Pretty Pittenweem

Hi Readers,

I hope everyone is doing well!  Today we are going to jump in our car and head about fifty miles to the northeast of Edinburgh to a delightful little village on the Firth of Forth.

You know how sometimes in travels you happen upon a place that is just as pretty as a picture?  Pittenweem, Scotland is one of those places.

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Mr. C and I unfortunately didn’t have a lot of time to spend in this sweet village and there were some things we missed seeing (like St. Fillan’s Cave – the hideout of the Irish saint with the glowing arm – d’oh!), but this place is most definitely going on the list for a revisit in the future.  In fact, we are considering making Pittenweem our home base on next year’s trip.  (Is it next year yet?  No?  Crap.)

Located in the East Neuk of Fife, Pittenweem is a real charmer.  A mishmash of houses with red pantiled and gray slate roofs and Dutch inspired crow-stepped gables dot the village surrounding the picturesque, working harbor.  Viewed from a higher street above, the homes are a lovely contrast to the blue waters of the Firth beyond.

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Quaint shops, galleries, and eateries line the historic village streets.  During the short time we were there, we popped into Cuppa for a spot of tea and a scone and then into The Cocoa Tree Shop for a few gourmet chocolates to take with us.  Yummy on both counts!


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A thriving fishing village, King James V declared Pittenweem a Royal Burgh in 1541. Today the town continues to be an active marketplace.  Fishing boats pull into port each morning with their catch of the day and fishermen sell their haul out of sheds at the harbor market.  I would really love to be there to experience that next visit.  I suspect it would feel a little bit like stepping back in time.

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One of the main focal points of the village is the Pittenweem Parish Church.

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This impressive medieval church was founded sometime in the 13th century, with most of the existing structure dating to the 1600’s.  We did not go inside, but from the outside it was wonderfully atmospheric – especially when viewed from the far side of the kirkyard.

Like any proper Scottish town (haha), Pittenweem has its own tales of witchcraft and executions.  Several witch trials took place in this village in the early 1700’s.  According to the historian Lizanne Henderson, the events surrounding the case of the Pittenweem witches was “one of the most extraordinary and truly horrific outbursts of witch persecution”.  Fortunately, it was the last significant event of witch hunting in Fife.  Thank goodness!

Should you ever find yourself motoring along Scotland’s east coast, do make a point of stopping in Pittenweem as well as the other charming fishing villages that are nearby (Crail, St. Monans, Anstruther, and Elie are especially nice).  Whether you are just there for an hour or two or plan to spend a few days, I promise you will not be disappointed!

Cheers,

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St. Fillan’s Church-Aberdour, Scotland

Hello Friends,

I hope your new year has started out well.  Anyone have big travel plans this year?  I will be heading to one of my favorite places – Destin, Florida – because these toes are in desperate need of a little sand time!  My heart needs a little Scotland time, but it will have to wait just a wee bit longer for that.  In the meantime, I have my photos (you seriously don’t want to know how many), lots of wonderful memories, this blog, and you, dear friends, to help tide me over until 2019.  So again, thank you for letting this crazy American woman share her passion for a land not her own.

20180111_170116Today, I’d like to share a special find – St. Fillan’s Church.  St. Fillan’s is a parish church located about 40 miles to the northwest of Edinburgh in Aberdour, a picturesque, seaside village in Fife.  The church sits peacefully beside Aberdour Castle.  Views of the Firth of Forth can be seen over the low south wall.

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In the kirkyard (churchyard) looking toward Aberdour Castle.

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View of the Firth of Forth

20171229_161813The morning that Mr. C and I set out for St. Fillan’s, it was chilly and gray, the sort of day befitting the exploration of a Scottish church from the Middle Ages.  From the parking lot (‘car park’ if you fancy sounding like a local), we walked up the little road that led us toward the castle and the old church.

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Aberdour Castle

We strolled through the walled castle garden and came upon a lovely sidewalk where we were met with cheery daffodils and beautiful, tired, time-worn headstones that one can only imagine must have toppled over at some point before being laid to rest against the old, stone wall.

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Castle gardens; St. Fillan’s Church (left); Aberdour Castle (right)

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St. Fillan’s Church lay just ahead.  We were strangers about to enter a sacred place, outsiders with one foot in the present and one foot that was about to step deep into the past.  This holy place of worship was never ours, and yet it was familiar, friendly, and welcoming.

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Who Was St. Fillan?
20180107_144451St. Fillan was an 8th century Irish abbot.  According to a 2016 Historic Environment Scotland publication, he “was born…to noble and saintly parents.  His mother was Kentigerna, daughter of a prince of Leinster.  According to legend, he was born disfigured and thrown into a lake at his father’s behest.  He was miraculously rescued by St. Ibar, who baptised him.”  It goes on to say, “Fillan came to Scotland in his youth and lived for many years as a hermit before being elected abbot of Pittenweem.  His left arm was reputed to glow while he wrote.  Fillan died on 17 January in Glendochart in Perthshire, where he had retired to resume his life as a hermit.”


Saint Fillan’s is one of the earliest surviving churches in Scotland.  It was built in the early 12th century by the de Mortimer family, who also owned neighboring Aberdour Castle.  Portions of the church date back to 1140 (possibly even earlier), making it nearly 900 years old -a fact that continues to amaze me.  Originally built in the shape of a narrow rectangle, St. Fillan’s was redesigned and altered throughout the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries.  By 1790, however, the church had fallen into disuse and sadly, had become a roofless ruin.  And so it remained for more than a hundred years.

The 1920’s saw a glorious rebirth of St. Fillan’s.  Because of the vision and commitment of the local community in 1925, the church was lovingly restored and brought back to life.  In July 1926, St. Fillan’s held its first service in well over a hundred years.  What a day of rejoicing that must have been!  St. Fillan’s continues to function as an active parish church today.

20171231_15084820180101_09014720180101_08592620180101_085631DSC_336420180101_085727I must confess, I wasn’t expecting the reaction that I had when I stepped through those beautiful wooden doors.  I have been in many old churches, but I literally gasped as I stepped inside.  I was astonished by its beauty, its size, and the richness of its architecture.  It was like walking through a portal to another time.  Except for a few minor, modern touches, one could almost hear the voices of the saints of old, raised in song, reverberating between those cold, stone walls.  My photos don’t do it justice, but let’s take a peek inside.

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Wouldn’t you agree that St. Fillan’s Church is pretty amazing?  It was a truly special find.  It has stood proud for some nine centuries through years of love and years of neglect, and has served the spiritual needs of the people of Aberdour for over 600 years.  May St. Fillan’s continue to be a blessing to its community and to all who happen to stumble upon this incredible treasure.

Cheers,

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Enchanting Crail

Greetings everyone,

How do you spell the word enchanting?  That’s easy.

C R A I L.

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Wouldn’t you agree?  I would say that Crail is my imagination come to life, but actually it was my jigsaw puzzle that came to life!

20171119_170010Just ninety miles to the northeast of Edinburgh, Scotland where the Firth of Forth and the North Sea meet, lies the picturesque, historic fishing village of Crail.  Several of these old, charming fishing villages dot the coastline along this northeast corner of the Kingdom of Fife.  In my opinion, Crail is one of the prettiest.  Once a hub for the export of such commodities as fish, salt, mutton, and wool to mainland Europe, Crail Harbor still maintains itself in small capacity as a working harbor today, well-known for its fresh shellfish.

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20171122_125526Crail’s history reaches quite far back–to the time of the Picts, in fact (sometime between the Late Iron Age and the Early Medieval Periods).  Historians know that by the 800’s Crail was a well-settled village and by the 1100’s it was a thriving town.  Robert the Bruce made Crail a royal burgh in 1310, marking it forever as the oldest royal burgh in the East Neuk of Fife.

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20171119_165204When you visit Crail, see the gorgeous harbor, of course, but also take time to meander down the lovely old cobbled lanes and admire the quaint fishing cottages.  Visit the Parish Church which dates in part to the 1100’s.  Stroll past the Tolbooth which was built in 1598 and once housed both the town council offices and the jail.  Or have a relaxing cup of tea in one of the local tearooms.

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Customs House, circa 1690’s.

Take a stroll along the cliffs and bask in the breathtaking sea views.

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A lovely spot to enjoy the sea.

Crail is accessible via the main motorway, but for a more scenic route, consider driving the picturesque Fife Coastal Route, a pretty 85 mile drive around the northeast coast of Fife.  Or, if experiencing the coast on foot is more your thing, you might choose to walk a portion of the 117 mile Fife Coastal Path which runs from the Forth Estuary in the south to the Tay Estuary in the north.  This path passes by Crail and other fishing villages including Elie and St. Monans.

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No matter how you choose to get to Crail, the important thing is just to get there.  Because it’s one of those places that’s just too pretty to pass by.

Cheers,

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The Bridges of the Firth of Forth

The wheels on American Airlines, Flight 6404 gracefully departed the Edinburgh, Scotland runway and we rapidly ascended into the sky on the path towards home. Always a bit of a nervous flier, I tried my best to relax and breathe while our aircraft climbed ever higher.  I leaned my head back against my seat and tried to focus my mind on the wonderful memories of the previous two weeks.

Still ascending, our pilot banked a left turn.  My husband quickly turned my attention to the window where I caught sight of the massive Forth bridges rising out of the water below.  As if on cue, the floodgates opened as the realization finally hit me that I was being carried far away from the place that I love so much.

20170922_163941I stink when it comes to goodbyes.  It makes no difference if the thing I’m goodbye-ing is a person or a place.  My eyes will inevitably leak.  And, of course, my cry is never a dainty, pretty cry.  It’s quite the opposite.  As someone who normally keeps her emotions in check, this snotty outburst always renders me red, puffy, and embarrassed.  My tears on the flight that day were no exception.

The sight of those bridges…bridges that we once sailed under, bridges that we have crossed again and again…brought me to tears.  They are incredible structures-impressive and massive and magnificent feats of engineering.  But to me they are more than just concrete and steel.  For me, they represent the charming fishing villages on the other side in Fife, the farm shop where we purchased the best produce and meats we have ever tasted, the seals that we saw sunning on a buoy, the argument we had in the car over a Taylor Swift song that came on the radio, and seeing my husband the happiest I have ever seen him the day he got to man the wheel of our boat charter for four glorious hours.  Those bridges represent Scotland (the second love of my life) and the place I love to be with my first.

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20170922_165510Because the bridges are so magnificent, I feel they deserve a little blog post of their own.  My pictures and words simply do not do them justice.  Kind of like people say about the Grand Canyon, you really have to see them in person to comprehend and appreciate the sheer size and scope.  But I’d like to tell you a little about them nonetheless.

Forth Bridge

20170922_163555The Forth Bridge, which was officially opened on March 4, 1890 by Edward, Prince of Wales, is the freight and passenger railway bridge that links Edinburgh to Fife.  It spans just over a mile and a half and connects the villages of South Queensferry and North Queensferry, stretching over the Firth of Forth.

This massive, iconic structure is the brain child of Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker.  Following on the heels of the Tay Bridge collapse in 1879 where 75 train passengers tragically died, these men presented a new, innovative bridge design based on the cantilever principle.  Construction was authorized by Parliament in 1882 and construction began the following year.  At the height of its construction, over 4,500 men worked to complete the project, fabricating some 53,000 tons of steel into the striking bridge that we see today.  Sadly, 57 men lost their lives in its making.

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The Forth Bridge is utterly striking because of its size, color, and industrial aesthetic.

Today the Forth Bridge is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and transports some three million passengers each year.  If you happen to find yourself in Edinburgh, it’s well worth a look.

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See the train?

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 Forth Road Bridge

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The Forth Road Bridge has long served as an important link between Edinburgh and Fife.

By the 1920’s, the purchase of private automobiles was gaining in popularity and people began to desire/have need for a bridge for vehicles that would connect them to Fife from Edinburgh and vice versa.  An initial bridge proposal was presented in 1923, but because of the Great Depression followed by World War II, progress was postponed.  It wasn’t until 1958 that construction finally began.  Once begun, the bridge was completed in six years.  Dubbed with the motto ‘Guid Passage’, it officially opened to the public on September 4, 1964 by Queen Elizabeth II.

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The Forth Road Bridge is an impressive long-span suspension bridge constructed from 39,000 tons of steel.  It is a mile and a half in length, contains 125,000 cubic meters of concrete, and enough tensile steel wires in its main cables to circle the world 1 1/4 times!

20170922_164717With the completion of the new Queensferry Crossing this month, the Forth Road Bridge has now been closed to private vehicle access.  However, once repairs are conducted, the bridge is scheduled to reopen later this year as a route for public transport only-a significant reduction in volume from the approximately 80,000 vehicles per day prior.

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Queensferry Crossing

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Queensferry Crossing (taken from our car window) when it was still under construction.

On September 4, 2017, fifty-three years to the day that Queen Elizabeth II opened the adjacent Forth Road Bridge, she once again cut the ribbon, officially declaring the new Queensferry Crossing open to the public.

This new bridge is a much-needed, much-enhanced replacement for the old Forth Road Bridge.  1.7 miles in length, it is now the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world.  The bridge contains a whopping 35,000 tons of steel, 150,000 tons of concrete, and stands about 164 feet higher than its former counterpart.  It’s just extraordinary and I cannot wait to see the finished product in person.

I hope you have enjoyed our little tour of Scotland’s famous bridges and hope even more that you might have the chance to see them yourself one day.  Have a great Saturday, everyone.  See you next time.

Cheers,

Wendy

Off the Beaten Path: Newark Castle

My husband has always been fascinated with castles.  From the earliest years of our marriage he possessed large picture books about castles, movies that take place in the age of castles, role playing games where the quests led to castles, and Legos that he would design and construct into crazy, massive, elaborate castles (yep, he’s kind of a nerd).  And although I thought castles were interesting, I could never quite grasp what all the fuss was about.

And then I went to Scotland.

Most tourists only ever visit Scotland’s “biggies”-Dunnottar, Stirling, Eileen Donan, etc.  And trust me, if you are lucky enough to set your feet on Scottish soil, you will absolutely want to see those.  There are probably ten to fifteen castles throughout the country that are extremely popular with tourists and for good reason-they are stinkin’ awesome!  But I must confess.  As much as I love and appreciate the castles that are well trodden, I am a huge sucker for the ruins.  The quiet, melancholy ones that time has all but forgotten.

Meet Newark Castle.

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If you are lucky enough to be in Scotland, you are lucky enough.

Roughly an hour and twenty minutes to the northeast of Edinburgh, there lies a castle ruin that I’m certain very few tourists ever stumble upon.  And really, why would they?  It’s not big or attractive or showy and doesn’t boast a terribly checkered past. It is not maintained or listed in any of the guide books.  But for those of us who like a little hidden nugget every now and then, castles like Newark are for us.

Newark Castle sits just outside the quaint fishing village of St. Monans in the East Neuk of Fife.  It’s not terribly difficult to find, but if you happened to be driving by on the A917, you might not even notice it’s there.

DSC_4383Newark is an odd, slightly foreboding castle, precariously perched on a large bluff with a magnificent view over the Firth of Forth.  It is in a heavily ruined state and one can imagine that at some point it might be consumed by the sea altogether. In fact, I read that experts believe that the cliff edge on the west side has lost 20 or 30 feet in just the last 120 years!  Because of its poor condition and because the cliffs are steep (and obviously crumbling), posted signs warn the visitor that exploration is at their own risk.  We had no problems, however, and had quite a lot of fun climbing in and around it.  Just wear sturdy shoes and mind where you are stepping and you should be fine.  If you’d rather play it safe, the Fife Coastal Path that runs from St. Monans to Elie allows for viewing at a distance.  Personally, though, I’d rather take my chances.  Some things are just meant to be seen and touched firsthand.

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DSC_4379Throughout the centuries, Newark Castle was known by several names, including Inverie, St. Monans, and St. Monance.  There has likely been a structure on the site since the 13th century, when it is believed that King Alexander III spent part of his childhood there.

The original parts of the existing castle were constructed in the 1400’s when the land was owned by Sir John Kinloch.  By the 1500’s, the Sandilands family had come into possession of it and conducted extensive renovations.  And in 1649, David Leslie, a General in the Scottish Covenanter army, took ownership.  For the next few centuries it passed through several more hands until finally, sadly, it was left to ruin.  It is difficult to imagine it as the castle stands today, but at one time it was around 128 ft. in length, possessed a round tower in the northeast corner, contained a broad courtyard, and a defensive wall.

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20170903_155814Newark Castle certainly isn’t as exciting as most of the other castles you’ll find in Scotland, but I feel in its own small way it deserves a nod just the same.  People lived here.  People loved here.  People died here.  This place was once important to someone.  And I can appreciate that.

Cheers,

Wendy