A history geek day-trip to Dunfermline
A mere 24 hours after returning home from a wonderful adventure in NYC, we were back on the road exploring Dunfermline with the hairy-faced, Wee White Dug – hooray.
This time our travels took us to the fascinating, historic town of Dunfermline in the Kingdom of Fife. Dunfermline has been on my must revisit list for a very long time. It’s a short hop from Edinburgh, yet I haven’t visited since I was a fresh-faced history student in the 1990s. The medieval ruins and rich history are what originally drew me to the town, and they’re what lured me back some 20 odd years later.
First things first though – coffee. Jet lag, and having just spent six crazy days in the Big Apple meant caffeine would be essential to prevent our heavy eyelids from winning a battle for sleep. We met up with Thomas from Visit Dunfermline and Colin, a talented comic book creator and photographer (our guide for the morning) at Cafe Fresh in the hub of the town’s historic centre.
It was nice to drink coffee outside, in the cool Scottish air without fear of melting in 90-degree heat.
En-route to admire magnificent, medieval ruins we popped into a fab, wee dog friendly shop called Little Shop of Heroes. Had The Teen not been immersed in a deep, jet lagged slumber back home, she’d have been in her element amongst the Marvel heroes lining the shelves in comic books.
I was delighted to see Spidey adorning the entrance, as two days earlier I’d caught a rare glimpse of him out and about in Central Park.
Before leaving, the Wee White Dug posed in the shop window. He said, it was just in case any of his fans walked by – big ego or what?! One look at him in the shop window and there was my ear worm for the day ‘How much is that doggy in the window?’ – now tell me you didn’t just sing along?
Dunfermline Abbey, final resting place of Robert the Bruce
Our first historic visit of the day was to Dunfermline Abbey. Founded as a Benedictine priory by Queen Margaret (Saint Margaret), it was given abbey status by her son King David I in 1128. St Margaret, her husband King Malcolm III and a host of other medieval royals were laid to rest at the abbey.
It’s also the final resting place of King Robert I or Robert the Bruce. If pushed to choose a favourite Scottish historical figure it’d be Bruce. I’ve been fascinated by him since childhood, and was lucky enough to be taught by an eminent Bruce historian at university. If your knowledge of him extends to what you learned from the movie Braveheart, then please forget it all and find out the true story behind the Scottish hero.
Once inside, I made a beeline for my hero’s grave. The boy posed as proud as Punch for photos beside his tomb. It all seemed quite surreal, my wee travelling dog paying homage to The Bruce.
We bumped into a tour party of Swiss visitors who made a big fuss over the boy. He posed willingly for photos, before living up to his terrier reputation and emitting a low growl to announce that show time was over. We huckled him away to view the stunning abbey nave before he showed himself up further.
The Nave, which is also known as the Old Church is all that remains of the 12th century abbey. Stepping inside is like stepping back in time to the medieval period – exquisite.
It’s a beautiful, serene and calm place. The intricate stained glass windows cast a gorgeous, warm light on the walls and flagstone floor. It’s easily one of Scotland’s most impressive church interiors.
The boy seemed subdued by the lovely ambiance and his bout of unruly behaviour subsided.
It’s said William Wallace’s mother is buried in the abbey cemetery under a thorn tree.
The remains of the once ornate shrine of Saint Margaret now sit in the churchyard just outside the modern-day parish church. The shrine was an important medieval pilgrimage site, and it’s possible that William Wallace may even have visited with his mother.
The Protestant Reformation led to the destruction of such ornate Catholic shrines, and Scotland’s churches became cold, grey and stern places.
After a good look around the abbey and its cemetery, we visited the ruins of Dunfermline Palace which was once a grand, royal home.
James VI lived here with his queen, Anne of Denmark, and it’s where the ill-fated King Charles I was born in 1600. He was the last monarch to be born in Scotland.
The boy loves exploring medieval ruins but he shook like a leaf inside the palace ticket office and shop. His shaking led to talk of ghostly goings on, and things that go bump in the night! Despite the best efforts of the lovely Nan from Historic Scotland, the boy was not for cheering up or lingering in the shop, so we left to explore the more airy, roofless parts of the palace.
Once outside, and with lots of interesting corners to sniff, the boy was soon back to his old ruin exploring self again.
I was in my element when I discovered a room with medieval stone carvings inside. I love them, as they’re usually so expressive and funny. My favourite was a water spout, carved to look like a man with a wide-open mouth. It’s amazing that hundreds of years later he’s still making people smile.
Andrew Carnegie – Dunfermline’s most famous son
After exploring the palace we said goodbye to our excellent guide Colin, and continued our historic tour of Dunfermline at the birthplace of a well known Scot more commonly associated with America.
The Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum gives a fascinating insight into the early life of the man who would become known the World over for his immense wealth. The famous Industrialist and Philanthropist was the epitome of the American Dream. Born in a small cottage in Dunfermline on 25th November 1835, the hand-loom weaver’s son had little in the way of formal education. Nothing about his early life hinted at the great success he would one day achieve.
Carnegie never forgot his Scottish roots, or the town where he spent the first 13 years of his life before emigrating to America. He made generous charitable donations to Dunfermline, founding a public library and gifting the town a park. In the last 18 years of his life it’s estimated that Carnegie gifted around 90% of his vast wealth to good causes.
I resolved to stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution.
I often find on my travels that the places I visit link tenuously to one another. I’d passed the grand Carnegie Hall regularly during my stay in New York, and here I was back in Scotland visiting the humble cottage where Carnegie was born.
The boy loved the pretty garden at the back of the cottage, and enjoyed some chill time with his Dad as I looked round. Mr G it seems had reached his history quota for the day.
A stroll through Dunfermline’s Heritage Quarter
Before lunch we took a quick stroll around town, stopping to admire the stunning salmon coloured Abbot House. Built in the 15th century, it’s the only domestic building to have survived a terrible fire that devastated the old town of Dunfermline in 1624.
I loved the Dunfermline City Chambers building with its ornate carvings, turrets and gargoyles. It’s an eclectic mix of Gothic, Scottish Baronial and French architectural styles which somehow really works.
Pittencrieff Park – a quiet haven in Dunfermline
Our last stop before hunger kicked in was the vast 76-acre Pittencrief Park, known locally as ‘The Glen’. The park was purchased by Andrew Carnegie in 1902 and gifted to the people of Dunfermline the following year.
In the more formally laid out part of the park, a statue of Andrew Carnegie has pride of place on a tall plinth. He stands, watching over the town where he spent the early years of his life – a town that benefitted greatly from his generosity.
A mean lasagne – Café Fresh Dunfermline
All great day trips should end with good food, so before heading home we made our way back to Cafe Fresh and enjoyed a tasty al-fresco lunch. Mr G was delighted to find his old favourite, haggis and cheese panini on the menu. The boy was delighted too as he’s partial to a wee taste haggis every now and again. I chose a home-made lasagne which was delicious, and exactly how I like it – slightly crispy round the edges, and with a rich meat sauce.
I left Dunfermline having scraped the surface of the things I wanted to see and do there. I also left wondering why on Earth it’d taken me quite so long to revisit. Dunfermline is a wonderful town – it’s jam-packed with history, good eateries, quirky independent shops and lots of lovely green space. I’ll definitely be visiting again soon.
A big thank you to Thomas at Visit Dunfermline for inviting us to visit, and for arranging our tour and lunch. Thanks also to Colin for showing us around and bringing the history of the town to life. And finally, thanks to the lovely staff at Dunfermline Abbey, Dunfermline Palace and the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum for making us feel so welcome.
As always all opinions, musings and comments contained within this blog are accurate and entirely my own.
Until next time ………..