THE FIFE PILGRIMS’ WAY
Culross to dunfermline
Neil: Culross Abbey
The Pilgrims Way is new, and already has some “interesting” quirks, such as its styles of waymarking. The Pilgrim Way is not officially on the list (on walkhighlands), so little surprise that, for example, working out where the start was was a little testing. But Neil was desperate to start……
So we, Neil and Russ, began walking again, in February again just a year after starting the John Muir Way. In the meantime I (Russ) had become properly semi-retired, and had completed the Fife Coastal Path from Kincardine to St Andrews, mostly solo. A different kind of walking than walking with.
Neil returned from 5 weeks in New Zealand champing at the bit to complete the new Fife Pilgrims’ Way as near to being the first public walker as he can. With me. He is now looking to join forces with the local Hillwalking Club to help address some of the logistical and technical problems facing a walker close to completing the round of Munros. Like, for example, the In Pinn. Meanwhile the redoubtable Iona continues to cross off Munros with gusto.
We assumed the car park was the start, having spotted the Pilgrim Way marker badge across the road from the loos. Neil cheerfully admitted that though he has lived in the area for years, he’d never had a good look at Culross. His main experience of Culross had involved fast food delivery in the area, a case of a 21st century delivery system operating in a 17th century period setting. Tricky, according to Neil although reported no “Outlandish” issues with wild and hairy time-travelling Scots folk.
I needed to spice up a few of the photies from the original so I have returned and sampled the delights of Coo-Roos. Food can be consumed, and there are at least 3 eateries in Culross: the Pottery One, The Mercat One and Bessie’s were discovered: I won’t pay £5 for beans on toast, the notion of pottery was worrying and the reality a bit off putting and so I eventually ate veggie soup at Bessie’s, not least because the waiters waited and even greeted. I mean, welcomed as opposed to the tear thingy. Very enthusiastic and, well jolly, which was fun. Soup (bucket of) was good, espresso ditto. So Ada who sings and Bertha who dances (and who incedentally share the very same names of my great aunts) did the honours (thanks guys - enjoyed it). And there was Fife Walks book available, written by Hamish Brown… Good choice I thought.
The FPW markers pointed in the direction of the Palace. Which was not open (the Palace opens on April 1st. It’s a Scottish National Trust thing, and the trusty trusters like to rest a bit in the winter months, and who would blame them).
So, on a late, overcast February Sunday morning, there were not too many folk around, although the cobbled road up to the Abbey revealed a couple of parties of tourists looking for Outlander locations. There were touristy folk around the Mercat Cross, and more looking over the Abbey. The main remains of the Abbey are first floor with the ground floor and its signs of what was the undercroft being at street level. Atmospheric. But we were walkers and needed to get on: ”The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep”
The area around Culross, despite being couthie is nonetheless industrial. The monks mined coal from under the Forth in the 16th and 17th centuries, and mining continued to be a feature of the area until the industry died after the miners strike of 1984-85.
One of the last pits to close was the Longannet mine (on the road out to Kinross) which connected with the Longannet Power Station, destined for demolition sometime in the near to middle future. Probably a tad less picturesque than Culross.
The path past the Abbey on the route is walled and heads down hill to cross the road at the East Car Park where there are boards and stuff. Head for the display boards. The East Car Park exits onto the pathway beside the railway line to Crombie Point and follows up to the railway crossing just before the Ash Lagoons and Low Valleyfield. The railway crossing is the traditional route used by medieval Pilgrims, and is blessed by St Rollox. The area of the lagoons is part of the Torry Bay nature reserve but the FPW pathway continues along the neck of the lagoons i.e. between railway and lagoons.
Confession time: in the absence of waymarking, on the day we failed to pass through the car park and followed the road path. However, both Neil and I, separately, walked the pathway to the south of the railway whilst completing the Fife Coastal Path to St Andrews. As part of the going back to take photies thing, I took a look at the signage. The path does not cross the car park (shame: good info boards) but takes the intrepid walker along the road to Station Road, which is marked by one of the new FPW posts and leads down to the railway crossing. However, the signs from the Ash Path remain confusing.
The Bus Stop is important. Fife Buses are great, particularly if you posses the Senior Citizens Bus Pass thingy, which Neil and I do…. We remain in awe. Over the past two years, Neil and I have made great use of the buses and our travel passes. Most recently, I used Fife Buses on the Fife Coastal Path route, and it was brilliant. Usefully, Fife has prefab bus stations which is helpful and comforting. (BTW, we’d also made great use of buses south of the Forth and through to Helensburgh whilst on the John Muir Way). The Fife Bus stations have about three different sizes, but basically the same layout. They have toilets (warm, comfortable), and the larger ones have a cafe (the folks in the Kirkaldy Cafe are really friendly). All the Bus stations have small shops for sweeties, fags and newspapers. You know where you stand with Fife Buses. So the photo of the bus stop is a reminder. You’re never lost with a Fife Bus route.
The lagoon path is left behind at the railway bridge and we take the pathway up over the line to the Culross - Valleyfield Road.
At the time of writing there is a bit of potential cock up going on. The Pilgrim Way and the Coastal Path are one and the same until the railway bridge is passed. However at the bottom of the first down flight of steps down (A)the FPW turns right down another flight. At the bottom is another FPW marker (C). You just can’t really see it from the top. As a consequence we, Neil and I both, struggled to find a non-existenT FPW badge at (B).
Basically, the Fife Coastal is signed but the FPW isn’t. It just means that folk like me and Neil get confused and frustrated. As it happened, I knew where the FCP went and we carried on regardless. It’ll be sorted.
So take the (as it stands at 14/3/19) non-signed junction to the right at A and head down to C to take another right at the bottom and yippee, thar she blows…
Valleyfield. High and Low. A pit village. The pit itself was open, according to the monument for '70 years. The place has changed: the Valleyfield colliery closed, leaving just another mining village without a reason to be. All gone.
Mining was a key industry in Scotland, with the massive coal fields fuelling the industrial revolution. For a hundred or more years, it was am industry that touched everyone. Carol (Mrs Edwards) and I, just the other day, met up with friends in the English Lakes to celbrate a birthday. We went for a short walk up into the hills despite some fairly blowy weather. Looked at a lake and walked back down again. Later, Carol commented that the countryside was well, bleak, and I had to agree. Having walked a fair amount in Scotland and other places, it has become a thing for me that the interesting parts of a walk are the traces of people who have lived in places and then gone, leaving markers and clues. For instance, the 1913 OS map of Valleyfield shows dwellings, “Preston Crescent”, perhaps miners rows, which no longer exist. Useful things, maps. Show many of the things that have gone now (and in the past they remain?)
There are many of these oddnesses on walks that, if noticed, ask the question “why”? Why is that? Random buildings, tracks, ironwork, cobbles. whatever cost someone money to build: beyond the follies of the stupidly rich, such remains once had a purpose or a meaning. For instance, in searching a few years back for Carol’s family “home” we looked for and found (not really that hard) Mavis Valley, or at least where it was. Mavis valley was the pit village associated with the Cadder Pit disaster which killed 22 men in 1913. If you knew what you were looking at, you will be able see it. So very often on these walks, it works the other way round. So much of hillwalking is about being in remote places, sometimes of incredible beauty, very often just places of quiet beauty but the photographs will not show that. Those experiences last, but the walking in less “wild” places offers a sense of history that for me offers an understanding of who and what we were as people.
We pass a bunch of people gathered for a walk: it appears we are not the only daft folk walking, through villages and towns, like we’re on our holidays, thinking about home, and thinking about faith, thinking about work….
But we cross the Bluther Burn (which smells) into New Mills and turn right to follow the coast to where Low Torry turns into Torryburn. The turn is marked and has the FPW patch: the Fife Coastal Path takes you through Low Torry itself which means the Pilgrim Way misses The Crown in the main street. But I like to think the Crown is worth a mention. A feature of the Fife Coastal Path is that it has many memorials to people, usually family, usually looking out to sea. The Crown was the first that really hit me. Very often the memorials are benches, on favourite spots, often overlooking the Forth, sometimes with pictures, or small plaques. Usually they have words. The Crown has a bench remembering Derek. I don’t know anything much about Derek, apart from he ran the pub and the locals loved him and is remembered. So I tend now to at least stop and read these small memorials on the Way. Least I could do.
Neil doesn’t know that bit, so I might not tell him. The Pilgrim Way heads back to the main road. i.e. the Coastal Path route, further along the road. You emerge after the Crown and head towards the railway bridge and Torryburn.
The walk along the beach was tempting, but we realised that the FPW takes the road through the village and past the kirk rather than the beach. The waymarking was an issue and a discussion. Currently, the waymarking often consists of the FPW badges attached by plastic ties to posts. Basically, they are moveable and appear to move. They also appear to be the right markers but pointing in rather strange directions. We reckoned that vandalism was, strangely', less likely. They appear to have been put up on the wrong pole. The wooden posts don’t move but like the plastic cable ties, they often don’t make sense. In fairness the FPW is still being set up, so we were maybe being a little harsh. So we worked it out. with a little bit of help from the blurry map from the FPW website. This was a thing for us. Perhaps the powers that be set out to entertain us?
So we headed up the hill and found the Kirk. Lot of writing on the wall, and there was a classic memorial stone……
“Died 1866 EPITAPH TO
Go search the tombs
where thousands lie
be humble and upbraided slave
The rich the poor the base the brave
All in corruption Lies
This is something else: bit harsh, I thought. God knows, literally, what point was being made, and by whom: could have been the deceased Tam Thomson pointing his ghostly finger from the grave perhaps? The Kirkyard is quirky: a quirky Kirky?
We followed the road up the hill past the Torry Burn to our right, heading toward the Cairneyhill Roundabout. If you catch the waymarking which is carefully concealed beyond the gate (thanks guys), the FPW veers off from the road to the roundabout. It follows a disused roadway which heads south to cross the A985 further down that road. It was apparent that the waymarking is not complete, not least because there was a smart-looking wooden post with no arrows. Great. The waymarking before crossing the road is still unhelpful, presumably a work in progress……..
The Pilgrim’s Way has taken a dive to the South to avoid the busy roundabout outside Cairneyhill which heads back to Kincardine Bridge. The detour is not wildly interesting, but it does rather neatly crosses the railway and sneaks the Pilgrim into Cairneyhill itself. If you’re need ing vittals or a swift libation, you’re in luck: Cairneyhill has shops. The main road passes through, as does the walker until the Parish Church is reached. There is a sort of graveyard across the road although the dead are the corpses of Rover 2000 which litter the place. The intention to renovate appears to have passed: the cars are probably more greenhouses for brambles than spare parts for any viable cars. Mind you, we got to reminisce about cars: I remember my Dad’s. Funny that. So we wandered up past the ruin and up by the stone wall used as a bridle path, slowly climbing up the gentle slope to the ridge line. The original path changes course by Hilton farm. The newly formed Pilgrim Way runs round the back garden, with path and wire fence, before regaining the old ridge road heading east toward Dunfermline.
The pathway appears to pass through fields and woodland, but the reaity is a little different. Like much of the extended Forth Clyde-Valley to the West, and along the Fife Coast to the South, there are or were extensive coal fields beneath the surface hereabouts. There is little sign of this now apart from marks on the map.
I guess the point is made: walking Fife (and indeed the Central Belt) means walking over country where for a hundred years men (and women and children) worked undeground in dark, dangerous conditions to extract the black coal that drove the heavy industry that made Scotland what it became. Whatever that is….
So, the point is made. To jump a little ahead, Pilgrim Way continues eastward through more coal mining areas. I think the point is made. Scotland has vast areas of (apparently) wild country, thinly populated with a population concentrated in the central belt and to a lesser extent the north east coast setllements. The public image of Scotland is very different. Google “Images of Scotland” and you are likely to get something like:
Since returning to Scotland, it has seemed that my understanding of Scotland during the ‘80s has been superseded. What was a land with heavy industry at its core alongside a picture postcard country of hills is now predominantly the picture postcard. As a walker, whilst I still love being in the hills, the sense of history has become more vibrant as I walk through towns and villages: it reflects a sense of the people who live and who have lived. It comes back to Derek, the publican, who is still missed, and all the other benches, stones and wayside shrines that punctuate, for instance, the coastal path.
I digress…. So we hit the old mining village of Crossford even though it doesn’t look like it and skim the edge, looking for the FPW patches. The current (March 2019) state of play is that the map used by the Fife Coast and Countryside Trust is hard to use (the John Muir bunch’s effort is much more fit for purpose and the JM is marked OS maps), so Neil and I had that navigation discussion, based on the placement of the FPW patches on the lampost. In the end, we agreed to try the straight path north. It was gey dreich, coming on rain. We’d had worse (Ben More on Mull had been dreadful) and straight paths are so weareisome, but headed up the path ahead despite Neil’s doubts. I mentioned Cairn Gorm. Neil is not allowed to forget that he missed Carin Gorm on the inaugural annual walk. Hah. (Sorry Neil…. :-))
In the interim the folk who put up the badges have strutted their funky stuff asnd done the necessary on the junction. My poetic taste remained refined…………..
Okay, so my SLR battery had collopsed (i.e. radically collapsed) and my phone was struggling, not to mention trembling hand problems. So, yes, the phone has focused on my car but the blob below the purple smear is definitely a FPW badge. A proper one with a metal fix. And this was me doing catch up. Rats.
I may have mentioned that, generally, folk you meet out walking will at a bare minimum say hello in passing, and will often stop to talk, review the weather and generally make a connection. I personally need to work on this. After all, though weather is a thing in walking, the actual vibrancy of weather chat is limited. Dogs help (see later), but there is often a sense that though there is a fellowship in walking, only a few of the conversations have that something else, and rarely that spark thingy.
Heading up the not so narrow path, we met an elderly man who stopped us (but there was just Neil and me). He greeted, us commented on the weather (dreich). He needed to connect, so I stopped and we talked about the weather. The guy looked old (i.e. a good bit older than us) and had that dew drop on his nose.
We talked a little about place as well as weather for a short while, and Neil itched to move but I felt the need to talk a little more, to connect. So we exchanged a few more words and then moved on. I would hope that in my rambling dotage if I would meet with walkers, they would offer me the same courtesy.
I guess I need to work on connections if I think that people are so important. Maybe a script or two:
The weather script: “Gey blowy the day is it not? Think ye t’will change soon…?”
The dog script: “That’s a fine dug you have there! Is it a dachspoodle/brown schnitzer/bananahound?”
The local script: “Are you local? can you tell me what the strange stone/wall/building is yonder?”
The personal script: “Fine hat/boots/walking stick/crampons you have there!”
Must try it.
The track up from Crossford runs straight as a die, so spectators can watch interestedly as Sunday walkers and casual strollers take in the country air.
On the dreich day, and on the dry day, the cows put in an appearance. They were just dead sweet, nudging each other to get a good view. Could have taken them home, but don’t suppose they would have fitted in the car….
On the actual day, the weather was a trifle inclement, but the flag was flying. The view looking back (above left) was nothing like as pretty as the photo above. And there was a Norwegian flag (so I thought sticking in one was a good idea on the re-run). There had been a bit of discussion about the right way or not at the crossroads at the Knockhouse Farm, resolved by the apporpriate sticker which was kind of expected. What wasn’t expected was a Norwegian Flag, rattling away in a fairly stiff breeze.
“Why is that?” says I
“Why not,” says Neil “it’s got a right to be there”.
“Yes but what does it mean?”
“It may mean that it;s a Noirwegian flag,”
“Yes, but why here?”
“Just because it is, Russ. Just because.”
So we left it behind us and it wasn’t flying when I went back.
We walked along a substantial pathway heading east toward Dunfermline. The current map idemntifies old shafts and the OS Map for 1853 identifies a line of pits between Knockhouse Farm north of Crossford. No real sign of anything untoward going on here, but the map shows collieries at Knockhouse Farm, Berrylaw Colliery, and another Colliery, Pittencrieff, to the North of the track before it reaches Dunfermline. Walking this pathway suggested industrial strength traffic and also a continuing view of the tower of Dunfermline Abbey, our target for the day.
The big clue on the ground was that the path to Dunfermline was substantial, and the map showed a road to the North and a road to the south: we were walking the middle way, which is now a cycle and a walk way but has lost its signficance since it lost its pits.
The 367 OS Explorer shows pits, a clear invitation to attack the NLS historical maps on the site. Just another hint that what is now farmland was something very different in previous days. We walked following a well-founded stone wall providing a clear boundary to the north. As we got closer to Dunfermline the wall became a causeway, so we were looking down on the field beyond. We were walking on a raised causeway, following a roadway that had seen better days but was telling stories of what had been going on. We approached the end of the path, and sat on a convenient log eating our sarnies. And had a chat with a dog and his lady owner. Another chat. Onward to the Abbey.
The pathway ends at the old road boundary for Dunfermline. We crossed over, and shimmied into a terraced street. Dunfermline. We picked our way down broad streets lined with houses heading south to find the Pittencreiff Park Gates before turning east under the railway tunnel to walk up to the Abbey, where the Pilgrim Way from Culross meets the Way from North Queensferry. Difficult to miss…. Big Abbey. Signposts. And the bus station just up the road….