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Between the Ochils and the Forth
From Inverkeithing to Aberdour


Victory of Cromwell's army near Inverkeithing—Road to Aberdour—The Moray family and estate—Inchcolm, Donibristle, and Dalgety—Village of Aberdour—Otterstone.

Passing through the east extremity of the town, leaving first on our right the parish church, and then, in descending the hill, the U.P. Church on our left, we find ourselves on the Great North Road, which leads through the Crossgates and Kinross to Perth. It is a quiet and silent highway to what it used to be forty years ago, when it was traversed by the mail-coaches. On our left, trending away to the north west behind Inverkeithing, is the valley or hollow where the famous battle, which confirmed Cromwell's power in Scotland, was fought between his troops and the Scottish forces on Sunday, 20th July 1651. Cromwell does not seem to have personally taken part m the engagement, nor even to have been present at the transporting of his armament across the Forth, when his troops intrenched themselves on the summit of the Ferry Hill. These, amounting to 10,000, were commanded by General Lambert, and nearly quadrupled the Scottish forces, which only numbered about 2500, and had moved to this point from Stirling under the direction of General Holburne. The latter did not escape the allegation of treachery and cowardice, though he was afterwards formally acquitted of the charge. The losses on each side are said to have been nearly equal—about 800—but the whole prestige of victory remained with the English, who afterwards marched to Dunfermline and established themselves there for a time.

For some distance after leaving Inverkeithing the road skirts on the right the estate of Spencerfield, belonging to the Hon. R. P. Bruce, M.P., and bounded on the south-east by the ridge of Letham Hill, covered with trees. A beautifully wooded country opens itself directly to the east, with the crater-like summit of Dun-earn Hill closing in the far distance; and nearer the spectator the picturesquely rounded and tree-clad knoll overhanging the beautiful loch of Otterston, the scenery enclosing which suggests the idea of a fragment of Italy resting under Scottish skies.

The road from Inverkeithing to Aberdour, a distance of four miles, branches off at the eastern extremity of the town, and passes through the village of Hillend, at the north extremity of Letham Hill. About half a mile beyond this a road to the right leads down to the village and harbour of St David's, to which also a railway is laid through the grounds of Fordel from the coalvvorks on that estate. A little farther on, on the same side, is the west lodge of Donibristle, the property of the Earl of Moray, whose beautiful domain extends along the shores of the Forth from St David's to Aberdour. It is consequently skirted on the north by the-Inverkeithing road during the whole of the intervening distance, the opposite side of the highway being bordered for the greater part by the Fordel and Otterston properties. Lord Moray owns, moreover, a large tract of country extending north from Aberdour over the Cullalo Hills and Moss Morran to Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly, a considerable portion of the coal-field in which neighbourhood belongs to his lordship.

The lands of Dombnstle belonged anciently to the Abbey of Inchcolm, the little island in the Firth of Forth opposite Aberdour, which forms so prominent an object in looking down the Firth from Queensferry. It was originally known by the name of Emonia, but had its appellat on changed to that of Inchcolm, or the isle of St Columba, in consequence of that saint having for a white made t his residence. It was long tenanted by a succession of anchorites, or solitary ecclesiastics, who occupied a small hermitage here, which is believed to be still represented by the little stone roofed oratory to the west of the present monastery ruins, and which used to serve the purposes of a cowhouse or byre. The island enjoyed a high reputation as hallowed ground, and on the occasion of the overthrow of the Danes by King Duncan in the eleventh century, as recorded by Boece and referred to by Shakespeare, we find the supplication of the vanquished granted to inter their dead n St Colme's Inch.

The arrival in 1123 of King Alexander I., who had narrowly escaped shipwreck, and with great difficulty gained the friendly shelter of the island and its hermit occupant, changed entirely the fortunes of the place. The grateful monarch vowed to bu 'Id to the Virgin and St Columba a religious house on Inchcolm, which should serve as a memorial of his preservation. The abbey thus founded was settled with a colony of Augustine friars, became a rich and prosperous community, and numbered among is abbots Walter Bowmaker or Bower, the continuer of Fordun's ' History of Scotland.' Numerous grants of territory on the mainland were made to the monastery, and, among others, a tract of land near Aberdour was bequeathed by Alan Mortimer, then lord of the place, on condition of his body resting within the hallowed precincts of Inchcolm. The remains, so says the story, were conveyed over at night in a stone coffin in an open boat, and either through indifference and treachery on the part of the attendant monks, or to lighten the bark when in peril from the violence of the waves, were cast into the sea. The channel—a very deep one—between Inchcolm and the Fife coast has since borne in consequence the title of " Mortimer's Deep."

Inchcolm may be easily visited from Aberdour, and the traveller, by inquiry at Greig's hotel there, can procure the services of a boatman to ferry him over. The island is long, narrow, and rocky, and the eastern extremity, separated by a low sandy isthmus, is almost cut off at high water. Of the conventual buildings, some of them have disappeared, and a considerable portion built into the house and offices of the tacksman or tenant of the island. The one structure that remains complete is the chapter-house and its surmounting tower, which presents in the distance the special characteristic of Inchcolm. The interior is in good preservation, and the apartment itself, with its encircling row of stone seats, constitutes a very interesting relic. To the south of the conventual buildings is an ancient garden, which has long been famous for its early vegetables. The cell or oratory to the west already referred to is built of and roofed with stone, and has in the interior a length of 16, a breadth of 5, and a height of 8 feet. The island affords pasturage for a few sheep and cows, and though of small extent, is well worthy of a visit. The house is occasionally let for summer quarters.

From its situation the monastery of Inchcolm was readily exposed to the hostile attacks of invaders by sea; and accordingly, in 1547, the year of the battle of Pinkie, we find the Bishop of Dunkeld and other churchmen interponing their authority in the Scottish Privy Council for the payment by the Abbot of Inchcolm to the Scottish Regent of the sum of ^500, to be employed in hiring soldiers to recover the island from "our auld yncmeis of Ingland,'' into whose hands it had fallen. It s also ordered that the abbot and monks who had thus been compelled for a time to abandon their house, should receive meanwhile the hospitality of some other religious house, such as the Abbey of Dunfermline, Lindores, Cambuskenneth, &c.

The temporalities of Inchcolm had, however, already in a manner passed away from the Church and become the spirit of a layman. In 1543, James Stewart, a son of Sir James Stewart of Bealh (who was captain of the castle of Doune under James V., and died in 1547), was n the lifetime of his father made coinmendator of the Abbey of St Colme on a resignation by Abbot Richard in the hands of the Pope. The abbot reserves his liferent of the rents and tithes of the monastery, and engages to pay therefor to the said James Stewart annually the sum of 100 Scots. The considerations stated for this conveyance are the offer of James Stewart to repair the monastery, which had been burned in the month of October by the English, and the promise both of himself and his kindred to defend the island against such attacks for the future.

In January 1563 the same Sir James Stewart was wedded to Lady Margaret Campbell, daughter of Archibald, fourth Earl of Argyll. The marriage was celebrated at Castle Campbell, and Queen Mary made a special journey there from Edinburgh to attend the nuptials. In 1581, Sir James was raised to the peerage by James VI., with the title of Lord Doune, and the Abbey of St Colme was erected into a temporal lordship in his favour. He had two sons, the elder of whom, James, married the daughter and heiress of the celebrated Regent Moray, and had conferred on him the earldom held by the latter. He was remarkably handsome in person, and was consequently known as the " Bonnie Earl of Moray," an epithet which has come down with additional interest to posterity on account of his tragical death at the hands of the Earl of Huntly. His younger brother Henry had the newly erected lordship of St Colme bestowed on him by their father, Lord Doune, who died in 1590.

It was alleged that Anne of Denmark, queen of James VI., had formed an attachment to the Bonnie Earl, and thereby excited the jealousy of her husband, who is said, moreover, to have regarded him otherwise with feelings of enmity. At all events, on the representation of Moray's mortal foe, the Earl of Huntly, James seems to have granted the latter some warrant or authority for apprehending Moray, which Huntly interpreted in a more liberal fashion. Accompanied by a retinue of armed followers, he attacked the Earl's house at Doni-bristle and set it on fire. Moray endeavoured to make his escape, but the tassel in his cap caught fire from the burning mansion as he made his exit. He was recognised, followed to the rocks near the seashore, and there cruelly shot down and hacked by Huntly, to whom he exclaimed with the last effort of expiring nature, " You have spoilt a bonnier face than your own ! " The foul deed was perpetrated in February 1592, and the place where it was enacted is st'll pointed out on the seashore at a little distance from Donibristle House.

Great popular odium was excited against the king, who was strongly suspected of complicity in the act. The Earl's mother caused a portrait to be taken of her son as he lay disfigured after death, and presented it to James, with an earnest supplication for justice on her son's murderers. She also caused his body to be conveyed to Leith, where it remained for a long time un-buried, with the idea, it is said, of paving it exposed at the market-cross of Edinburgh to the gaze of the populace. But to this the king interposed his veto, as he did also to any active prosecution of Huntly, who was arrested and imprisoned for a time, but ultimately liberated without tr; al. A story is told by Wodrow in his ' Analecta' that "Gordon of Huntly," having been refused admission to the presence of Charles I. after the ktter's accession to the throne, on account of his share in the murder of the Earl of Mora)', urged his suit with so much pertinacity that the king at last granted his request. Charles reproached him severely for the foul deed, whereupon Huntly drew from his bosom a warrant signed by the king's father for what had taken place. "My lord," said Charles, "this was wrong given and worse executed."

Henry Stewart, younger brother of the Bonnie Earl, was created a peer in i6ir, with the title of Lord St Colme. He died the following year, and was succeeded by a son James, on whose death the St Colme peerage became extinct, and the estates attached to it were inherited by the Earl of Moray.

The house of Donbristle, thus set on fire with such disastrous results, has been long s;nce replaced by a modern mansion, which aga:n, in its turn, had about twenty years ago to succumb to a similar fate, and has never been rebuilt. It stands a melancholy ruin in a most beautiful situation by the seashore. The gardens at a lutlc distance used to be regarded as the finest in this part of the country; and though of late years they were somewhat eclipsed by those of Fordel, they are still very beautiful and well kept. As regards the park and grounds generally of Donibristle, nothing can surpass them along the whole shores of the Forth from Stirling to St Abb's. Both nature and art have contributed to adorn the locality, which from St David's to Aberdour presents a charming and ever varied succession of woodland and water, of bays and promontories, of long vistas of trees, and views of the Forth and its opposite shore. In a secluded nook by the seaside stands the old parish church of Dalgety, a most picturesque ruin, and having an interesting history in connection with the monastery of Inchcolm, of which it was a dependency. It was dismantled upwards of fifty years ago, and a new church and manse erected just outside the park of Donibristle, about a mile to the north. The old church is very small, and has at the west end a curious gallery or upper floor, to which access is gained by a turnpike stair on the north side. Attached to the gallery on the south side is a tolerably large chamber, which used to serve as a session-house, and in which it is said that Andrew Donaldson, the well-known Covenanting minister of Dalgety, who had been ejected for nonconformity, was allowed after his expulsion to reside by the connivance of his Episcopal successor. After the Revolution he was restored to his ministerial charge.

It is said that Edward Irving, whilst on a visit in this neighbourhood, was almost the last minister who preached in old Dalgety church. The last incumbent ordained here was the Rev. Mr Watt, who was inducted to the charge in 1830, the Rev. Mr Gilston of Carnock officiating. It was certainly high time for a new church to be built, seeing that the woodwork had become so rotten that the clergyman in getting into the pulpit one Sunday morning suddenly disappeared, to the consternation of his flock, the floor of the rostrum having given way !

In a vault adjoining the church are deposited the remains of the Setons, Earls of Dunfermline. They owned the estate of Dalgety, which the first Earl purchased in 1593, and transmitted to his descendants. The mansion which they occupied was situated at a little distance from the church, and a portion of it is still standing, along with the old garden-wall. The property afterwards passed to the Tweeddale family, who succeeded the Setons in their heritable privileges connected with the regality of Dunfermline. It is now all incorporated with the Donibristle estate.

The park of Donibristle abuts on the village of Aberdour, which is charmingly situated in a warm and well-sheltered recess by the seashore, and has long been a favourite summer resort, not only for people in Dunfermline and other Fife towns, but likewise for the inhabitants of Edinburgh and Leith. The place is divided into Easter and Wester Aberdour, the former being the more ancient, and containing the ruins of the old parish church. The feudal superior is the Earl of Morton, whose ancestors have possessed the Aberdour estate since at least the time of David II. Anciently it had belonged to the Viponts, and in the twelfth century passed into the hands of the Mortimers, the benefaction of one of whom to the monks of Inchcolm was so ill requited.

Aberdour House is a mansion of the last century, pleasantly situated in its park immediately adjoining the village, but has not for a long time been occupied by the Morton family, whose chief residence is at Dalmahoy, on the opposite side of the Forth. Not far from it are the ruins of the castle of Aberdour, the ancient abode of the lords of the estate. The Earls of Morton and the Douglases of Loch Leven were of the same family, and so closely connected that the Kinross-shire property came into the possession of the former, who, after holding it for a considerable period, disposed of it in the latter half of the seventeenth century to Sir William Bruce.

A highway runs northward from Aberdour over the west shoulder of the Cullalo Hills and joins the Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy road at Mossgreen, a little to the east of the Crossgates. Reference has already been made to Otterston, which, with the adjoining estate of Cockairny, belonging to the same proprietor (Captain Moubray), borders on the north a considerable part of the road between Aberdour and Inverkeithing. For each of these properties there is a mansion, that of Otterston being charmingly situated on the bank of the beautiful little loch of that name, whilst the house of Cockairny is at a very little distance, on the opposite side of the public road. This branches off the road already mentioned from Aberdour to Mossgreen, and leads down a very steep hill between the two mansions along the shore of Otterston Loch to the highway between Inverkeithing and Aberdour. Nothing can be more beautiful than a portion of this route, which resembles more nearly a way through romantic pleasure-grounds than a public thoroughfare. The contrast likewise between the cold moorland country about Mossgreen and the soft and Italian scenery at Otterston is exceedingly striking.


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