I have lived in Scotland so long now that I feel Scottish and am very loyal to this wonderful country. We get visitors travelling up from the Deep South! Of England I mean and like to take them to visit various tourist attractions. When they have been several times we have to put our thinking caps on to find somewhere not too far to drive but interesting to visit and take into account it could be wet too! We had been into Edinburgh and explored Britannia the one day so decided to head north a little and enter the Kingdom of Fife.
Falkland, yes there is a place called Falkland in Scotland!
You are forgiven if youve never heard of it, as it is a very small place and not really a lot else there except the purpose of our visit FALKLAND PALACE.
Travelling is reasonably easy by car, but probably is more difficult by public transport. We crossed the Forth Road Bridge and paid our toll of £1.00, they only collect in one direction now, so if we had been true canny Scots we would have crossed by the Kincardine Bridge which is free and returned over the Forth saving us our money!! Being silly we did it the other way! No to tell the truth our afternoon destination didnt open until 2.00pm so we had no choice really.
Anyway back to the map. Im renowned at being a hopeless map reader, but after crossing the Forth Road Bridge, you continue onto the M90 and travel on the motorway until just after Kinross, junction 8 for Cupar and St Andrews- home of the Golf! After about 4 -5 miles on the A91 the road is clearly signposted for Falkland Palace as it is a National Trust property now. It can also be approached from Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes New Town, being about 11 miles north of Kirkcaldy. It is mid-way between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay. Easy Peasey! We had arrived and following the signs to Public Car Park, it was simple with no parking problems, there was a path past a Hotel/Restaurant which led us onto the main road where we crossed over to the entrance of the palace.
STEPPING BACK IN TIME
As we crossed the road a school party appeared all dressed in historic costumes, what a delight to see the young children looking lovely in their outfits. The National Trust organise visits for schools, dressing up and playing the games children would have done many years is all part of the learning process for them. We later saw them having their picnic in the Orchard, back in school uniform they seemed more boisterous!
Falkland still retains its medieval burgh layout and has many houses over 300 years old. There is the Hunting Lodge which is now a traditional family run inn. We enjoyed lunch in the pretty beer garden at the rear after our tour of the Palace and gardens! They have 3 bedrooms either overlooking the palace or the Lomond hills if you want to stay there and absorb the atmosphere. The front of the inn has a plaque expressing the householders loyal sentiments from when it was built in 1607. Other places to visit are Moncrieff House, which still has a thatched roof, and nearby to it a Praise and Thanks stone. There is the Horsemarket and lots of marriage lintels can be seen around here. Also an example of a traditional Fife forestair, which gives outside access to the upstairs of a building which doesnt have internal stairs. If you have time to wander around it is really quite interesting.
Falkland Palace and gardens was built in the early 1500s. It was a Hunting Lodge used by eight of the Stuart monarchs including Mary Queen of Scots. They used to hunt stags and wild boar in the forest of Falkland, and enjoyed falconry. Earlier the castle had been in the Mac Duff family. King James IV completed the main structure and King James V added to it. It is really fine Renaissance architecture.
We entered through the gatehouse where the NT office is and showed our NT passes, otherwise this is where you pay. Foreign visitors can get a handset to tell them about each room, we were not offered one, but I heard someone say there were some in English.
My map reading and my memory seem to get worse as I get older! Fortunately there were information sheets to read about each room as you go around the palace, also guides in most rooms who were mostly very helpful and would tell stories and add other snippets of information making the visit more interesting. There were clothes laid out on some of the beds so that you expected someone to glide in and get dressed ready for dinner. The only drawback was the narrow and sometimes well worn stairs, which were stone and circular, if it was busy then passing is a bit difficult especially when you have an elderly person or young children with you. The furniture was beautiful and very ornate in some of the rooms, there were fresh flowers and the windows were thrown open so you could hear the birds singing, it all helped to transport you back to years past. We noticed how short the beds were, and our visitor said her son wouldnt have been able to sleep in them! All the rooms are furnished appropriately by the NT.
Suddenly after stepping through a door from the lounge you found yourself in a beautiful chapel. It is well cared for and I believe still used, again lots of information sheets about various things there. Then we went along a long corridor with wonderful tapestry wall hangings, the lighting was more subdued here to preserve the lovely blue colours.
I love cooking but was glad I wasnt the cook at the palace as the kitchen and store rooms were in the depths, the real bowels of the earth, they were damp and cold and you expected to see a rat run over the floor at any time! Herbs were hanging up and fresh vegetables were on a table and rabbits and pheasants (stuffed) were in the store room.
Only the external walls are left in the East Range and no trace of the North range.
Some of the palace had been restored by the Keeper in the 19th Century, the 3rd Marquis of Bute. One room had more up to date things, with memorabilia and some family pictures of holiday groups in the garden. This room had originally been the Priests room, and the stair was well worn by people slipping up the back stair to speak to him!
The garden was created in the 1950s and is well maintained. The trees and flowers were lovely when we visited and there was a huge vegetable garden too. The smells of flowers were heavenly and we were glad we did the tour of the rooms first and enjoyed the sunshine afterwards. The hedges hid a smaller garden which had two raised ponds built in the centre, the fish were plentiful and many people seemed to enjoy the tranquillity there. From here was a doorway into the tennis court.
THE ROYAL TENNIS COURT
You might be enjoying Wimbledon at the moment or be bored stiff with tennis. But this is different! The court was built in 1539 and the royals did play there, it is also called REAL tennis. It is still in use now, and there was a small room with a video explaining exactly how to play and score. It has a long covered area where spectators could watch in safety, but this is shared with the swallows that nest there and sweep in through the doorways so fast you are amazed they miss you! Well to be truthful they dont miss everyone and often leave their calling cards on un-suspecting visitors! It is supposed to be good luck after all!
THE SHOP and TOILETS
There was one toilet I think on the way round the palace, but there was a block near the shop. Cant speak about the gents! But the ladies was clean enough.
There were some plants on sale in an area outside the shop and the shop was very well stocked with the usual NT products and all things Scottish! There was a good range of books and maps. It had a door off the main street so people could go in even if they were not visiting the Palace.
As members of the NT we didnt have to pay but I did check the prices. Adults £7, OAP and Students £5.25, Child £3. There is also a family ticket for 2 adults and up to 6 children under 18 (I think) for £19.
Not cheap, but then most properties are quite expensive to visit so it makes joining the NT a worthwhile investment if you are going to visit a few places each year.
1st March until 31 October on Mondays to Saturdays from 10am until 6pm. Sundays from 1pm 5pm. The shop I think was also open at other times the rest of the year.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and although we had been once before you noticed different things, and as we visited at a different time of year the gardens were at a different stage. Falkland can be enjoyed at any time the restrictions are only with the palace and gardens. Falkland has not really been spoiled, it is a place to step back in time and enjoy. If you are on holiday in Scotland this year why not see for yourself.
Culross is quite simply a Time Warp.
It gives a good example of Scottish domestic life in the 16th and 17th centuries.
**A little bit of history**
It's hard to imagine that this quiet little burgh used to be a thriving, bustling sea-port exporting coal and salt (and much else), mainly to the Low Countries.
The village was granted Royal Burgh status by James V1 in 1588 and a replica of the Mercat Cross stands outside the oldest house in the village(1577). The village declined at the end of the 17th century and became a bit of a ghost town until the National Trust purchased the Palace in 1932. This meant that nothing much in the way of new buildings were erected here. Since then the buildings have all been restored to their former glory and give a very real glimpse of the past.
St. Serf founded a monastry here in the 5th century and it is here that Glasgow's patron saint, St. Mungo was born and educated.
Today the village is more than just a picture-postcard museum, it is a lively community where people go about their normal lives. It is REAL.
**Where is it and how do I get there?**
The historic Royal Burgh of Culross,(pronounced Kooros), is situated on the north side of the River Forth in West Fife. It is around 20 miles from Edinburgh and 30 miles from Glasgow.
Take the A90 from Edinburgh, cross the Forth Road Bridge and turn onto the A985. The burgh is well signposted from there.
From Glasgow, take the M80 and M876 to the Kincarcine Bridge and follow the signs.
There are car parks at the east and west sides of the village on Low Causeway.
**Places to stay**
Culross is mo
re of a day trip type of place but there is St. Mungo's B&B and the Dundonald Arms Hotel. Food and drink can also be had at the Dundonald and also at the Red Lion pub. There are also a couple of tea rooms.
There are several footpaths and picnic areas along the waterfront.
**Places to visit**
A good place to start would be the National Trust Visitor Centre in the Town House or Tolbooth(1626). They have a video display telling the history of the town.
Maps showing rights of way are available here and these will show the private areas where access is denied.
Beside the Town House is The Palace which is not a palace at all but a grand house built by the local laird, Sir George Bruce, a merchant and coal mine owner. The house was built between 1597 and 1611 and features original interiors with painted ceilings, wood panelling and furniture of the period. The restored garden has been developed with plants and vegetables that would have been in use in the 17th century.
This is a very good example of Scottish architecture from this period with it's crow stepped gables and pan-tiled roofs.
Back Causeway a steep cobbled street leads up from the Town House to a small market place where you will find another building open to the public, the Study. This is a restored house which takes it's name from the room at the top of the tower.
Further on, up the steep hill, past many beautifully restored houses, is Culross Abbey(1215). The original choir and tower are now the site of the parish church and the views over the Forth from here are wonderful.
These buildings are open to the public from March to October and a combined ticket costs £5.
The other houses in the village are pri
vate residences but it is still very pleasant to walk around the narrow, cobbled street soaking up the historic architecture. The residents are well used to people gaping at their houses and are very friendly.
The ruins of St. Mungo's chapel(1507) are on the east side of the village, next to the car park.
The West Kirk, built in the 12th century, was the original parish church for the village and can be reached by some lovely footpaths leading west from th
Culross is a good day trip from Edinburgh or Glasgow to a well restored typical 16-17th century Scottish burgh. It's not the place to go if you are looking for a wild time
but if the weather is nice, this is a great place to wander around for a few hours and perhaps have a spot of lunch.
It doesn't feel all that commercialized, although there are quite a few souvenir shops.
Thanks for reading
For those of you not familiar with Fife, the East Neuk is almost certainly the most quaint part of it; if not the whole of Scotland. It consists of a series of wee towns: Elie/Earlsferry, St Monans, Pittenween, Anstruther, Cellardyke, Kilrenny and Crail; each with a population of between 500 - 3000. The "industry" of the East Neuk has traditionally been fishing, but with new European rules and regulations this has taken a battering in recent years. Along with the closure of boatbuilding in St Monans, this has left the East Neuk in quite a bizarre situation; no real industry except tourism, while locals seem to do what they can to keep "non-neukers" from settling in these beautifal villages. I grew up in St Monans, which, in my opinion, is one of the oddest places around. Literally nothing ever happens; even a broken street lamp makes the news. Yet it also contains one of the most painted scenes in the whole of Scotland. The famous church is set perfectly; at dusk after a sunny day I can imagine no better place to relax. It is hundreds of years old, I was recently involved in celebration of (I think) its 600th anniversary and felt special being in it, even though I am atheist (by the way - that isnt a good admition in the East Neuk, as their are 6 churches in St Monans along, and only 1500 people living there). St Monans is also home to one of the best restaurants in Scotland (or so I have heard from many people that have been there, as I havent), the Seafood Restaurant. It is also in an idyllic location, only a couple of hundred yards from the church. Interestingly, St Monans is the least famous and most often ignored of the East Neuk villages. I have never understood why, but that is taking nothing away from the others. Elie/Earlsferry has a wonderful golf course, the 13th hole quite possibly the most scenic in the whole world. It also has a population which at least doubles during the summer,
as most of the homes are holiday homes. Pittenweem has a famous fish market, at the bottom of hills so steep that I dare you to cycle your bike down them (this isnt difficult, but it leaves you in one hell of a situation getting back up!). Anstruther is classed as the "capital" of the East Neuk, containing the only high school (where I went) and being a sort of shopping centre for the area. The shops truly are amazing, you can buy anything that you would never possibly need; from East African dolls to tiny wooden fishing boats. There is also the strangely appealing Scottish Fisheries Museum, and the famous Chip shop where you can get the best Fish supper in the world (along with more unusual things like crab suppers). Cellardyke and Kilrenny dont really have anything in them (unless you happen to be from Cellardyke or Kilrenny, in which case they are the most exciting places on Earth), although they are building some sort of sports centre or something at the moment. Crail, however, is a wonderful place, with quite possibly the most idyllic harbour in Scotland, along with a wonderful town centre and a mysteriously brilliant golf course. Keep going, and you come to St Andrews. But if you visit Fife, please dont use the East Neuk as a pretty tourist route to St Andrews, but stop, have a meal in one of the wonderful sea food restaurants in any of the villages, visit at least one harbour and stay up late breathing the wonder ful sea air.