Across the region there are beautiful traditional theatres and museums as well as contemporary spaces to explore the artistic heart of this fascinating area. This cultural life dates back to the cave drawings of the Picts, found in the Wemyss Caves between the towns of Kirkcaldy and Leven, and is brought up to date with a cutting-edge architectural project in Dunfermline.
The multi award-winning Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries took the honour of the Best Building in Scotland 2017 awarded by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland. As the centre of the town’s Heritage Quarter, the building links the museum and library. With the permanent collection over two floors, three temporary exhibition galleries, a cafe, a shop, a children’s library and the Reading Room, this is the place to learn more about Fife in Scotland’s ancient capital.
The light enjoyed by this area has inspired so many visual artists over the years. Fife-born Jack Vettriano may not use Fife as his subject matter in his popular paintings, but the quality of light and the boldness of his characters were all around him growing up. Artist and sculptor David Mach was also born here and has gone on to be one of the country’s most innovative practitioners.
Throughout the area, however, there are examples of local artists who have taken their picturesque surroundings as their subject matter – particularly the East Neuk villages. In fact, the Pittenweem Arts Festival has grown from its initial 30 local artists to around 100 artists, from the village and beyond. Over nine days (usually in August) they exhibit in studios, galleries and even private homes.
Fife has always been a haven of music. From the folk clubs of the 1960s sprang a Dunfermline lass called Barbara Dickson and Auchtermuchty gave us that unique music duo The Proclaimers. Music based on tradition has always been a part of the fabric, with Rab Noakes another star of the folk scene.
As the centre of the town’s Heritage Quarter, the building links the museum and library. With the permanent collection over two floors, this is the place to learn more about Fife in Scotland’s ancient capital
More recently, the Fence Collective in the East Neuk was home to King Creosote, The Pictish Trail, and St Andrews’ girl KT Tunstall. The Younger Hall, where generations of St Andrews’ students have graduated is the leading venue for classical concerts often featuring the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The building is also home to the St Andrews Music Centre, which holds lunchtime concerts by visiting and local professionals during university term times. October is the month when singers are celebrated in all forms at St Andrews Voices. From a cappella to opera, venues throughout the town are filled with voices of all ranges and tones.
Every March, St Andrews hosts StAnza, Scotland’s poetry festival. Poets gather in the town from across the globe, inspired by the historic grandeur of their surroundings at the university. Still on the printed page, when it comes to authors, there is something mysterious in the air with Scotland’s two top crime writers, Ian Rankin and Val McDermid, both hailing from Fife, as did the late Iain Banks.
Hollywood stars such as Dougray Scott and Shirley Henderson were no doubt inspired by theatrical productions in a wide range of splendid theatres such as Dunfermline’s Alhambra Theatre and Carnegie Hall, Adam Smith Theatre in Kirkcaldy, the Lochgelly Centre and Rothes Halls in Glenrothes. As well as plays and pantomime, they offer music, dance, comedy and children’s shows. The Byre Theatre in St Andrews was saved from closure following an agreement to hand over its operations to the town’s university. It’s been a tremendous success with The Byre now offering a wide cinema programme as well as theatrical presentations.
The drama also takes place out of doors, with historical re-enactments held in ancient castles, abbeys, and Dunfermline’s Pittencrieff Park, also known as the Glen. The 76-acre park, with its resident peacocks, attracts more than 750,000 visitors every year. The park was gifted to the town by Andrew Carnegie, a name known across the globe and at one point its richest man. He was a philanthropist on both sides of the Atlantic and particularly to his home town of Dunfermline. His birthplace museum is a popular visitor attraction offering fascinating insight into 19th-century life and the journey that he took from bobbin boy to the man who said that “the man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced”. His philanthropy lives on with free admission.
The Younger Hall, where generations of St Andrews’ students have graduated is the leading venue for classical concerts often featuring the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Museum for the 21st century
Kirkcaldy Galleries has more than 6000 objects, photographs and archives from the linoleum industry, dating from its beginnings in the town in the 1840s to the present day. It was given a £2.5m refurbishment in 2013 to make it museum for the 21st century. Now visitors can also use the free ArtHunter app at the galleries, which unlocks more content, including video, audio and high resolution.
Entertainment in Kirkcaldy stretches away back – and a long way. The Links Market, which takes place every April, is thought to date from the beginning of the 14th century and is Europe’s longest fair, stretching along the seafront, Kirkcaldy being known as the ‘lang toun’ of course. In August, the Lammas Market in St Andrews is one of Europe’s oldest surviving street fairs. There are many historical street events in this university town, however. In April is the Kate Kennedy Procession, with history and colour and spectacle.
This honours Lady Katherine Kennedy, the legendary niece of Bishop Kennedy, who founded the university’s St Salvator’s College. It includes historical figures of note including past rectors such as JM Barrie and John Cleese! The identity of the student playing Kate is kept secret until the end. Students at St Andrews are busy types, also running Scotland’s largest student-run arts festival every April. Called On The Rocks, it offers visual arts including photography, film, theatre, dance, fashion, music and comedy. Fife has seen an explosion of festivals in the past few years, from the Cupar Arts Festival in June to the East Neuk Festival later that same month which covers the many beautiful fishing villages along the Fife coast.
The grounds of St Andrews Cathedral, dominated by St Rule’s Tower is a wonderful place to enjoy some tranquillity. The museum here can provide a window into the town’s sacred past and during the summer, music performances are a feature of the cathedral programme.
Fife has seen an explosion of festivals in the past few years, from the Cupar Arts Festival in June to the East Neuk Festival later that same month which covers the many beautiful fishing villages along the Fife coast
Just along the cliffs, on The Scores, you’ll find MUSA, the Museum of St Andrews University. The university is more than 600 years old so imagine the wealth of artefacts that it has amassed – more than 112,000 in fact. MUSA also offers a viewing gallery to admire the beauty of St Andrews Bay. For the story of the town itself, head over to the St Andrews Museum, within the grounds of Kinburn Park. If time is tight then head to the long-term display, St Andrews A-Z, which is housed in the downstairs gallery. This provides a fantastic overview and some interesting detail of town history through fascinating objects and images.
No-one should visit the town without at least a quick spin around The British Golf Museum. For golf fanatics, it could take the same time as a full round (factor in some bunker action) but the range of artefacts on show will also interest anyone with an interest in social history. There is the oldest known set of golf clubs in the world, the first Open Championship Gold Medal and casts of the hands and grips of golfing legends. At the expansive Cambo Estate in Kingsbarns, some 15 minutes east of St Andrews by car, there is an incredibly strong link between the natural surroundings and culture.
Exhibitions, talks, performances and many other events fill its calendar along with the Snowdrop Festival, which usually runs through February and into March. Social history plays its part in the culture with the fishing heritage of this area explored at the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, where there are regular visiting exhibitions, often tied in with the social history of other ports.
Inland at Ceres, the Fife Folk Museum is located within the original burgh tolbooth and a row of former weaver’s cottages. It provides a vivid picture into life in rural Fife through the ages. The collections of agricultural and craft tools, costume, toys and games, domestic equipment, pottery, paintings and clothing paint a picture of those who lived off the land.
Combining the best of the new with a rich heritage makes this a magic kingdom.
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