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Kingdom Of Fife

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Tour Fife

When the road and rail bridges were built over the rivers Forth and Tay, people suddenly began to discover the long-forgotten wonderland that is the Kingdom of Fife. For many a century no other place in Scotland was quite as exciting to live in and it still has a heritage that is unique, though four hundred years have passed since the height of its fame.

Man came early to settle in Fife. About eight thousand years ago, when the entire population of Scotland numbered only a few hundreds, a strip of coastline in North Fife was one of the rare abodes of those Stone Age settlers, the Mesolithic folk. It is still a good place for people who like shellfish, as they did.

Later, in Neolithic times and through the long centuries of the Bronze Age, the population was steadily growing. And then, almost two thousand four hundred years ago, a great wave of invaders from the Continent - the Gaelic-speaking Celts - swept triumphantly into Scotland to start a new Iron Age of progress. Their first foothold was on the shores of the River Tay. And up the estuary, where the hills of North Fife and Perthshire meet, the invaders covered the summits with forts that are still clearly visible.

Centuries later the early Christian missionaries arrived and one of these was a monk called St. Rule, from Patras in Western Greece. He brought a human armbone, three fingers from a right hand, one tooth and a knee-cap, all genuine parts of the skeleton of St. Andrew. People liked a piece of a saint in those days.

Something else happened too that was even more remarkable. When the local King of the Picts went down to the shore to find why this stranger had come to his realm, suddenly a great white cross appeared, shimmering diagonally in the clear blue sky. The cross eventually became the national flag of Scotland and the martyr of Patras the patron saint of Scotland. People did not know much about this St. Andrew. He was a far-off mystery man. But his bones were potent and that was what mattered.

Far better known, among the saints of Fife, was St. Margaret, the Queen of Malcolm Canmore. Most of her life was spent in Southern Fife, at the city of Dunfermline, then the capital of Scotland. There a shrine was erected in her memory soon after her death, and later she was given a more magnificent memorial, the great Benedictine Abbey which her son David, erected. The ashes of all but her head are still there.

Through most of the middle ages the Earls of Fife were first among the nobility of Scotland. They had hereditary right to place the crown on the King's head at his coronation and to lead the vanguard of his army into battle. Fife too was the home of Scotland's leading churchman, the arch-bishop of St. Andrews. The cathedral at St. Andrews was by far the largest in the land, well over 100 hundred yards long.

It was here that higher education flourished for the first time in Scotland after St. Andrews University was founded in 1411. Among Royal Palaces, too, the first favorite of Scottish monarchs for almost two centuries was Falkland Palace in Fife, built with a Renaissance grandeur that has been described as without parallel in the British Isles.

Fife in those days was noted not just for its palaces, its churchmen and its scholars. It was equally famed for its rich merchants and its thriving trade with the European Continent. All along the East Neuk coast, crowded hard against each other were the Royal Burghs and the burghs of barony that specialized in this overseas trade. In addition to the merchants and seamen on their peaceful missions, Fife, produced a special breed of sea-dogs whose fought the pirates of England for their Scottish shipmasters.

Those East Neuk ports were prosperous, with sturdy little houses beside the sea-wall or up narrow wynds ( alleys ) that led so often from the shore to the High Street far above it. It was the fisherfolk who lived in the wynds. The sea captains and the merchants had more spacious mansions, while the lairds loved the safety of castles. One of the special charms of Fife is the abundance of old houses, small and large, which still look as fresh today as when they were built long centuries ago.

But it was not all work and no play on those far-off days. In Fife is the oldest tennis court in Scotland, a royal one built for James V at Falkland Palace in 1539. There, people still play real-tennis, which is tough and fast and very different from the tennis of today. As for golf, there Fife has no equal in all the world. By 1522 the game had already become an obsession at St. Andrews and it has remained one ever since.

The word " Fife " was originally an old Danish word that meant " Wooded Country." But why Danish ? You only have to look at Fife on the map of Scotland to see why. The Kingdom of Fife thrusts itself into the North Sea like the head of a belligerent wolf, challenging the snarling longships to come and fight.

And come they did. To Fife Ness, just a few miles NE of Crail, and where the Fifemen waited, and where Dane's Dyke and the Longman's Grave record their incursions; to the May Island, where 600 monks were sadly massacred; and to the Caiplie Coves and all along the East Neuk coast to Earlsferry, where stone coffins were unearthed containing their remains. In fact the Danish Vikings suffered so many defeats in Fife that it became known as their burial ground. The crafty Danes were given something to think about by the even craftier Fifers.

And why the " wooded country ? " Well, a long time ago, when James IV built his huge ship " The Great Michael ", it was said, with typical Fife exaggeration, that he cut down all the wooded areas of Fife just to build her. Certainly it was Fife where his Keel-cutters came from.

It was also in Fife that Alexander III plunged to his death; Macduff fled from Macbeth; Robert the Bruce's parents courted; King Malcolm met his beloved Margaret; Mary of Lorraine landed at Balcomie; Sir Henry Wood trounced Henry VIII's navy between Crail and the May Island; Andrew Selkirk ( alias Robinson Crusoe ) sailed from Largo; the Spanish survivors of the Armada put into Anstruther; Cardinal Beaton was slung into an unknown grave near Kilrenny; and James V crossed the wee Dreel Burn in Anstruther on the back of a Fife girl.

From Pictish relics, to cathedrals and royal palaces, picturesque villages and great castles, history is but a step away in the Kingdom of Fife. Think golf and you, of course, think of St Andrews. But golf fever is not confined to St Andrews alone, there are more than 43 courses in the Kingdom.

If you would like to Tour Fife on a unique tour of my native Scotland please e-mail me: Sandy Stevenson

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