Ah Scotland: the highlands, the whisky, the midges and the glens! So many clichés, so many truths! When we walked the West Highland Way from Glasgow to Fort William last year, we came across all of them. But an hour drive from Edinburgh, there is another Scotland, a Scotland of royal history and coastal villages. It is the “Kingdom of Fife”, a place we were very eager to discover while we were housesitting in Scotland, looking after a historic property and 2 dogs in Blairadam.
The area of Fife is also referred to as “The Kingdom of Fife”, because it used to be one of the major Pictish kingdoms during the Early Medieval periods and has somehow kept its name. How cool is that?
Now, let’s find out about the best things to do in Fife!
The best places to visit in Fife
While walking through the High Street of Dunfermline, you’d be forgiven to think that you ended up in the wrong place. Looking like any other uninspiring high street in any other insignificant town in Scotland, Dunfermline looks hardly inviting and anything but royal at first sight. But Dunfermline was a favourite residence of many Scottish monarchs and was the capital of Scotland until the 15th century. The beautiful Dunfermline Abbey and Palace are a testimony to that time. They are the remains of a great Benedictine abbey founded by Queen Margaret in the 11th century. It is the final resting place of King Robert the Bruce, who secured Scotland’s independence. Walking around the gardens, look up at the tower and you will see the words “King Robert the Bruce” carved in stone around the top. His grave can be seen inside the church.
The highlight of the abbey is its impressive, Romanesque nave, beautifully lit up.
Next to the abbey and connected to the former monastic residential quarters via a gatehouse and a passageway, are the atmospheric ruins of a palace. Dunfermline Palace started off as a guesthouse and was remodelled by James IV. You can still visit the refectory , kitchen area and the impressive southern wall. Throughout the 16th century, Scotland’s monarchs and royal family members were frequently in residence. After James VI left for London back in 1603 after the Union of the Crowns, royal interest in Dunfermline waned.
Next to the Abbey and Palace is Pittencrieff Park, an ideal place to stretch the legs!
There’s more royal history in the Kingdom of Fife. Right in the heart of the historic town of Falkland lies Falkland Palace,
If you are interested in Scottish history, or beautiful architecture and gardens, then don’t miss out on this gorgeous Renaissance palace, adored by the Stuart dynasty and Mary,Queen of Scots in particular. The vast estate was built in the 16th century and served mainly as a country residence and hunting lodge for the royals. The gorgeous chapel is one of the highlights with its stained glass windows, showing the heraldic badges of Scottish kings and queens. The knowledgeable guides scattered around the various rooms are an added bonus.
Don’t’ forget to wander around the formal gardens and find the oldest surviving royal tennis court!
Walk The Fife Coastal Path
Fife is home to one of the most beautiful stretches of the Scottish coast, the East of Neuk, where pristine beaches are interspersed with charming coastal villages. The full length of the path covers approximately 185 km (115 miles) and would take a week to 10 days to walk, but if you don’t have all that time you can of course opt to walk a stretch of it. We walked from Elie to Crail in about 4 hours. The well-signposted path took us along vestiges of several castles, old mills and stunning natural creations like the Caiplie Caves, near Anstruther, which are sandstone arches, eroded by wind and water. We passed several picturesque harbours where we watched the local fishing men going about their business and there are plenty of places to stop for a coffee or a fish and chips lunch, eaten on the harbour walls. My favourite village was Crail, at the end of our trail. Picture-perfect!
St Andrews is synonym with golf. But even if you have no interest at all in the game, don’t worry, how about visiting the oldest university of Scotland? It dates back to the 1400’s and is also the place where Prince William and Kate Middleton went to uni and met. Follow in their footsteps as you explore the vast grounds around the Lower College Hall and St Salvator’s Hall.
A bit further to the east, you’ll come across St Andrews Castle. The castle is mainly in ruins, but the site itself is evocative and has dramatic coastline views. It was founded around 1200 as a fortified home for the bishop of St Andrews.
You are spoilt for atmospheric ruins in St Andrews. Walk further east and you’ll see what’s left of one of Britain’s most magnificent medieval buildings: St Andrews Cathedral. Walking around, it’s easy to imagine the vast scale of the structure. Founded in 1160 the cathedral was an important pilgrimage centre until it was pillaged during the Reformation. You can climb the St Rule’s Tower for extensive views over the town.
After all this sight-seeing, drop into the Keys Bar on Market Street for a pint.
Have you seen Outlander? No, neither had I, but walking around Culross (pronounced Coo-ross) it’s easy to see why this tiny village was chosen as the setting for a historic drama .
Try to visit Culross on a quiet autumn or winter day. I’m not sure what the crowds would be like during summer, but they would definitely take away a lot of the quiet charm of Culross!
Culross Palace with its ochre-coloured walls stands guard on Culross’ main square. It’s a 16th-17th century merchant house and the exterior boasts the use of crow-stepped gables. The inside of the palace features decorative murals and painted ceilings. Although never a royal residence, James VI paid a visit to the Palace in 1617. Make sure to walk to the top of the garden for a view over the palace and the town.
Wandering around Culross, you’ll notice that it has been extremely well preserved as a 17th century town. White and ochre-coloured houses and cottages adorn the cobbled streets and alleyways.
They’ll eventually lead you to Culross Abbey, the ruins of a Cistercian monastery, dating back to the 1200s. The remaining intact part of the Abbey is still used as a church nowadays. Make sure to walk around the ruins and the interesting graveyard.
It was really fascinating to visit the Kingdom of Fife. This lesser known part of Scotland is home to so much history and has one of the most stunning coastlines of the country. Have you been?