Inverkeithing it is a rather uninviting municipality, its foreshore spoiled by a rust-littered ship-breaker's yard. The town was granted a Royal Charter by William I in 1165, making it one of the oldest Royal Burghs in Scotland. In the High Street, behind the central square, is the fourteenth century Greyfriar's Hospice which houses a small museum recalling the antiquity of this Royal Burgh. This includes the life of Samuel Greig, born here in 1735 and described as the founder of the Russian Navy.
The coastal route around this part of Fife is the A921 to Kirkcaldy. Five miles (8km) east of the Forth bridges, the village of Aberdour commences a series of delightful seaside hamlets that skirt the Firth of Forth. First impressions of its long, main street may not convey a great deal but Aberdour has important historical roots.
At the far end of town is the entrance to Aberdour Castle. Built on lands originally granted to Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray by King Robert the Bruce in 1325, the castle comprises three main sections dating from the fourteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The walled gardens are perhaps its most appealing aspect, ablaze with colourful plants throughout the growing season.
The views across the Forth include Inchcolm Abbey on a string of rocky islands as well as the city-scapes of Edinburgh on the opposite shore. A boat runs from Hawkcraig Point near the village out to the islands.
The Abbey of St Columba
Known as the 'Iona of the East', the Abbey of St Columba was established on these islands in 1123 by Alexander I. It is believed that this was St Columba's base while he converted the Southern Picts to Christianity in the sixth century. During a fishing trip, King Alexander's boat was swept out to the islands in bad weather and ran aground.
A hermit monk found him and his companions, more dead than alive, and cared for them while signal fires eventually brought help. The king had Inchcolm Abbey built in gratitude for his rescue. Although sacked many times by the English and desecrated during the Reformation, the island and its abbey still contain some of the best examples of monastic buildings in Scotland.
The main street of Burntisland is one of those places that would be attractive with just a little more attention. There are some admirable old buildings that have been restored next to others that remain sadly dilapidated. Help may be on the way from the fourteenth century with the discovery of the treasure ship of King Charles I in the Forth just off Burntisland.
Charles I was a major patron of the arts and his extravagant exhibits of the finest works in Europe lead to amazing scenes in court. Leaving Burntisland during a tour of Scotland to cross the Forth for the port of Leith, the ship carrying his baggage, the Blessing of Burntisland, overloaded with carts full of plate, gold and valuable tapestries, capsized. Thirty-five of his servants drowned and only two survived. Now the floor of the Forth is being explored for the treasure and artefacts that might remain.
Burntisland's more glaring attraction is the Links Fun Fair taking over the wide park area at the north end of the town for most of the summer. Also held here in mid-July, the Burntisland Highland Games is said to be the second oldest in the world.
The first church to be built following the Reformation from 1592 to 1595 was St Columba's at the top of the Kirkgate in East Leven Street. The General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland was held here in 1601, when in the presence of James VI, it was proposed that there should be a new translation of the Bible, the Authorized version, published in 1611.
The impressive contours of Rossend Castle, which was first built in the early twelfth century, now house architects' offices and are not open for further exploration. The present structure dates to around 1554. The most famous incident of the building was the discovery of the poet, Pierre de Chastelard, hiding in the bed-chamber of Mary Queen of Scots who was staying there in 1563. The spirited Frenchman lost his head over the incident after he was dragged off to St Andrews for execution, crying 'Adieu, thou most beautiful and most cruel Princess in the world'.
A mile or so north of Burntisland brings you to a spot that radically altered the course of Scottish history. Beyond Kingswood Hotel and directly below a group of static holiday caravans is the Alexander III Monument, the place where King Alexander III, the last of Scotland's Celtic kings, was killed.
The king had been in council with his lords in Edinburgh and had set out in bad weather, anxious to join his new wife who awaited him at the Tower of Kinghorn. As he neared his destination, his horse stumbled on rough ground and fell over steep cliffs. A prophecy of the event had been made at the kings wedding in Jedburgh six months earlier.
The country was devastated without its rightful leader and fell into many years of conflict over the consequent power struggles. A Celtic cross marks the spot of Alexander's demise. There is a meagre parking facility, just long enough for two vehicles.
The wide sands of Pettycur Bay stand behind the commemorative cross to Alexander III. The tiny harbour, once a main ferry port between Fife and Leith, is now a haven for small fishing boats, the pier-walls littered with lobster creels and crab claws.
Kinghorn adjoins Pettycur and was created as a Royal
Burgh in the twelfth century by David I. It is an attractive little holiday town
catering mainly to older Scots who still prefer a week by the coast rather than a
package holiday to Spain or Florida. In a pleasant setting, there is a nice section
of sheltered sandy beach, some water sports and a short, undulating 18-hole golf
course. Sea fishing for saithe and flatfish is possible off Pettycur Pier and Kinghorn
Beach. A restaurant worth trying is the Longboat on the road approaching Pettycur
Bay from Kinghorn.
Thursday, December 26th, 2019
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