Fife is a county in central Scotland, located on a peninsula between the rivers of Forth and Tay, and the cities of Edinburgh and Dundee. It's habitually referred to as the Kingdom of Fife, as it was originally a Pictish kingdom known as Fib.
It's a small county, barely 30 miles across and 20 miles from north to south, but it has a wealth of interest and attractions that may rival much larger areas. We live in Perthshire just west of Fife, and go that way as often if not more often than north and west towards the Highlands.
Fife divides naturally into three parts of a distinctive character.
The southern/western part of the county, including the docks of Rosyth and stretches roughly between the towns of Dunfermline in the south-west and Glenrothes in the north-east, is noticeably more populated and more industrial. It used to be a centre of the former coalfields and the typical post-industrial deprivation and lack of future perspective left its mark on the former mining villages of this are. Although all of Fife is, arguably, within the Edinburgh commuter belt, this area is even more so.
The south-east corner of Fife is known in Scotland as the "East Neuk" (nook) of Fife. Originally an area of fishing villages, it has been taken over by the wealthier inhabitants of Edinburgh and houses commuters as well as containing many holiday homes, while the fishing industry is declining and some fishermen can't afford to live in the coastal villages and have to commute from inland locations.
Lomond Hills, a distinctive craggy hills of volcanic origin, separate this part of from the north area of Fife which is largely agricultural, with small villages and hardly bigger towns. It's more sedate, more conservative and feels, well, old, somehow. One gets an impression that north Fife has been there, pretty much as it is now, give or take a car or a supermarket, for a very long time. North Fife looks to Tay and Dundee more than to Forth and Edinburgh and has also links to Perth next door. This area contains the market town of Cupar as well as the ancient cathedral city and university centre of St Andrews.
This dooyoo review will concern itself with the loosely defined North Fife, as this is the area I like and know best. A more complete look at the whole of Fife has been published on Helium under the name of Magda Healey.
North Fife (comprising the Tay coast, the Howe of Fife and teh area around St Andrews) is arguably the most interesting area, with major national attractions and well worth at least a day, but easily able to provide a week of exploration.
*Cupar and around*
North Fife centres roughly on Cupar, old market town and a reasonable enough place to pass through or stop for a while. Luvians Bottle Shop at 93 Bonnygate has a fantastic selection of whisky, some decent wine, the best ice-cream in town and a well-stocked deli counter too.
If you catch the owner, and show interest and some knowledge, you might get to try the most amazing bottles. If you show any of the above, you are still likely to get a dram or two to try.
Near Cupar is a well-know local country park with animals, Scottish Deer Centre (reviewed by me in more detail under a separate category). It's worth a visit if you are in the area for a length of time with children, although perhaps a mostly local-calibre attraction.
The prime destination in north Fife, and in fact in the whole of the Kingdom is undoubtedly St Andrews, an ancient centre of Christianity, known more recently as the birthplace of golf and, despite being rather overrun with tourists and day-trippers, a place eminently worth visiting and easily affording a day or two days exploration itself.
St Andrews has two decent beaches, the East Sands near the harbour which are smaller and perhaps a bit more cultivated, and the West Sands, a magnificent expanse of sand along the Duke's Course. My favourite is actually the west Sands, with its views across to the Tay estuary, and squeaky sand, but we tend to end up at the eastern end.
Historical St Andrews focuses on the glorious ruin of a huge cathedral church on a high cliff above the sea. The tombs are doted around, the whole site is enclosed within walls, and covered in grass. It's old, venerable, slightly spooky and yet immensely refreshing as well. The site entry is free, but there is a small museum which charges entry fee, allowing also the visitors to climb up 108ft high St Rule's tower, affording a wonderful panorama of the whole of St Andrews and a large swathe of the country around it. It's well worth climbing up - although be careful with children as teh steps are quite steep and narrow. On the top the viewing platform is new, well secured and should be able to withstand even more determined toddlers.
Further along the high-cliff route (called The Scores) from the East Sands towards the golf courses and the West Sands is the St Andrews Castle (available as a joint ticket with the Abbey Museum and the tower). It's another of those superior ruins Scotland does so well, with the history dating to 10th century and a long-standing role as the seat of bishops and archbishops of St Andrews and thus the principle centre of the Scottish Church. It's now a fascinating visitors attraction, with informative displays and evocative remains of the walls, towers, dungeons and even underground tunnels .
Fans of golf will be interested in visiting the British Golf Museum (I am not going even for dooyoo's sake), a rather bunker-like structure at Bruce Embankment, and some might even want to play at THE Old Course at St Andrews or at least have look at the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse.
Apart from formal attractions, St Andrews itself is a very pleasant place to walk about, with a civilised feel similar to some affluent areas of larger cities. It has a good theatre (The Byre), which houses a very pleasant bar/cafe with kids play area: and it seesm to be the only place for tea and coffee after 5pm in the area.
*The rest of North Fife*
This is a pleasant, farmy countryside, flat in the middle parts and rolling nicely to the north and the west; interspersed with hills and woodland areas.
Organic farms with adjacent cafes and shops are quite a feature. I like best the one near Falkland at Hercules Pillars and the one in Abernethy at Jamesfields.
There are ponds and country parks, petting zoos (Colessie) and folk museums (Ceres), as well as several picturesque ruins. Good walking can be had on the Lomond Hills.
The north coast of Fife along the river Tay looks to Dundee and the settlements of Tayport, Newport-on-Tay and Wormit are effectively Dundee suburbs. They don't offer any particular attractions to the visitor, although the Tentsmuir Forest at the very north-east tip of Fife, a pine forest planted along the dunes and a splendid, wide, white sandy beach is a lovely place for a family day out (Scottish weather permitting). It reminds me of the Baltic coast and is rather uncultivated, with not a cheeky postcard or candy floss cart in sight.
Those with a particular liking for atmospheric ruined churches and abbeys might want to locate St Fillan's Church, Balmerino Abbey and Lindores Abbey, all in the coastal strip on North Fife between the towns of Newport and Newburgh. I really like the Balmerino one, with an amazing old chestnut tree and a clar outline of the former buildings.
Apart from St Andrews, a major Fife historical sight is the Falkland Palace, in the village of the same name. Falkland itself is a fascinating little place, although a little bit twee as lovely Scottish villages often tend to be. It is rich in historic buildings and the palace (which tarted its life as a castle in the medieval period) but is now a stunning example of Early Renaissance architecture, parts of it ruined, part restored to display standard, and with good gardens around it too.
Small but rich in history and significance, Fife is very much worth visiting, and can be both a place for a holiday in its own right as well as a day-trip destination from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth or Dundee.
The Kingdom of Fife is the dog's head shaped peninsula on the east of Scotland - sandwiched between Edinburgh and Dundee! People often asks 'what make's Fife a 'Kingdom'?' In fact, Fife has been Fife since the time of the Picts and was at that time a Kingdom, long before Scotland was one country. Fife is the only county to retain it's old Pictish borders and so, it retains it's name!
The area is made up of a variety of rich agricultural land to the north and east and mining and industrial areas around the west and south. The governmental centre of the county is Glenrothes which is one of the 'new towns' although it's not so new now as Glenrothes has just celebrated it's 60th anniversary! The town boasts a pleasant shopping centre, retail parks, supermarkets, parks, bingo hall and around a million roundabouts! The other major towns include Kirkcaldy (famous for linoleum), Dunfermline (birthplace of Andrew Carnegie and Barbara Dixon!), Cupar (old county town of Fife) and St Andrews (home of golf and Scotland''s oldest university).
Fife has a lot to offer both residents and visitors alike. There are many historical attractions such as Falkland Palace (holiday home of the Stuart monarchs including Mary Queen of Scotts) Culross, St Andrews Castle and Cathedral, Dunfermline Abbey and many more! And many other sites to see too...Scotland's Secret Bunker (an underground bunker to be used in the event of a nuclear attack), Craigtoun Country Park, Scottish Deer Centre, Deep Sea World, St Andrews Aquarium and much, much more! You can also enjoy the outdoor life in Fife with many fine walks (the Fife Coastal Path follows the entire coastline), hills, forests, parks and beaches.
There is also a huge variety of accommodation in the area with a particularly large selection in the very touristy St Andrews. St Andrew boasts a large number of hostels, B&B's, guesthouses, small hotels and larger resort hotels and spas but there is a lot of accommodation in other parts of Fife too. Those looking for cheaper accommodation might prefer one of the campsites/caravan parks around St Andrews but also in places like Kirkcaldy or Markinch (central Fife) or Tayport (north Fife).
Visitors (and Fifers!) should make the most of the Tourist Information Centres (St Andrews, Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline and Anstruther) to find out more about attractions, events, accommodation and other general information about this area and beyond.
Would my daughters spot Prince William in St Andrews?
We stayed at Kilconquhar Castle which is approximately 3 miles inland from the small coastal resort of Elie.
"The estate is set within 130 acres of mature woodland and immaculately kept formal gardens. Here you will find the castle suites and villas, ranging in size from one to four bedrooms, each furnished to luxury standards."
The estate is a wonderful place for children who want to play 'cowboys and indians'. However, the formal garden looked rather boring.
Our castle suite was comfortable in the way that Skegness boarding houses or elderly airport hotels are comfortable. The place was in need of some refurbishment.
The activities on offer, such as hiring bikes, seemed vastly over-priced.
The restaurant was nothing-special and expensive.
We cycled to Elie which reminded me of coastal villages in Brittany in France; the views were the sort that would attract artists; children should love the beach; the Deli and the Pavilion Cyber Cafe proved friendly.
The fishing village of Pittenweem, which has a remarkably good arts festival, is a must visit place; strikingly attractive in a gypsy manner.
St Andrews is a wealthy University town on the coast; this is the place to come for your shopping, for golf, for second hand books (Quarto book shop and charity shops) and for lots of History. The people are generally friendly here, as elsewhere in tourist Fife. We dined at the excellent Pizza Express.
Not everwhere in Fife is prosperous and happy.
There is some unfortunate poverty in Methil, Buckhaven, Benarty, Lochgelly, and parts of Kirkcaldy and Dumfermline. In some places 40% of the old people are on income support. Many children take drugs.
And Prince Andrew?
Would I tell you if we bumped into him in the charity shop and he invited us round to his flat for a coffee?