Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Fife Coastal Path: Part Three, East Wemyss to Lower Largo

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HomeStoriesThe Fife Coastal Path: Part Three, East Wemyss to Lower Largo

With the sweet smell of ‘ganja’ wafting out of the windows of at least two of the Dysart High Street flats and into my nostrils, Barney Ribble and I set off for East Wemyss and the Fife Coastal Path once more.

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Photo©Ed Hood

The last time we headed east we finished up at MacDuff Castle so we’ll pick it up there.

But before we do, we’ll stop off at West Wemyss for a memorial that I only recently noticed.

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West Wemyss Memorial. Photo©Ed Hood

It’s in memory of the five local men who, in January 1941 went out to prevent a sea mine which had broken free from it’s moorings from drifting towards the village but sadly lost their lives when the device exploded.

Incidents like this weren’t reported in the war time press for fear of, ‘damaging civilian morale.’

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The Wemyss Private Railway. Photo©Ed Hood

Just across the way from MacDuff Castle up on the main road is a reminder of the days when South Fife was at the heart of the Scottish coal industry.

The Wemyss family invested heavily in collieries and their own railways to transport the black gold from the pit head to the docks at Methil – millions of pounds worth of the stuff. 

From East Wemyss the Coastal Path follows the flat and fast line of the old red gravelled tram line to Buckhaven.

In my ignorance I thought that the name came from something to do with deer – as in ‘buck’ and ‘hind,’ which is what us locals call the town – ‘Buckhind.’

But it actually comes from Norse; a ‘hyne’ was a haven between the rocks where boats could be safely hauled ashore and ‘buck’ meant to ‘roar.’

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Photo©Ed Hood

And there’s a connection with the cycling Heartland of Belgium in that Flemish refugees, escaping religious persecution, settled here in the 16th century.

Buckhaven used to have wonderful beaches but as with Dysart beaches and the Frances Colliery, ‘redd’ from the long gone Wellesley Colliery put paid to the golden sand. 

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The Wartime Sea Tragedy plaque. Photo©Ed Hood

The path ‘goes urban’ through Buckhaven but not before a reminder of another 1941 sea mine tragedy, this time eight poor souls lost their lives to one of the devilish devices.

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Robert Dunsire’s story. Photo©Ed Hood

At the entrance to Toll Park where your journey across town starts there’s a memorial to one of the town’s most famous sons, Robert Dunsire who was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in 1915, rescuing two comrades from no man’s land, carrying them on his back to safety under heavy enemy fire.

They didn’t weigh any more than a sack of coal,’ explained ex-miner Dunsire; sadly, he didn’t survive the conflict. 

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The fabrication yard at Toll Park, Buckhaven. Photo©Ed Hood

Where the old Wellesley Colliery stood is now a car park, overlooking the big fabrication yard, it used to be oil related works but wind farms are the thing now.

There’s no plaque to mark the site of a pit which gave employment to some 1,500 men.

The Wellesley canteen was open to public and on the school summer holidays back in the early 60’s when I used to go out with my dad in his wee works van we’d stop in there for sausage rolls and tea at knock down prices – life was simpler then. 

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The Swan Hotel in Methil. Photo©Ed Hood

Just along from the site of the Wellesley is the former Swan Hotel, the Swan is the symbol of the wealthy Wemyss family who owned many of the local pits and railways before nationalisation.

There’s a steep brae down from the Swan to Lower Methil; one of Dave’s work mates reckoned there wasn’t a man alive could ride a bike up that brae!

He’d obviously never heard of those 60 kg. Colombian boys, albeit I had to walk it one time when Barney’s battery died on me. 

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The Bawbee Bridge, Leven. Photo©Ed Hood

At the east end of Buckhaven and Methil is the Bawbee Bridge, crossing which takes you into Leven, a onetime Mecca for Glasgow holiday makers.

It’s called the Bawbee Bridge because a ‘Bawbee’ was an old Scottish coin and that was the fare the ferryman used to charge to row passengers across the River Leven in the days before there was a bridge.

The river rises in Loch Leven, which in a stunning feat of Victorian engineering was lowered by some four feet, sluice gates installed and the river ‘straightened’ to provide a consistent flow of water for the two dozen paper and textile mills along the banks.

Photo©Leo Mason

Leven Prom was the scene of Tour of the Kingdom finishes in the 90’s and Scottish Milk Race finishes back in the 70’s; in the 1975 edition Dave and I were positioned on the Stanin’ Stane Road, the long, straight undulating road which heads east into Leven from