"The King sits in Dunfermline toune
Drinking the blude red wine."
The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens, Anonymous, 13th century
Steeped in history, Dunfermline is the ancient capital of Scotland, a title which it held from the 11th century till the uniting of the Scottish and English Crowns in 1603. Over the centuries, Dunfermline became famous for its Abbey while its close connection to royalty lent it prosperity.
An ancient settlement, Dunfermline owes its name to the Gaelic "Dun Fearam Linn" or "Fortress by the crooked stream". The town rose to prominence in the 11th century when King Malcolm III selected Dunfermline for his new royal residence. Known as Malcolm Canmore or "Bighead?, his second marriage to Queen Margaret would change the course of Dunfermline's history. Disgusted with Celtic practices of worship at the Culdee Church in Dunfermline, she invited a group of Benedictine monks from Canterbury to Dunfermline and a new church which she built. Following her death, Dunfermline became a destination for pilgrims and she was canonised 250 years later. Dunfermline Priory was raised to Abbey status shortly after Margaret's death and with the help of its royal patronage would become one of the wealthiest in the land. As such, Dunfermline Abbey Church was Scotland's answer to Westminster Abbey and became the favourite burial ground for Scottish royalty. Sacked and burnt in the 14th and 16th centuries, Dunfermline Abbey and Palace is now a majestic ruins. However, the nave of the Abbey Church was spared the devastation and it now leads into the new Dunfermline Abbey Church built in 1818. A memorial plaque here marks the final resting place of King Robert the Bruce (all but his heart which is in Melrose).
Malcolm III built his fortress in what is now known as Pittencrieff Park. All that remains of this is the mound upon which it was built but Pittencrieff Park itself is well worth a visit. Visitors here can take a woodland walk, visit Pittencrieff House Museum (free), tour the gardens or feed the peacocks and monkeys. A beautiful place, Pittencreiff Park was gifted to the people of Dunfermline by its most famous resident, Andrew Carnegie. From his humble birth in a weaver's cottage, Carnegie went on to become the wealthiest man in the world in the 19th century. He never forgot his origins and founded the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust in 1903, "to bring into the monotonous lives of the toiling masses of Dunfermline, more of sweetness and light." . The cottage in which he was born has been preserved and now houses the Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum.
The Abbot House Heritage Centre is another favourite attraction in Dunfermline. Built in the 15th century, the house escaped a fire which swept through Dunfermline in 1624. An award-winning heritage centre, it details Fife's history from the Picts to the present as well as the history of the Abbot's House and the intriguing part it played over the centuries in Dunfermline. Another attraction worth visiting is St Margaret's Cave, her holy sanctuary and retreat for prayer. So humble was she about her devotion that King Malcolm thought that her absences signified an affair and had her followed. Carnegie Hall, one of Dunfermline's theatres lies in East Port close to the Dunfermline Museum and Small Gallery. The museum details the history of Dunfermline and the weaving industries which gave new birth to the town in the 19th and 20th centuries. Easily accessible from Edinburgh, Dunfermline is only 30 minutes from Stirling and 50 minutes from St Andrews by car. Dunfermline lies just off the Fife Coastal Route and a trip here is nicely combined with a tour of Fife's picturesque fishing villages and other royal burghs.