Fife, Scotland

A day trip from Edinburgh – discovering Dunfermline’s Heritage Quarter

A mere 24 hours after returning home from a wonderful break in NYC, we were back on the road exploring Scotland with the hairy-faced one – hooray.

This time our travels took us to the 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 back in the 90s. The medieval ruins and rich history are what originally drew me to the town and they’re what lured me back once more.

First things first though – coffee. Jet lag meant caffeine would be essential to prevent our heavy eyelids succumbing to sleep. We met Thomas from Visit Dunfermline and Colin, a talented comic book creator and photographer (our guide for the morning) at Cafe Fresh in the heart of Dunfermline’s Heritage Quarter.

It was nice to drink coffee outside in the cool Scottish air, without fear of melting in 90-degree heat.

One strong cup of coffee later and we were ready to explore.

En-route to geek out of history, we popped into a fab dog friendly shop called Little Shop of Heroes. Had The Teen not been in a deep, jet lagged slumber back home, she’d have loved to leaf through the Marvel comic books lining the shelves.

Two days earlier we’d spotted Spiderman out and about in Central Park – now here we were in Dunfermline, surrounded by Spidey memorabilia.

The boy enjoyed his visit and had fun meeting canine employee Atticus (an adorable spaniel).

Dunfermline Abbey

The first historic stop on our tour with Colin was Dunfermline Abbey. The abbey was 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 aka Robert the Bruce. If pushed to choose a favourite Scottish historical figure, it’d have to 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 Bruce was gleaned from the movie Braveheart, ignore everything and find out the true story of a Scottish hero.

Once inside the abbey, I made a beeline for Bruce’s grave. The boy stood beside the tomb, looking as proud as punch. It all felt quite surreal. My wee travelling doggy, paying homage to a great king.

A tour party of Swiss visitors made a huge fuss of the boy. He posed for photos, before living up to his terrier reputation and growling at them to announce show time was over. We huckled him off to view the 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 time travelling back in time to the medieval period.

It’s a beautiful, serene and calm place. Ornate stained glass windows cast an ethereal light on the walls and flagstone floor of the nave. It’s easily one of Scotland’s most impressive religious buildings.

The boy seemed to be subdued by the peaceful ambience and showed no further inclination towards unruly behaviour.

Bruce isn’t the only Scottish hero with links to Dunfermline Abbey. William Wallace’s mother is said to be buried in the abbey’s cemetery.

The remains of the once ornate shrine of Saint Margaret sit in the churchyard too, just outside the modern-day parish church. The shrine was an important medieval pilgrimage site and it’s possible William Wallace may 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.

Dunfermline Palace

After exploring the abbey and cemetery, we visited the ruins of Dunfermline Palace which was once a grand, royal home.

James VI lived there with his queen, Anne of Denmark. 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. 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. We left to explore the more airy, roofless parts of the palace.

Once outside, with interesting corners to sniff, he was soon back to his old self again.

I was in my element when I discovered a room with medieval stone carvings inside. I love them, as they’re often really expressive and funny. My favourite was a water-spout carved to look like a man holding his mouth open. It’s amazing to think, he’s been making people smile for hundreds of years.

Andrew Carnegie – Dunfermline’s famous son

After exploring the palace we said goodbye to our excellent guide Colin. We 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 become known the World over for his immense wealth. The famous Industrialist and Philanthropist was the epitome of the American Dream. Andrew Carnegie was born in a small cottage in Dunfermline on 25th November 1835. The son of a hand-loom weaver, he had little in the way of formal education. Nothing about his early life hinted at the 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 Carnegie gifted around 90% of his 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 Carnegie Hall regularly during my stay in New York, now here I was back home in Scotland, visiting the humble cottage where Carnegie was born.

My favourite room in the cottage was the one Carnegie was born in. Small and cramped, it must have been a far cry from the houses he lived in, in later life.

The boy loved the cottage garden and sat there with Mr G as I looked round the museum. Mr G had reached his history saturation point for the day.

A stroll round Dunfermline’s Heritage Quarter

Before lunch we went for a wander round town, stopping to admire the salmon coloured Abbot House. Built in the 15th century, it’s the only domestic building to have survived a fire that devastated Dunfermline in 1624.

I loved the Dunfermline City Chambers building too. With its ornate carvings, turrets and gargoyles, it’s an eclectic mix of Gothic, Scottish Baronial and French architectural styles.

Pittencrieff Park – a quiet haven in town

Our last stop before lunch was the 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.

The leafy corners of The Glen have a peaceful, remote feel. Immersed in the greenery, it was hard to believe we were in the middle of a bustling Fife town.

In a more formally laid out part of the park, a statue of Andrew Carnegie has pride of place on a tall plinth. He watches over the town where he spent the early years of his life. A town that’s benefitted greatly from his generosity.

Lunch – Café Fresh, Dunfermline

A morning spent exploring had given us an appetite, so we headed back to Cafe Fresh for an al fresco lunch. Mr G ordered a haggis and cheese panini – his favourite go to panini. A ordered home-made lasagne. It was delicious and exactly how I like it. A wee bit crispy round the edges and with a rich meat sauce.

I left Dunfermline wondering why on earth I’d left so long between visits. Dunfermline is a wonderful town, rich in history, with great places to eat, shops and walk.

We were invited to Dunfermline as guests of Visit Dunfermline, however all opinions are my own.

If this blog has inspired you to visit Dunfermline, you may enjoy this one featuring a lovely hotel stay in the town.

Until next time …

21 thoughts on “A day trip from Edinburgh – discovering Dunfermline’s Heritage Quarter”

  1. I don’t even know if you will see this comment, since your blogpost is from 2017, but Visit Dunfermline Facebook page just posted a link to it.
    I am from Dunfemline but have not lived there for 31 years. I am now in Leiden in the Netherlands, which has some similarities to Dunfermline but without the hills!
    Anyway, I thought you might be interested in a couple of things that I thought of while reading this post.
    Andrew Carnegie, did not only gift a public library to Dunfermline, it was the first of many libraries – 2,509 in total. There is a wikipedia page about them.
    He also gifted the public baths now Carnegie Leisure centre and a clinic nearby. The main thing I wanted to mention, because you referenced Carnegie Hall in NYC. Dunfermline has its own, albeit much smaller Carnegie Hall. In 1976, Billy Connolly brought out an LP called Atlantic Bridge. One side was recorded in Carnegie Hall NYC and the other in Carnegie Hall Dunfermline.

    I enjoyed reading your post and wish you many more travels in beautiful Scotland.

    1. I get notifications for all new comments posted. I’m really glad you enjoyed the blog. Thanks also for expanding on some more of the locals history of Dunfermline. It’s such a fascinating place and rich is history ancient and modern. I need to visit again soon. 😊

  2. Another great piece, Sam. Dunfermline is where we live now and you’re right about the history and buildings of note. We visited the refurbished museum and library recently (which also has a great café by the way) and that again reinforces how much history the town has, from the Robert the Bruce era right up to date with displays and videos on the building of all three bridges over the Forth and a scary number of 20th century toys and household items that I can remember from my lifetime (and still have in some cases!)

    1. It’s a great town. The historic aspect makes it really appealing for me and combined with good option for food, shopping and green space there’s something for everyone. I do love the reminisce over old toys too. I still have some of mine too. Toys and retro sweeties always take me down memory lane.

  3. Brilliant article and post. Loved all of the photographs. Dunfermline Abbey and “The Glen” were among the places the family and I went to on our Scottish Rail Pass Tour. I remember taking a photograph of my son John next to the Bruce in the Abbey but this was about 35 years ago and as I recall it was not as elaborate then as it is now in your photographs. The Museum had a small shop and I bought Annabell a bracelet there.I think she still has it.

    1. They’ve done some fantastic work in the Heritage Centre. It’s a great area to explore. So lovely that your Daughter still has the bracelet, what a lovely memento.

      1. I know…I hate when people come in and rip out old buildings, etc. I felt the loss of several old buildings in the town I grew up in…including the John Ringling Towers, which was razed to make way for a Ritz-Carlton. I know it’s probably childish, but I never set foot in the Ritz, deliberately.

  4. Small-world parallel(s) (Have I commented on this before?): Dunfermline is the sister city of my hometown, Sarasota, Florida (US). A family member was the architect who did the design/oversaw the restoration project at the Asolo Theatre in Sarasota (they did several theatre historic preservation projects), which is where the interior of Dunfermline’s Opera House found a new home. Even better, though, our family’s favourite restaurant for brunch was run by a Scottish family, and one of them remembers actually seeing movies in there as a kid (when it was in Scotland, still).

      1. Yeah, it was really neat when we were talking to our friend that owns the restaurant and found out that she went to that place when she was a kid! (And, sorry for the mis-post–could you delete that one comment that was a wordpress link…having internet issues)

  5. I’m currently reading Neil Oliver’s A History of Scotland which I picked up in Ullapool last year. I read your blog then happened to pick up the book to read it and low and behold it was referencing Dunfermline Abbey! Funny coincidence. It’s a good read if you haven’t already.

  6. Love your blogs! The last time I was in Scotland I took my dad to Melrose Abbey where Robert the Bruce’s heart is or was buried and now we have a new site to visit next time! He is also a huge Bruce fan❤️

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