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Between the Ochils and the Forth
Chapter III. - From Inverkeithing to Crossgates, Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly


The Great North Road—House and grounds of Fordel— Village of Crossgates—The Hill of Beath—Great conventicle held there—Mess Murran ami Lochgelly,

Returning to the Great North Road, and proceeding along it to about the distance of a mile from Inverkeithing, we cross the Pinkerton Burn at Pinkerton Bridge. This stream comes down from the lands of Duloch, and crossing the eastern extremity of the battle-field of Pitreavie, is said, according to popular tradition, to have run red on that eventful day with the blood of the combatants. To the north-east of us, on a sunny slope, are spread out the lands of Fordel, the property of the Hon. Mrs H. H. Duncan Mercer Henderson, who represents the ancient family which has been in possession of this estate for 350 years.

The Hendersons or Henrysons of Fordel trace their descent from James Henderson, King's Advocate and Justice-Clerk 'n the reign of James IV., who met his death at the battle of Flodden. He obtained a charter from the king in 1511 of the lands of Fordel, which, previously subdivided among different proprietors, were now united nto a barony. His descendants have retained the estate and preserved the name, though within the present century the inheritance has twice devolved on females, and the additional names of Mercer and Duncan have been added to the old family designation.

The grounds of Fordel are very beautiful, and are only surpassed in thus neighbourhood by those in the adjoining property of Donibristle. They are traversed by a romantic glen, through which rushes a small stream, on the high bank overhanging which is a small chapel, now only used as a family mausoleum, and adjoining it is a well dedicated to St Theriot, and credited among other virtues with that of the "wishing" order. The house of Fordel, a modern mansion, with a lawn in front, is at a little distance, and on the other side of the glen are the finely laid-out gardens, which, in the hands of the late proprietor, used to be the cynosure of the surrounding country, and attracted numerous visitors in the summer-time, when the grounds were open to strangers every Thursday. The old castle of Fordel adjoining the gardens is interesting as a specimen of an old Scottish baronial mansion. It bears the date of 1567, but a portion of it is evidently much older, and indeed we are informed from Birrell's Diary that in June 1568 "both the old worke and the new" of the "place of Fordell" were consumed "by ane suddaine fyre." It is probable, therefore, that the above date is merely that of the " new work," and that there still remains a considerable portion of the "old work" as restored after the burning, the marks of which can yet be traced. The castle is not inhabited, but the great hall on the first floor has of late years been restored, and used on one or two occasions for meetings. It has a gallery running round it, and is hung with some fine old tapestry which used to adorn the dining-room of Pitreavie House to the south of Dunfermline. In a vault beneath hangs one of those ancient implements of punishment, known as the "branks," or bridle for scolds, so frequently referred to in the minutes of town councils of Scottish burghs.

Robert Hcnryson, the poet and schoolmaster of Dunfermline, has been claimed as a relative of the Fordel family■ but of this no satisfactory evidence has been adduced, and the idea rests wholly on the assumption, from the similarity of name and the vicinity of Dunfermline. that the poet must have belonged to the same stock. Indeed the Henderson family scarcely became connected with Fordel till after the death of the Dunfermline schoolmaster, who nourished in the latter half of the fifteenth century, during the reign of James III. Beyond Us poems, which are certainly of a high order, and which fearly rival in merit those of Dunbar and Sir David Lindsay, which they preceded, he has left almost no personal record whatever, and even his pieces are almost wholly destitute of any local colouring.

The prosecutions for witchcraft in the seventeenth century narrate a sad tragedy connected with the Fordel family. The sister of the laird, and the proprietrix of the adjoining lands of Pivtadio, was in 1649 arrested on accusation of occult practices, and conveyed to Edinburgh. There she was found dead one morning in prison, under circumstances which led to grave suspicion that she had committed suicide by poisoning or strangling herself. The persecuting times, too, in the reigns of Charles and James II., seem to have been experienced in their fullest extent by the Hendersons, who were mulcted on several occasions in severe fines, both on their own account and that of their tenants, for nonconfornity and frequenting conventicles.

The lodge on the Great North Road leading to Fordel House and grounds ;s about four miles from Queensferry and two from Crossgates, where on the left the road branches off to Dunfermline (3^ miles), and on the right to Kirkcaldy (9^ miles). The railway station for Crossgates, on the line from Dunfermline to Thornton, is about a quarter of a mile beyond, on the north side of the village. The surrounding country is by 110 means of an attractive description, being dotted with numerous collieries, which probably, however, yield their owners harvests much more golden than could be obtained from the most beautiful and fertile districts. The region in which we now are consists partly of moorland, partly of an ungenial sterile soil, and in the winter season the climate is most inclement, the roads becoming frequently quite impassable from snow, which lies longer about Crossgates than almost anywhere between this point and Stirling. Yet the rapid transition that can be made from a cold ungenial upland to a beautiful and picturesque region, will be strikingly manifested in the course of half an hour's drive, by proceeding down the Great North Road for two miles, and then turning off at Fordel lodge in the direction of Donibristle and Aberdour.

To the north-west of Crossgates a round verdant hill presents itself prominently to the eye, and is known as a landmark to the country round under the appellation of the Hill of Beath. It affords good pasture, and as regards reminiscences of the past, is notable as the scene of a large conventicle held there in 1670, at which the celebrated John Blackadder of Troqueer, a cadet of the old family of Tulliallan, and who ultimately died a prisoner in the Bass, was one of the principal officiating ministers. He and his companion had a hard ride to escape capture, after the proceedings of the day were over. First they reached Queensferry, where no boat could be procured to take them across, all having been laid under a strict embargo. They then proceeded upwards along the shore of the Forth, through Limekilns, Torryburn, and Culross to Kincardine, at which last place they calculated on being able to effect a crossing to the other side. But the boats lay on the Stirlingshire shore, and their owners could not or would not bring them over, so that the two ministers had to continue their fatiguing ride for twelve miles farther, by Clackmannan and Alloa to Stirling Bridge, which they crossed a little after midnight. Going through the town with all precaution and despatch, they were fortunate enough to find a postern open in the south gate, through which they managed to lead their horses. Early in the morning they reached the Torwood, where they found shelter in the house of a staunch Presbyterian friend. After resting two hours here, they continued their journey to Edinburgh, from which, after another brief interval of repose of six hours, they had to make their retreat to the south country to avoid pursuit. This was one of the greatest gatherings of the persecuted Nonconformists that had yet taken place in Scotland, and it was followed by numerous others. Great efforts were made by Archbishop Sharp and others to have those who had been present sought out and punished; but though many individuals were in consequence subjected to fine and imprisonment, the clergymen who had been the principal actors there, managed at the time and for a long period subsequently to escape capture.

Proceeding along the Great North Road, we reach Cowdenbeath, which is 2. miles from Crossgates and 1 from Kinross. Plere is the mnction of a branch railway to Kinross, passing by Kelty and Blairadarn. It is a large and populous place, for the most part of recent erection, and mainly dependent on the adjacent collieries, which have largely increased in this neighbourhood within the last forty years. The discovery and consequent working of blackband ironstone 'n the coal districts of Fife and Clackmannan, led to a great development here of industrial activity as well as increase of population, though in some places the material itself has been nearly worked out. This latter circumstance led to the discontinuance of the Forth Ironworks at Oakley to the west of Dunfermline; and those at Lochgelly, about a mile to the east of Cowdenbeath, have also been closed.

Away to the south-east of Cowdenbeath stretches a tract of bog and peat, known as Moss Marn or Moss Morran, and extending to the north-east flank of the Cullalo Hills, which separate this dismal country from the rich pastures and smiling region lying between them and the sea. The railway from Dunfermline by Cross-gates, Cowdenbeath, and Lochgelly to Thornton Junction, passes through Moss Marn, and in the hot summer of 1868 a spark from the engine ignited the dry peat of the moss, and caused a conflagration that lasted for more than a week, and was not extinguished without considerable difficulty. The smoke and odour of the burning peat were perceptible at least as far as Culross, more than ten miles distant.

The village of Lochgelly crests the ridge of a hill about half a mile to the south of Lochgelly station. On the southern side of the hill is the loch from which the place takes its name. It is a sheet of water of some size, but has no specially picturesque attractions, though Lochgelly House (the Hon. Hugh F. H. Elliot) is rather prettily situated on a wooded slope at the north-west corner. The ground here belongs to the Earl of Minto, who owns the north side of the loch, whilst to Mr Wemyss of Wemyss Castle belongs the south shore. Here is the farm of the Little Raith, memorable in connection with a characteristic prayer said to have been offered up on one occasion by Mr Shirreff, the well-known Secession minister at Kirkcaldy. He was supplicating for more favourable weather for the harvest, and backed his entreaty with the argument, " for they tell me that up at the Little Raith it's a' as green as leeks yet!" The Raith estate (R. Munro Ferguson, Esq., M.P.) comes up to the east side of Lochgelly, and the Earl of Moray is also a large proprietor in this neighbourhood.

From Lochgelly station a fine view 's obtained of the ancient Lochoreshire, or parishes of Ballingry and Auchterderran, with the Blairadam grounds forming the north-west of the landscape amphitheatre. On an eminence behind Blaiiadam House there is seen a group of trees, which, from the present standpoint, bears a singular resemblance to the figure of a horse. Due north of the spectator, and bounding the horizon,, is Benarty Hill with its wooded slope, and away to the east of it appears the south extremity of the Bishop Hill, which borders the eastern shore of Loch Leven. Looking farther east are seen the wooded heights of Balgreggie and Auchterderran, and closing in the extremity of the prospect in this direction is Largo Law with its cleft summit.


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