Thursday, 28 November 2019

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 4 Markinch to Ceres

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 4

Markinch to Ceres

The Fife Pilgrim Way is a new long distance walking path, following in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims coming from Culross or North Queensferry to see the relics of St Andrew. Over several weekends I am trying to run the route, and find out a bit about the local history on the way. The last leg brought me from Lochore to Markinch. Today it was onward to Ceres.

Markinch Church

Markinch to Kennoway

It was a grey and foggy morning when I left Markinch, and although the rain stayed off all day, it had been raining heavily for several days beforehand making much of the path muddy or awash with water. Much of the path in this section is along the grassy verge of fields meaning there wasn't much solid ground between the towns. It is November and that is what you would expect so I was ready for it, but I did enjoy a hot bath and a scrub at the end of the day.

Former Haig Distillery, Markinch
Leaving Markinch the path heads east out of town through open countryside, staying north of the road that goes into Milton of Balgonie. You can't see it from the Fife Pilgrim Way, but the striking red brick building of the former Haig bottling plant and whisky bond is the first thing you see when you drive out of this side of Markinch. It was once a big employer for Markinch people. The Haig distillery started prodution of its whisky in nearby Cameron Bridge in 1824. The grassy path continues through farmland here until it reaches Windygates in about 3 miles, with flocks of geese coming and going to eat in the fields nearby as I came along this way.

The path out of Markinch
Diageo still has a large bottling facility a few miles further east from here, in Leven. Much of the wheat grown in this part of Fife ends up being turned into spirit, vodkas and Gordon's Gin in Cameron Bridge Distillery just south of Windygates. Apparently this is Europe's largest grain distillery and it was briefly visible to the south through the fog as I approached the outskirts of Windygates. Just beyond it lies Cameron Bridge Hospital (or Cameron Brig Hospital if you are a local). Although this is no longer its role, it opened as an infectious disease hospital in 1912. When the first four wards were built, the old Haig House was used as the administrative block. This building still stands, and was built by the Haig family in 1849. It became the home of Field Marshal Earl Haig, who was born in 1861. The hospital was expanded in the 1930s, and then again in 1955 when a TB treatment unit was added. 

Two coos and Cameron Bridge Distillery
The path comes to Windygates, where it turns north to head through the town of Kennoway. On the southern outskirts of Kennoway, to the right hand side of the road sits an odd hill. This is not a pit bing. This is Kennoway Motte, usually called Maiden Castle, an artificially created medieval mote-hill for a motte-and-bailey style castle. This has traditionally been associated with Macduff, Thane of Fife, who hailed from hereabouts. One tower of the more substantial Macduff Castle still sits at East Weymss four miles to the south. In Shakespeare's Macbeth play it is Macduff, who "from his mother's womb untimely ripped" kills the tyrannical king in the final act.

Maiden Castle, Kennoway
The real Macduff, like the real Macbeth, is difficult to unpick from the mythical character immortalised by Shakespeare. Macbeth was the King of Scots from 1040 (after killing King Duncan I in battle near Elgin) until his own death in 1057. He had made frequent raids into Northumbria, and it was the nephew of Siward, Earl of Northumbria, Duncan's son Malcolm Canmore, that replaced Macbeth as King of the Scots and became Malcolm III. This is the same Malcolm that moved the royal residence to Dunfermline upon taking the throne in 1058. Macbeth was defeated by Malcolm's forces at the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057. This Lumphanan is in Aberdeenshire, not the Lumphinnans in Fife near to Lochgelly, famed for having a street named Gagarin Way in honour of the Soviet Cosmonaut. 

The Clan MacDuff website has Macduff, Thane of Fife as the slayer of Macbeth, bringing his severed head to Malcolm. Thane as a title is an early version of Earl. Whatever MacDuff's actual involvement in the defeat of Macbeth was, he was rewarded by the newly crowned king by being raised to Senior Earl of Scotland, elevating the MacDuffs to become the second most important family in Scotland, and granting them lands in Fife. It was a MacDuff that placed the crown on King Malcolm III's head.


Old weavers' cottages in Kennoway

A former mill sluice in Kennoway Den
Kennoway was a former staging post on the stage horse road between St Andrews and the coast at Kinghorn. It later became a mill town, with several mills along the Kennoway Burn. As the town was largely rebuilt in the 1940s to house miners for pits in the surrounding area, little evidence of the old town survives but the Fife Pilgrim Way deviates from the main road to pass some former weavers cottages on The Causeway. There was a proposal for Kennoway to become Fife's New Town in the 1940s, before Glenrothes was chosen in preference. Like other towns in this part of Fife that housed many miners in the twentieth century, the closure of the Fife coalfield brought unemployment and hardship to the town. 

I took a detour off of the Fife Pilgrim Way to follow the path through Kennoway Den, alongside Kennoway Burn. The word den describes a ravine, a hollow with sloping sides and this Den was busy with dog walkers when I visited. Several footbridges cross the Kennoway Burn, the oldest dating from 1704. Some old wells and caves can be found here too and the Den Green, that was used to bleach linen in the sunshine in the weaving times. 
The burn was pretty full in Kennoway Den after a few days of heavy rain

A colourful totem pole in Kennoway with mining motifs among other carvings
Henry McLeish, former First Minister of Scotland, grew up in Kennoway, born to a mining family. He started playing football here, progressing to play at East Fife FC.

Kennoway to Ceres

After leaving Kennoway the path again skirts the edge of fields, forests and farm buildings as it heads towards Ceres, 9 miles away. There may be lovely views on clear days here, there may not, but I couldn't tell you. By this point the fog was closing in and the path was very heavy underfoot. The last time I got into such deep fog in Fife was in 2013. Cowdenbeath were beating Partick Thistle 2-1 by the time fog descended and the match had to be abandoned. Partick Thistle won the re-arranged fixture, which probably saved our season that year, so Fife fog is filled with happy memories for me.

Farm buildings near Kennoway 
Clatto Reservoir, looking very atmospheric in the fog
Clatto Reservoir once provided the water supply for Cupar, but no longer and is now used for recreational brown trout fishing.There were plenty of fungi around too, enjoying the damp conditions. I would love to know which mushrooms are safe and which are deadly, but as a risk-averse individual I think I'll just stick to buying them in shops. On holiday in Sweden a few years ago the farmer who was renting us a cottage told us to help ourselves to any mushrooms we gathered with the re-assuring phrase "most of them aren't poisonous." To me this phrase rings alarm bells in the same way as a light bulb that's not working in a horror movie basement scene does.

The path mostly runs along the field edges...
...but can become muddy after heavy rain
For the last mile heading into Ceres The Waterless Way was not living up to its name, but once you are covered in mud a wee bit more doesn't really make much difference. This is just a reminder that you are following a path in Scotland, where the weather can contribute to the challenges of any route.


Ceres (pronounced as you would 'series') is a dwarf planet that orbits in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. It is also an ancient village in Fife. The road from Kennoway to Ceres was called The Waterless Way, which I presume was medieval shorthand for "no service station for 9 miles". It did not follow the course of any streams or rivers, as paths usually did. The medieval pilgrims that came along this route on their way to St Andrews would stop for one last night in Ceres, weary and in need of refreshment. The current parish church stands on the site of an older one and marks the spot where Christianity has been worshiped for over 1000 years. Pilgrims would stop to pray and receive a blessing here before embarking on the last leg of their trip. In the 1500s Scotstarvit Tower just west of the village was built by the Inglis family, and is looked after by Historic Scotland.

Ceres struck me as a very handsome and well-to-do village, with many old buildings still being used and in a good state of repair. Those in need of refreshment can find it in the couple of hotels in town, or in the tearooms at the Fife Folk Museum, which sits in some former weavers cottages and the old tolbooth building by the Ceres Burn. The museum itself closes over the winter months. After the Hopes of Craighall made Ceres a Barony in 1620 it became a busy market town, and the tolbooth was built in 1673, a prison cell in the basement and a weigh house above. Standard weights were kept here for use on market days to prevent fraud, and the carving of some goods being weighed above the door carries the motto (or warning) "God Bless The Just".

The Weigh House, Ceres
Ceres is home to the oldest Highland Games in Scotland, which started in 1315, the year after the Battle of Bannockburn. It was organised to celebrate the men of the village that had fought there, and a memorial to the Ceres men that fought in Bannockburn sits in the centre of the village.

Playing fields in the centre of the village

Memorial erected in 1914 on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn
An old bridge crosses the burn near to the Folk Museum, Bishop's Brig. The bridge gets its name from Archbishop Sharpe who was murdered shortly after crossing this bridge, in 1679. In the 17th century The Covenanters organised opposition to Episcopalian changes brought by the Stuart kings to their Presbyterian Scottish church. The national Covenant was signed by a large gathering in Greyfriars graveyard in Edinburgh in 1638 and their uprising was at times bloody and brutally suppressed, largely coming to an end with the rule of King William of Orange in the late 17th century.

In the face of Presbyterian resistance, James Sharpe was appointed Archbishop of St Andrews and Primate of Scotland in 1661. At attempt on his life was made in Edinburgh in 1668. His would-be assassin was imprisoned on Bass Rock and became a martyr to some when executed in 1678. In 1679 Archbishop Sharpe was making his way back to St Andrews. When his coach left Ceres, the group of Covenanters who had been informed of his presence, caught up with his coach at Magus Muir, between Ceres and St Andrews. His coachman was shot and Sharpe was dragged from the carriage by a group of nine Covenanters and stabbed multiple times by them. 

Bishop's Brig, Ceres
Another curio in the town is the statue known as The Provost, though it looks more like a Toby Jug. He was hidden behind a lorry whilst some builders put up scaffolding when I passed. The work of local stonemason John Howie, born in 1820, it is meant to be a likeness of "the Provost of Ceres", the Reverend Thomas Buchanan, minister of Ceres from 1578-1599. 

The Provost, Ceres
I will definitely make an effort to come back in the summertime to see Ceres and visit the museum, it looks a perfect place for a lazy stroll and a pub lunch. I would also like to come back to visit the shop of potter Griselda Hill, who works here producing Weymss Ware. Another time. For now it was a case of getting back to Glasgow. I haven't quite got my head around all the intricacies of the Fife public transport system, but I decided that for me the speediest way to get home was to grab a roll and a can of ginger from the Spar on the Main Street and walk the three miles to Cupar to catch the hourly train service south. A pavement and less fog on the road would have made it a more relaxing walk.
The road to Cupar.
Next time it is the last leg of the Fife Pilgrim Way, Ceres to St Andrews.

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

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 3. Lochore to Markinch

Fife Pilgrim Way - Part 3

Lochore Meadows to Markinch

The Fife Pilgrim Way is a new long distance walking path, following in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims coming from Culross or North Queensferry to see the relics of St Andrew. Over several weekends I am trying to run the route, and find out a bit about the local history on the way.

After coming from Dunfermline to Lochore last time, this section from Lochore to Markinch brings me to a part of Fife that I am more familiar with. My wife is from Glenrothes, and going back several generations her family have lived in Lochgelly, Markinch and Balbirnie. Also it finally gives me an excuse to walk over the Cabbagehall Viaduct.


I have been running these stages of The Fife Pilgrim Way whenever I get the chance. I live in Glasgow so am relying on public transport to get me to and from different starting and finishing points. Lochore isn't easy to get to from here, so I have started 1 mile further down the road in Lochgelly, where there is a train station. The eccentricities of ScotRail's Fife Circle timetable meant that it wasn't as easy to get a few miles back down the track from Markinch as I'd imagined, but nonetheless it gave me the chance to have a quick stoat about Lochgelly. This suited me just fine as my wife's grandparents lived in Lochgelly, and it is a place that I have not been to for a while. Jimmy Herd started working down the mines here at the age of 14 and worked underground for over 50 years. He spent many years in the dangerous job of setting the explosives to break up the coal seam.

My mother-in-law as a child, a coal miner's daughter
After Jimmy had retired in the early 1980s, and given up on blowing things up, he turned his hand to making things. He would turn his hand to anything; conservatories, garages, swing seats, and even garden strimmers made from re-purposed washing machine motors. His finest piece I think was the violin he decided to make I think than for no other reason than to see if he could, which is a thing of beauty.

Jimmy with his violin, ready for a final varnish
Lochgelly has a longer history than some of the other mining towns nearby, already a noted town for weavers in the 1600s before iron ore and coal extraction began 200 years later. When the nearby Jenny Pit closed in 1957, and the Nellie closed in 1965 there was still plenty of work nearby for the miners of Lochgelly. Jimmy ended his working life in the Seafield Colliery at Kirkcaldy, which extended under the River Forth. Seafield Colliery closed in 1988.

Today the only miner in Lochgelly stands in Lochgelly Square, a statue by David Annand of a miner supporting pit props which have lines of poetry, "God The Miner", on them from William Hershaw.

Lochgelly sculpture

Radical Politics

Just like my mother-in-law, another coal miner's daughter from Lochgelly was Jennie Lee. Born in 1904 she left Beath High School and headed for Edinburgh University, initially for teacher training. She was a socialist, like several other members of her family, and her grandfather was a friend of  Keir Hardie, who later became leader of the ILP.

1929 election card, Jennie Lee
In 1879 the 23 year old Keir Hardie was elected leader of the National Conference of miners at a meeting in Dunfermline, and led several local strikes against mine owners who were forcing a reduction in miners' wages that year. Jennie joined the ILP (The Independent Labour Party, the forerunner of the modern Labour Party) and was elected to parliament as their candidate in a by-election in North Lanarkshire in 1929. At that time she became the youngest MP in the House of Commons, aged 24 in an era when women under the age of 30 were not allowed to vote. Her first time in parliament overlapped with that of my great-uncle Robert Climie, who was the ILP MP for Kilmarnock until he died in October 1929.

In 1933 she married Welsh Labour MP Aneurin Bevin, and she was re-elected into parliament in 1945 for the Labour Party. She remained an out-spoken left-winger throughout her political career, and is most well-known for creating the Open University in the 1960s, when she was the first Minister of State for Education in Harold Wilson's government. The OU's goals were to offer education to those who had not had the opportunity to gain access to traditional universities. Appropriately the library in Lochgelly is now called the Jenny Lee Library.

Jennie Lee Library, Lochgelly
At Lochore Meadows the visitor centre is named after Willie Clarke. As I write this in November 2019, Willie Clarke has just died a couple of weeks ago, Britain's last Communist local councillor. Born in 1935 in Glencraig near Lochgelly he was a former miner, starting work when he was 14, and had been a trade unionist in the mines. For 43 years he was the councillor for Ballingry, standing on behalf of the Communist Party. In 1973, when he was first elected, there were 12 Communist councillors elected to the Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath Council. Before this West Fife had been represented in Parliament by the last Communist MP in Britain, Willie Gallacher. He was born in Paisley and worked in the Albion Motor Works in Glasgow. He was influenced by John MacLean and in January 1919 was one of the organisers of a mass strike to demand a 40 hour week in Glasgow. This had sent the authorities into a panic as crowds in George Square raised the red flag. He was arrested and spent 5 months in prison at this time. In 1935 he was elected as the Communist Member of Parliament for West Fife after several previous unsuccessful attempts elsewhere. The West Fife constituency covered the area from Culross to Kirkaldy, taking in Lochgelly, Leslie and Markinch. He remained the MP for the area until 1950.

Willie Gallacher MP
When miners' wages had almost halved in the 7 years since the end of World War 1 a general strike was called in 1926. Although the general strike was called off by the TUC after 9 days, many miners remained on strike for months, showing that that their unions had the power to organise over 1 million men across the whole of the UK into action. In the 1960s when many of the pits in Fife were closing down, again the miners fought against the loss of their jobs, and a delegation of Lochgelly miners marched to London in the early 1960s in protest. The coal industry in Britain was killed off in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher's government. The 1984 miners strike started in Fife a month before it spread elsewhere. After a belt broke in the Frances colliery in Dysart, miners were sent home from work and the miners of Frances and Seafield collieries walked out to defend their jobs. The miners strike led by the NUM lasted over a year, and became increasingly brutal as time went on. The subsequent closure of mines in Fife led to permanent change in the communities and the landscape of this part of Scotland.

Lochgelly to Lochore Meadows

So, that's the part of the world The Fife Pilgrim Way now heads through. Trotting a mile up the road to Lochore Meadows from Lochgelly you first pass the site of the Nellie Pit, now a small industrial estate. The site of Williie Clarke's home village, Glencraig, is just along the road from here. Little of it now remains, and people began to be moved out in the 1940s to the new model village of Ballingry up the road. In 1966 Glencraig Pit closed, which led to the demise of the village. Glencraig Pit operated from 1896 to 1966 with an average workforce of 1,105 men. An information board at the side of the road here lists the names of 111 men who died in Glencraig Pit during this period. You see this again and again at every former pit, lists of hundreds of men from the region who died at their work, not to mention the many others who were seriously injured. The scale of it is hard to picture.

A football ground, Ore Park, home to Ballingry Rovers FC, and a memorial to a former resident of the village can be found here too. Peter Johnstone was born in Cowdenbeath in 1887 and his family moved to Glencraig when his father got work in the new pit here. Peter worked alongside his father from the age of 13, and was a skilled junior footballer with several local teams. When Celtic directors saw him play for Glencraig Celtic FC against Strathclyde FC in a Junior Cup game, he was signed to Glasgow Celtic in 1908. He enlisted for the army in 1916 during World War 1, and was killed in action at the Battle of Arras in May 1917. A memorial to him stands opposite Ore Park.

Ore Park, Glencraig
Memorial to Glencraig miner and Celtic player Peter Johnstone

Getting back on the Fife Pilgrim Way at Lochore Meadows, the first thing that greets you is the ruins of Lochore Castle which stands at the entrance to the country park. The castle stood on an island until 1792 when the loch was drained. The tower that stands there now is from the 14th century, but is on the site of a 10th century crannog that once stood on an island in Loch Ore.

Lochore Castle, Fife

Pit winding wheel, Lochore Meadows
A former pithead wheel marks the entrance to Lochore Meadows and from here the path heads across the countryside to Kinglassie. 


Benarty Hill and Balingry
Heading out from Lochore you get views back towards Benarty Hill and Ballingry, and onwards the Lomond Hills up ahead pop into view. Running along here a beautiful peregrine falcon flew just over my head, not in its high speed dive, but seemingly as curious to see me there as I was to see it.

A coo, and west Lomond appearing on the horizon
Around Kinglassie there is much evidence of the pre-historic residents of the area. A Pictish stone, Dogton Stone, stands in a farmer's field just south of the town, the remains of a 10th century Celtic Cross that, it has been argued, may commemorate a Pictish victory over the Danes around 900AD. When the field is in crop you cannot access it, and as I ran across the stubble to see the rock a small flock of meadow pipits rose up from the ground with their bright, chirping call.

Dogton Stone, in a field near Kinglassie
Dogton Stone

Churches in the town of Kinglassie can trace their history back to the 1100's, and pilgrims would stop and pray at the waters of Finglassin's Well which lies just north of the town. This well has recently been renovated and Kinglassie has definitely decided it is going to make an effort to lay on some attractions for those passing on the Pilgrim Way. I was drawn more to the home pitch of Kinglassie FC, and the Miners Welfare Institute and bowling green next door. 

Kinglassie Parish Church, with ruins of former church forming an entrance

St Finglassin's Well, Kinglassie

Kinglassie Miners Welfare Institute

From 1906 to 1966 Kinglassie swelled in size when the pit here brought employment. The colliery football team started the career of some notable players. James Bowthorne played at East Fife and Dundee, and later managed Aberdeen FC. Also Willie Fernie started with Kinglassie Hearts. He went on to play for Celtic and Scotland, and also spent some time playing at Middlesborough (he joined my team, Partick Thistle, in 1963 but left to play with Alloa without starting any games according to Wikipedia). He coached for a while at Celtic under (former coal miner) Jock Stein, before finishing his footballing career managing at Kilmarnock.

Heading past the Braefoot Tavern in Kinglassie, a former Goth pub, the path goes through the centre of town and then turns left up over a short hil towards the River Leven. North out of town, you get views towards Blythe's Folly, a tower on the hillside above the town. It was built by a wealthy linen merchant in 1812, and he watched cargo ships arriving on the Forth from it. It was used as an observation post during World War 2.

Foyle's Folly on the right, the River Forth on the left


The villages of Leslie and Markinch nowadays merge into Glenrothes. I have been visiting Glenrothes for almost three decades and I am always surprised when I come across the old buildings or village greens here, hiding among the concrete and roundabouts of their much younger neighbour.

The origins of the Leslie family that gave their name to the town date back to Bartolf, a Hungarian merchant who came to Scotland in the 11th century as part of Queen Margaret's entourage. He was given lands by Malcolm III in Leslie, Aberdeenshire and it is from there that the family took their name. His descendant Norman de Leslie, was given the lands of Fettykill here on the banks of the River Leven in Fife in 1283. Leslie House was completed by the family in 1672, a veritable palace according to Daniel Defoe who visited, which burnt down in 1763. The replacement Leslie House stood until a few years ago, latterly run as a care home by the Church of Scotland. Sadly it also went on fire, a few years after the care home closed, and it now stands as an empty shell.

The chimney of a former mill, down by the River Leven below Leslie
In the 1800s the River Leven powered mills in the town here, and at Markinch, producing lint, linen, cotton, flax and even snuff. Production increased with steam power and in 1861 the handsome Cabbagehall Viaduct brought the railway to Leslie. When the textile mills closed down paper mills replaced them here and in Markinch, Tulliss Russell being one of the largest. Now these have largely gone the way of the linen mills. Solitary brick chimneys are all that remain of some of the former mills. In the town The Bull Stone (below) stands in the village green at Leslie, behind the war memorial. It was apparently used for tethering bulls (hence the groove in the stone) when crowds assembled to watch some bull baiting. Since 1805 the sport of setting dogs against bulls has been banned, but for hundreds of years before it was a common form of entertainment.

The Bull Stone, Leslie
 The Fife Pilgrim Way then leaves Leslie and crosses the Cabbagehall Railway Viaduct, going straight through the green ribbon of the Riverside Park without ever really emerging onto the streets of Glenrothes.

Cabbagehall Viaduct, Leslie


The Riverside Park (usually known as The Town Park) is a place that I have been to many times with my children. Before that my wife grew up in Glenrothes, and was a reluctant cross-country runner in the park when at school. Glenrothes is one of the five post-war New Towns built in Scotland. (Can you name the other four? Bonus points if you know the name of the sixth one planned for Lanarkshire that was never built - answers at the bottom).

New Towns are towns laid out and planned from scratch, and are certainly not new. Construction of Edinburgh's New Town began in 1767 and New Lanark a couple of decades later. Glenrothes was part of the wave of New Towns devised as a response to overcrowding and dilapidated housing in some British cities post-World War 2. It is now home to almost 40,000 people. It was designed to house workers for the newly established Rothes Colliery, officially opened by the Queen in 1958 in one of  the most incongruous photo opportunities ever.

The Queen blending in with the local on her visit to Rothes Colliery in 1958
As had been predicted by many older miners in Fife the pit was not a success and was forced to close in 1964 due to geological faults and unmanageable flooding. Electronics and manufacturing industries moved into the town to join the paper mills at Leslie and Markinch as the main employers.

Irises by a roundabout in Glenrothes
Going through Glenrothes much public art is always on display. Some of it may be familiar to Glaswegians like me, such as the sculpture of irises above that sit by a roundabout. They were built in 1988 as part of Glenrothes's contribution to the Glasgow Garden Festival by the town artist at the time, Malcolm Robertson, and afterwards returned home. Glenrothes took an original approach to creating a sense of identity for its residents in the 1960s by appointing a "town artist". It was such a success that it is a model that has been copied around the world. Often working with the same materials that had been used to build the housing and being inspired by local history (such as "The Henge", a row of concrete standing stones) these pieces of public art are often humorous or involved input from local residents and schools. The first town artist, David Harding, later went on to develop the department of Enviromental Art at Glasgow School of Art which has since produced several Turner Prize winning artists. 

Concrete hippos at a pond in Glenrothes Riverside Park

Hippo going to inspect a newly created labyrinth in the grass
Within Riverside Park one of the hippos appears to be ready to try walking around a newly created labyrinth. This was the idea of St Columba's Parish Church in the town, inspired by the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral. Labyrinths have often featured on pilgrimages, and the idea is that you walk your way slowly around the whorls, quietly praying or contemplating. 

At Balfarg the path crosses through an area of housing before heading into Balbirnie Park. Here it takes the chance to pass some art work from the people that lived hereabouts 6000 years ago, Neolithic farmers who were spreading across Fife. Balfarg Henge is a curious structure, incongruously sitting amongst a suburban housing scheme. There are two upright stones that would have once been part of a larger circle, and a 60 meter diameter ditch surrounding them. Stakes mark out the positions of timber posts that were discovered at excavation. Cremation goods and a later burial from 2000BC have also been found here. I quite like the idea of contemporary families living and playing amidst the evidence of their ancestors, rather than all our history being put up upon a special pedestal marked "Do Not Touch".

Balfarg Henge
Just around the corner in Balbirnie Park lies the Balbirnie Stone Circle, which was moved to its current site when a road was widened nearby. It is thought to have been a site of ritual and burial, and had a hearth at the centre. 

Balbirnie Stone Circle


The path then skirts past Balbirnie House and out from Balbirnie Park into the town of Markinch. Balbirnie House was built from 1777 by the Balfour family who had made the estate their home since 1640. Arthur Balfour, who was Conservative Prime Minister from 1903-1905 and drew up the Balfour Declaration in 1917, establishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, is a relative of these Balfours. Nowadays Balbirnie House is a popular hotel and wedding venue. The family made their money here from agriculture and mining interests.

The Stob Cross, Markinch
As you emerge onto the road to Markinch, above you sits the ancient Stob Cross, a weathered stone cross, thought to be Pictish. The signs into town declare Markinch to be "the ancient capital of Fife" and it was thought to be the centre of power in Fife in Pictish times, when 1000 years ago there was a substantial Pictish settlement here. Iron Age agricultural terraces cut in the hillside above Markinch show that people had lived here long before then. In the 12th century the arrival of feudal rule in Scotland led to Balbirne and Markinch being laid out as feudal estates, gifted in return for allegiance to the king. Markinch Parish Church has a Norman tower incorporated into it, which dates to at least 1130.

Markinch Parish Church

By the 14th century Markinch was in decline as a centre of religion and power. In the Industrial era workers came to dig coal here and on the Balbirnie estates, and the River Leven powered corn mills, and later linen and paper mills. In the 20th century Haig whisky was one of the biggest employers here, with their huge bottling plant still standing on the edge of town. The history of mining in the town is old though. A gravestone that I saw at Markinch Parish Church marks the grave of Janet Forret, who died in 1785 aged 62. It says it was erected by her husband, a "coal hewar in Balbirnie", a pair of crossed bones on the back of the gravestone.

Grave of a "coal hewar"'s wife 1785
As well as Lochgelly miners on one side of her family, my wife has miners down another branch of her family tree too. The picture below is of Henry Wyse. He was born in Markinch in 1875 and later lived in Lochgelly where he worked as a miner. His father, and grandfather before him were miners in Markinch, and in the late 1700s their parents before them had come from Collessie to Markinch for work. Henry's mother was a mill worker in the town. Other Markinch relatives were employed in the Balbirnie estate, one looking after the horses, another employed by the Balfours as a wet nurse.

Henry Wyse, Lochgelly miner, born 1875 in Markinch
The Fife Pilgrim Way begins heading away from the major Fife coalfields now, into more agricultural land. The next stage is from Markinch to Ceres...

(NB New towns of Scotland- East Kilbride, Cumbernauld, Livingston and Irvine. Also planned but never built was Stonehouse in Lanarkshire)

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