces were 4500 strong on the higher ground at Castleland Hill above Inverkeithing, near to where a similar sized force landed with Cromwell below. Wary of Scottish reinforcements arriving, Cromwell's troops quickly advanced, and despite initial successes for Scottish cavalry the Scots were soon forced back to Pitreavie Castle, sustaining heavy losses in the retreat. 800 men under Maclean of Duart held out for 4 hours on the slopes near the castle, but eventually all but 35 of these men were killed. A cairn in Pitreavie, just by a mini-roundabout on Castle Brae commemorates these men. By the end of the day 2000 Scots had been killed and a further 1600 taken prisoner. Much of the battlefield now lies under roads and housing estates, and if I hadn't read about the area before running along this way today I would not have known about it at all. Surprising, given the brutality of the fighting that day - perhaps we are not so good at remembering defeats. The open fields up here now give views back across to the bridges for the last time, as we head down towards Rosyth.

Forth Road Bridge and Queensferry Bridge from Castleland Hill
Rosyth shipyard in the distance, with the Goliath crane used to construct the aircraft carriers here

Rosyth to Dunfermline

Fife Pilgrim Way signpost
Rosyth as a town was created in 1909, as a dockyard town. The naval dockyard was built at the time of a mounting arms race with Germany. Much of the work the dockyard has had is in refitting ships and in ship-breaking, from the salvage of many of the German naval vessels scuttled at Scapa Flow, to its more recent role in attempting to decommission nuclear submarines. For the past few years the yard has been kept busy in constructing the new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, HMS Queen Elizabeth, and HMS Prince of Wales (there are no immediate plans to build an HMS King Charles III).

Wilson Way, Rosyth
Rosyth FC
The Fife Pilgrim Way comes west along Ferry Toll Road, above a part of the coast called St Margaret's Hope, which may have been where the fleeing future queen landed in Scotland. The route then turns up Wilson Way and cuts through a park where Junior Football club Rosyth FC play. Skirting around their pitch the path heads north towards a busy A-road, heading west along a narrow path beside this road for half a mile before crossing over and going north towards Dunfermline. The first thing you come to, hidden among the trees here, is the isolated, and beautifully maintained Douglas Bank Cemetery. As you would expect, with Rosyth being a naval town, there is a naval plot here, with over 130 burials of people who died in the First and Second World Wars. 

Douglas Bank Cemetery in Autumn 2019
The path goes through a short forest here and then across some open fields before arriving at the southern end of Dunfermline. Heading towards the centre takes you past a cricket club and rugby club at McKane Park, before you arrive at the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum and the abbey.

Whether you started the Fife Pilgrim Way in either Culross or North Queensferry, it now heads east out of town, passing East End Park, home to Dunfermline Football Club.... 

Fife Pilgrim Way Links

  • Part 3 - Lochore to Markinch - Lochgelly to Lochore, then through Kinglassie and along the River Leven to Leslie, Glenrothes and Markinch


Wednesday 23 October 2019

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 1A - Culross to Dunfermline

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 1A

After the success of the Fife Coastal Path, opened in 2002, a new long distance walking path has been created in Fife. The Fife Pilgrim Way opened in 2019. It follows a 64 mile (104km) route that medieval pilgrims would have taken from North Queensferry or from Culross, via Dunfermline Abbey and onwards to St Andrews.

By connecting existing paths, upgrading others and creating some new tracks the Fife Pilgrim Way can be used as a sign-posted route for day-trips around Fife, or could be taken on as a relaxing walk over several days. I have divided it up into several short runs which I plan to undertake over the Autumn and Winter months of 2019. The route goes through some of Fife's medieval and religious sites, but inevitably also passes many of the industrial sites from the days when coal was king in this part of the world.

Culross to Dunfermline

Since at least AD 965 until St Andrews Cathedral was destroyed in the Reformation in 1559, people came across to Fife to make a pilgrimage to see relics of St Andrew in the town that took his name. Many of these travelers would have arrived at North Queensferry, but the Fife Pilgrim Way gives you a choice of following the route from there, or from Culross, to Dunfermline. As a Glaswegian, I started from the town where the patron saint of my hometown, St Mungo, was born. Culross

17th century house in Culross, with the Greek inscription "God provides and will provide" above the window
Culross was once the fourth largest port in Scotland, trading with the Low Countries and Scandinavia. Rich coal seams under the Forth and a monopoly on 16th century Scottish iron girdle pan manufacture (eh?) created its wealth. However the town's origins were as a religious centre. The ruins of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1217 still stand on the hillside above the waterfront, with a 19th century church in one corner of this area. However its religious roots go back to St Serf who established a community here about 500 years earlier in the era of early Celtic Christianity. 

Saint Serf

As his life story was written down half a millennium after his death, and was rather designed to add to his prestige, it is impossible to separate fact from fiction in his story. What is certainly true is that he was born in Alexandria in Egypt, crossed the Alps, later went to Rome and became Pope and arrived in Scotland to do missionary work. Throwing his staff across the River Forth, it landed among prickly bushes in what is now Culross, where miraculous fruit trees sprouted and he set up a monastery at this spot. He later debated with the devil in a cave at Dysart, turned water into wine and slayed a dragon with his staff. Alternatively, he may have been a Gaelic speaking monk with associations in the Ochil Hills who established several religious settlements here and hereabouts, but most notably at Culross, or Cuileann Ros, the holly point/promontory. 

Culross Abbey
Stained glass window in Culross Abbey Church, with St Serf and St Kentigern

Saint Mungo/ Saint Kentigern

Kentigern, also known by his nickname Mungo, possibly derived from the Gaelic Mo Choë, taken to mean "My Dear". He was believed to have been taught by St Serf. The illegitimate son of pagan royalty his mother, Teneu (later St Enoch), was washed ashore at Culross and taken in by the monastery where Kentigern was raised. He later traveled west to the banks of the River Clyde to spread his religious teachings. The spot where he established his first church may be where Glasgow cathedral now stands nearly 1500 years later.

Culross pier
Before starting the route I took the chance to have a quick look about the picture postcard pretty village of Culross. The village as it stands today is largely the 17th century appearance. The town was being threatened with demolition in the 1930s when the National Trust for Scotland bought the whole village and slowly restored the crumbling buildings. The contrast between the village, which has been used repeatedly as a film and TV set (it seems that half of Outlander is filmed here), and the petro-chemical plant at Grangemouth across the River Forth is striking. The coal fired power station at Longannet just a couple of miles east of the village no longer has a permanent plume of smoke billowing from it after it closed in 2016. You have to wonder how much of a future Grangemouth has if Scotland is to achieve its net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

Grangemouth petro-chemical works on the south bank of the Forth
Longannet power station near Culross, now closed but soon to become a train making factory
As well as being a centre of monastic communities, Fife also has a history of religious leaders pursuing women for supposed witchcraft. Although we may be familiar with witchcraft trials in Salem in Massachusetts, Scotland also persecuted many people for this "crime", mostly women. Between 1563 and 1736 more than 3800 men and women were documented as being accused of witchcraft, with at least two thirds of these people executed. Fife was a particular hotbed of witch trials. In the 1640s the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland passed several acts "for the suppression of witches" and many women were imprisoned, executed or even lynched in Inverkeithing, Pittenweem, Kirkcaldy and St Andrews over this era. In Culross the Townhouse which sits on the main street with its distinctive clock tower was the place where the court sat. Women accused of witchcraft were allegedly held prisoner in the tower awaiting trial (the ground floor rooms were more usually used as the cells here. 

Culross Townhouse
"The study" at Culross market place
The medieval Mercat Cross
Views across the Culross chimneys to Grangemouth
The Fife Pilgrim Way starts from the west car park in Culross and follows the Fife Coastal Path for a couple of miles, zig-zagging across the train line here and passing behind the Torry Bay Local Nature Reserve. The remains of Preston Island salt pans lie off to your right. 

King Coal

Before going any further I must mention one thing that I did NOT see between Culross and Dunfermline - evidence of the area's coal mining. The empty shell of Longannet is the only clue that there ever was a coal industry here, but in its heyday a century ago 20,000 miners were employed in producing 10,000,000 tons of coal per year. The first coal burnt in Fife was literally sticking out of the ground, pushed up by geological pressures. It could also be howked out from the sides of glens and valleys where it was often exposed. The first recorded authorisation to dig for coal was in 1291 when the Abbot of Dunfermline was granted permission to extract coal from Pittencrieff Glen. Until the Reformation the monasteries controlled coal extraction, but afterwards the landowners could profit from it. Near Culross in the 16th century coal was mined from under the Forth from an artificial island. The Moat Pit was abandonded when it flooded after being swamped in a storm in 1625. 

Preston Island was reclaimed from the Forth in the 1800s and mines started for coal to sell on, and to fire the salt pans here, evaporating water to produce a valuable commodity, a common industry along both sides of the Forth here at that time in places where coal could be easily accessed. By the 1850s the industry itself evaporated in the face of cheap salt imports.

Valleyfield, just east of Culross, was the home to the Valleyfield pit, opened by the Fife Coal Board in 1908. It was well known for high methane levels, or "firedamp" which was actually pumped out to supply public gas. In October 1939 an underground explosion here left 35 men dead, the worst ever pit disaster in Fife. A statue stands in High Valleyfield to commemorate those who died. When I was running the route I was unable to find it as it is not flagged up anywhere, but if you want to visit it, it stands at the junction of Woodhead Street and Valleyfield Avenue in Valleyfield. Valleyfield was still producing coal until 1978 when the pit was closed. At that time the workings connected under the Forth to pits at Bo'ness, west to the Longannet works and east to the Torry mine, which opened in 1950. Unbelievably a further 17 miners lost their lives at Valleyfield between 1942 and 1978, highlighting what a dangerous profession mining remained.


At Torryburn, where the Fife Coastal Path turns right along the coast, the Pilgrim Way carries on along the main road through the town. You soon pass an old phone box, which although no longer in use the box has been adopted and maintained by the local community.

One 18th century resident of Torryburn recently made news headlines. Lilias Adie died in prison in 1704 while awaiting trial for witchcraft. She is believed to have admitted under torture to having a "tryst with the devil". She faced being burned at the stake and her burial site by the shore at Torryburn is the only known grave in Scotland of a woman accused of witchcraft. As such plans are being drawn up to mark the spot, as a memorial to Lilias and the thousands of other women persecuted as supposed witches. Torryburn Church, built in 1800 has an interesting collection of much older gravestones in the churchyard, many illustrating the trades of the deceased. Many of these date from the time of the first church on this site, built in 1616.

One of the nearby Tuilyies standing stones

A slight detour to the north could have taken in the Tuilyies standing stones that lie beside the A985 nearby, showing that centuries before weaving and coal mining brought people here, it was a sacred Bronze Age site. 

Torryburn Church
Gravestone at Torryburn


Following the signposted route along paths and pavements leads you into Cairneyhill, a former weavers village. The main road will take you across "conscience bridge" over the Torry Burn. Allegedly the bridge gets its name from a murderer who was caught here, confessed his crime and hanged himself. After Cairneyhill the path veers off to the left then turns right towards Dunfermline. The first views  of Dunfermline Abbey lie ahead.

Row of cottages passed on leaving Cairneyhill
The path towards Dunfermline, the Abbey in the distance
The path as it approaches the edge of Dunfermline


Dunfermline was made into a royal residence by King Malcolm III. After Malcolm's father, Duncan, was killed by Macbeth, he fled to England at the court of Edward the Confessor. He returned north after 17 years and after the death of Macbeth and his stepson Lulach, became king of Scotland around 1058. He moved the royal residence to Dunfermline, which remained a royal residence for the monarchs of Scotland for hundreds of years.

Steam train sitting in Pittencreiff Park, Dunfermline
It was Malcolm's second wife, Margaret of Wessex, who changed the face of religious practice in Scotland, and in Dunfermline this can be see in the remains of the Benedictine Dunfermline Abbey that she established. The abbey is at the heart of Dunfermline's "heritage quarter". The abbey itself became the burial ground of many kings and queens of Scotland, most notably King Robert the Bruce (although his heart is buried in Melrose). Much of the ancient abbey is in ruins but is well worth a visit. The Dunfermline Abbey Church was built here in 1820 and is still an active church. It's distinctive "KING ROBERT THE BRUCE" stonework at the top of the tower is a decidedly modern-looking adornment for a place of worship.

Dunfermline abbey church
The nave of the former abbey 
Dunfermline abbey 

On a sunnier day, early this summer

Dunfermline heritage quarter

Standing on the former site of Queen Margaret/ Saint Margaret's tomb which became a shrine, looking towards the "Abbot's House"
As well as monks and royalty, Dunfermline was also home to one of the 19th century's wealthiest men. Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835, in a weaver's cottage which still stands in the town as a museum to him. His father was a handloom weaver and as work fell away to the rapidly industrialising industry, Andrew was aged 13 when his family emigrated to America. From humble beginnings he made his fortune in the steel industry, and made his name with philanthropy. With a mixture of his family's Chartist and Presbyterian beliefs he truly seemed to live his life by the famous quote attributed to him, that "The man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced.". During his lifetime he gave away approximately 90% of his wealth. His money built 3000 libraries around the world (including most of Glasgow's Victorian libraries that I first borrowed books from), music halls, educational buildings, the Carnegie Trust fund to be shared by the 4 Scottish universities, and even a vast telescope in America. In Dunfermline he built baths, libraries and bought Pittencrieff Park and endowed it to his hometown, with funds to maintain it and ensure it was free for all to use (he had been banned from entering it as a child by an official due to his family's political views). I have not been able to discover if Carnegie's philanthropy extended to the wages and working conditions he gave his employees, the people who made him his billions, but we can only hope so.

Carnegie's birthplace museum

Carnegie's birthplace museum

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 1B

From Dunfermline the Fife Pilgrim Way heads north towards Kelty, but first I am going to go back to the alternative start, at North Queensferry, and pick up the story of Saint Margaret...

Fife Pilgrim Way Links

  • Part 3 - Lochore to Markinch - Lochgelly to Lochore, then through Kinglassie and along the River Leven to Leslie, Glenrothes and Markinch