Our next stop on our epic road trip was the large historic town of Dunfermline, very close to the Forth Road Bridge. We pulled in and immediately found a quiet street adjoining the high street to park on, and set out to explore…
Status: Fife, Town, Scotland
Eating & Sleeping: Greggs
Attractions: Dunfermline Abbey, Dunfermline City Chambers, Andrew Carnegie Statue, Pittencrieff Park, The Pug, Pittencrieff Museum, Guildhall, Mercat Cross, Dunfermline Cannon, Dunfermline Palace etc
We walked down to the high street, and instantly got a fabulous view of the City Chambers Building, which I have decided is now my favourite building in Scotland officially! We decided to head that way first, and on the way we found and visited the Tourist Information Office, which is down on the left just before you come to the Chambers.
The high street is lined with ornate street lights and trees, and contains a lot of the most striking features of the town.
Up close the building is even more amazing, just look at the detail around every window, and all up the tower. The Scottish and British flags fly proudly over the entrance, with the pyramid shaped roof containing the clock (with a face on all four sides). The copper spires make it look like somewhere Harry Potter could be found, and helps to give the town a mystical quality.
It was constructed between 1875 and 1879, specifically to house the local council. Designed by James C Walker, it is the third such building on the site, replacing the 1771 version, which replaced a 17th century one. Some of the Heraldic Stones from the 1771 version have been re-used in the structure, and the Police Cells from the present buildings construction have been kept, although they are no longer in use. The council chamber itself is also well known for having an Oak Hammer Beam Roof, making it more like a medieval banqueting hall. The tower itself stands an impressive 117 feet tall!
Many famous Scots are represented around the building, including busts of various old Scottish Monarchs, as well as a statue of Robert Burns.
As I said before, we visited the Tourist Information office on the way to the City Chambers, and we were told that this area is the historic centre of Dunfermline. We turned left at the City Chambers following their directions and headed towards the ruins of Dunfermline Palace (just past Dunfermline Abbey, but more on that in a minute). It adjoins the ruined refectory of Dunfermline Abbey, which is the large wall on the left coming off the gatehouse.
You can get right to the edge and look down into the interior of the ruins, and the main gate into the Palace still stands at the front, with the road running through it, and you can walk through as well. The gatehouse was also part of the old town walls.
Dunfermline was once the Capital of Scotland, as decreed by King Malcolm III (1031 – 1093) in the 11th century. His court was based in Malcolm’s Tower, the ruins of which can be seen in Pittencrieff Park where we ventured next. The King himself resided in the Palace. The buildings royal connections continued, with the births of David II (1324 – 1371) and James I (1394 – 1437) occurring here. Dunfermline remained the capital until at least 1437 when James I was assassinated in Perth. Also, James IV (1473 – 1513) resided here frequently in the 1500’s and developed the building extensively. When he got married to Anne of Denmark (1574 – 1619) in 1589 he gifted the Palace to her, and she gave birth to three of their children here, Elizabeth, Charles I (1600 – 1649) and Robert. Monarchs continued to use the Palace until the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when the Scottish Court moved to London, so it was hardly seen by future monarchs. When Charles I held his coronation in Scotland in 1633, he briefly visited the Palace. His successor, Charles II (1630 – 1685), was the final monarch to stay here, in 1650. By 1708 the roof had been removed and the building began to decay, leaving the ruins that stand today.
We moved into Pittencrieff Park, which has it’s nearest entrance directly outside the Abbey, and afford an amazing view of it. We had done a lap around the outside already on our way to the Palace.
The Abbey was originally joined onto the Palace, and these sections are also in ruins (as noted above) after its sacking in 1560. The rectory was mostly spared and is the largest ruined section you can visit today. This was the second tragedy to hit the Abbey, as in 1304 a lot of the buildings were burnt down after King Edward I of England held his court here the previous year, in 1303.
Another building existed before this, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the foundations of which lie under the 12th century nave that survived 1560, and is there today in the current building. The nave was renovated in 1570, and served as the Parish Church until the 19th century, becoming part of the new church built at the far end of the Nave, in place of the original Choir. The church has retained the name Dunfermline Abbey, and is very impressive. The time difference in the areas of the building is immediately obvious when you look down the side, as you can see below.
The front section of the Abbey is obviously the older stone section, the surviving Nave, whilst the more modern church is at the back, and is distinctively different architecturally, and the materials are completely different ages. It’s a nice touch when you look at the building, and shows how much history has happened in this small area.
Making our way through the park to come back round to the City Chambers, we stumbled upon a completely different landscape, with the Tower Burn twisting and turning through a valley in the centre. A beautiful little stone bridge allows you to cross over the burn, and from here you can see the tower of the City Chambers in the background, and looking back the other way as we moved round we got an even better view of the Abbey.
The park is vast, so we just had a general wander to see what we could find. At the far side of the park is the Pittencrieff House Museum (17th Century Mansion, containing a wide variety of galleries) but we didn’t quite get that far as we still had a few other things to do after Dunfermline so we went the quicker way round at the front of the park.
The park is full of Squirrels, much to Gemma’s delight. A long avenue leads up to a statue of Dunfermline’s most famous son, Andrew Carnegie. From here you can see how extensive the park is, and every part of it is well laid out and trimmed.
Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919) was born in Dunfermline in a small weavers cottage. He moved with his family to the United States in 1848 to find a better life, and Andrew became a telegraph messenger boy in Pittsburgh, for the Ohio Telegraph Company. He went on lead the expansion of the American Steel Industry during the 19th century, and was a well known philanthropist, and encouraged other wealthy people to improve society using their vast wealth. Later in life he gave lots of money to local libraries, including one in Skipton, Yorkshire, after the local council wrote to him asking for funding. He passed away in Lenox, Massachusetts in 1919, and is fondly remembered by many communities. As his own story was a rags to riches one, he empathised with poor members of society and was only too happy to help them.
What we found next was probably the most surprising find of the day. An old steam engine was just sat in the middle of the park, and you can even go up into the cab. It turned out to be known as the “Pug”, which was built in 1934 and operated with Edinburgh Collieries Ltd. It was moved around various other collieries in the area, and carried different numbers including 9 and 29. The locomotive was out of work by 1973, and was found rusting at Bilston Glen, Midlothian. It was brought to Dunfermline and preserved, after steam engines were phased out and replaced by diesel locomotives. In 2011 the Pug was taken to be restored and was brought back last year.
The original train that was on display in the park arrived in 1968, but was moved to the Museum of Scottish Industrial Life (Coatbridge) in 1988 and became operational again. The replacement was the fantastic little Pug. We couldn’t resist going on board and messing with the controls, although most of them have been welded up for safety reasons, but it was still an epic part of our visit to the town. It still retains its final number, 29, which can be seen on the side, along with its final operator, the Fife Coal Company.
We started heading back towards the town centre, and wandered back up to the Andrew Carnegie statue to get a picture towards City Chambers and the Guildhall (the tall spire at the back on the left), where we were heading next. It’s a fantastic view into Dunfermline, which is definitely one of my favourite towns in the UK.
We exited by the Louise Carnegie (The wife of Andrew) memorial gates, and on the way up to the City Chambers, we passed by this old cannon, which was gifted to the town by the Carron Iron Works near Falkirk in 1771. It was almost a bribe to let the company open a foundry in Dunfermline, but as it already had foundries the offer was declined, but the Cannon was kept, and submerged in the pavement at the time to stop horse and carts turning sharply around the corner and hitting the old Town House, and remained in the same place for the City Chambers. It was eventually placed back on the pavement, and after a temporary relocation as it was a hazard during the World War II blackout it was returned to the pavement. After the pedestrianisation of the high street in more recent times its position moved slightly, to it’s present location on the same street it has always been on.
We soon made it back up the pedestrianised high street, with the City Chambers now far in the distance, and arrived at the beautiful stone Guildhall, completed in 1807 by the Guild Merchants in the town who wanted to make the town more important in Fife and make it the county seat. By 1811 money had run out and it was sold, however new funds were found to add the 132 feet steeple on the top.
Directly outside the Guildhall is the old Mercat Cross, with the oldest sections of the present version dating back to 1626, after it was put back after the Great Fire of Dunfermline in 1624. The original cross was built in 1396 and was eventually moved to the garden of the Abbot’s House across from Dunfermline Abbey.
Dunfermline is an incredible town, with so many fantastic buildings to see, great parks, a wide variety of shops, and great transport links to the Scottish Capital, Edinburgh, via the Forth Road and Rail Bridges. Regular trains run from Dunfermline into Edinburgh via the Fife Circle Line that takes in other local towns, and with Edinburgh Airport only 13 miles to the South, it is very easy to get here. Local buses also run all over Fife and round to Edinburgh, with the motorway network from Glasgow, Stirling and Perth running straight to the area and connecting with the Forth Road Bridge, which Dunfermline is sat very very close too.
Dunfermline is the perfect place to visit in Fife, and if you get chance to stay in Edinburgh take a day out to Dunfermline and explore the ancient Scottish Capital, and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!
For us, it was the end of our time in Dunfermline, and we pushed on, round the Fife Coast to the town of Kirkcaldy…