Buckhaven and Methil

Buckhaven and Methil were seaside villages that became mining towns in the 19th century. In 1891 they united to form Scotland’s major coalport, and now, with the dwindling importance of the coal trade, the town is becoming increasingly involved in the production of North Sea oil. It still, however, has many quaint corners and the stepped streets are typical of old Fife villages. Local fishermen brought the church in sections from St Andrews and reerected it. A few miles east is Largo, birthplace of Alexander Selkirk, whose adventures formed the basis for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. A statue of Selkirk as the castaway stands in the village.

Crail

A picturesque fishing port of crowstepped red-tiled houses that used to be the haunt of smugglers, Crail is now more popular with artists and tourists. The town was exporting salt fish to Europe as early as the 9th century, andRobert the Bruce gave it a royal charter in 1310 – conceding that its inhabitants might trade on the Sabbath. 200 years later, John Knox made plain his views preaching from the pulpit of the parish church. A large blue stone at the gateway of the church is said to have been thrown by the devil from the Isle of May, five miles away.

Culross

A beautifully restored 16thand 17thcentury small Scottish town, once famous for its baking plates (‘girdles’) and its trade in coal and salt. Culross Palace is small as palaces go, but it was large enough to merit a visit from James VI (James I of England). The Study (home of the National Trust for Scotland’s representative), the Nunnery, Parley Hill House and the Manse are among other buildings that should be seen. The delightful snuffmaker’s house bears the inscription: ‘Who would have thocht it, noses would have bocht it’

Dunfermline

A royal burgh and ancient capital of Scotland, in the Kingdom of Fife, Dunfermline was the home of Scotland‘s kings from Malcolm III in the 11th century until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Dunfermline Abbey, in Pittencrieff Park, was founded in 1072 by Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore. Robert Bruce is buried here and there is a shrine to Margaret, who was canonised in the 13th century. Pends Archway links the abbey to ruined Dunfermline Palace. Malcolm Canmore’s Tower, built in the 11th century, stands in the grounds of Pittencrieff House, now a museum. Pittencrieff Glen, which has fine views of the abbey and the Forth Estuary, was given to Dunfermline by Andrew Carnegie, the millionaire philanthropist born here in 1835, who gave away nine-tenths of his massive fortune. He believed that the rich should distribute surplus wealth for the general good, the theme of his book The Gospel of Wealth (1889). His birthplace  and a museum overlook the park and are open to visitors.

Falkland

On the fringe of the fertile Howe of Fife, Falkland is a small and ancient royal burgh, its cobbled streets bordered by picturesque old houses and weavers’ cottages. The town is sited below the Lomond Hills. Falkland Palace and Gardens, the old hunting palace of the Stuarts until 1625, was built in the mid 16th century in Renaissance style. Its tennis court is the oldest in Britain 1539.

Kincardine on Forth

This former port lies on the east bank of the Forth, its bridge the last to span the estuary before it widens. A 17th century mercat cross stands in the market place and many old houses survive. Ruined Tulliallan Castle, a 15th-century building with ground floor vaulting, is of great architectural interest.

Kirkcaldy

Kirkcaldy has three interesting museums; the John McDouall Stuart Museum, which is a memorial to the 19th-century Scottish explorer of Australia; the town Museum and Art Gallery, which has a fine picture collection of works by most of the major Scottish artists-there is also a section on local pottery, including the famous Wemyss Ware; and the Industrial Museum. Ravenscraig is an impressive ruin on a rocky headland at the eastern end of the town. A few miles north east is Wemyss Castle which belonged to Shakespeare’s Macduff; it was also the first meeting place of Mary Queen of Scots and Darnley; the couple married five months later.

Leuchars

The Norman church at Leuchars, built by the de Quincy family, is one of the finest in Scotland. The bell turret was added in the 17th century, but the original chancel and apse have survived and the building is elaborately carved, both inside and out; the Earlshall stones date from 1584 and 1635. On the edge of Tentsmuir, an area of great beauty encompassing forestry plantations and a nature reserve, stands the late 16th century Earlshall Castle.

St Andrews

This lovely old Royal Burgh on the east coast of Fife has a long and ancient history. A mecca for the world’s golfers, it is also a distinguished university city St Andrews University was founded in 1411 and was for centuries the ecclesiastical centre of Scotland.

According to tradition it was here that St Rule was shipwrecked, carrying the relics of St Andrew the Apostle, who was adopted as Scotland’s patron saint. Little still stands of the small 12th-century church built to house the relics but the massive bell tower and the sacred remains were soon installed in St Andrew’s Cathedral, in its day the largest and finest of all Scotland’s churches, built in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1559, however, it fell victim to the iconoclasm of John Knox. He preached one of his most eloquent and fiery sermons from the cathedral pulpit and this inspired the mob to destroy much of the rich interior. Over the years, it gradually fell in ruins and only fragments have survived. St Andrew’s Castle, also in ruins, stands in grim isolation on a rock overlooking the North Sea.

St Andrew’s international reputation derives from its status in the golfing world. The town has four courses: the Old, the New, the Eden and the Jubilee. Written records of the Old Course date back at least to the 15th century, when James II protested that the sport was distracting his men from archery practice. Mary Queen of Scots played golf here, and James VI had his own course at Blackheath, in London, when he became sovereign of England and moved to London with his court. The ‘R & A’, as the Royal and Ancient Golf Club is familiarly known, had its origins in the Society of St Andrew’s Golfers, founded in 1764. King William IV consented to the title ‘Royal and Ancient’ in 1834, and by 1897 the game had become so popular that a governing body was felt to be desirable. The Royal and Ancient took over this role, which it still fulfils today. For a modest fee, anyone may play the Old Course, and Scotland, being the home of golf, has many other championship courses.

West Wemyss

In 1565 the first meeting between Mary Queen of Scots and Darnley took place at West Wemyss, a small Firth of Forth town with a castle dating from the 15th century and a curiously inscribed tolbooth with an outside staircase. The caves in the rocky coastline to the north east are famous for their Bronze Age, Iron Age and early Christian carvings.