'A fringe of gold on a beggar's mantle' was how James II, King of
Scots (1437-1460), described the East Neuk of Fife with its burghs
built around sheltered bays and rich farmland. Trade in salted fish,
coal and linen with Europe made all these communities among the
richest in Scotland, in the days when Scotland was independent and
It is one of the East Neuk burghs we visit this week - Pittenweem - a town
which continues the long tradition of fishing, indeed Pittenweem is now
the main fishing centre of this delightful part of Scotland. Pittenweem's
history dates back to the 7th century - indeed its name is of Pictish
origins and means 'place (pit) by or of the cave (weem)', where it is said
St Fillan chose to live while he converted the local Picts to
Christianity. Legend has it that St Fillan had a luminous left arm,
allowing him to work in the dark confines of the cave. Today you can still
see the cave, in Cove Wynd, with the Saint's well and alter. However it is
St Adrian who is the town's Patron Saint. He arrived from Hungary with his
own band of Christian martyrs and was killed on the Isle of May in 872
during a raid by the Danes. The Pittenweem coat of arms represents St
Adrian being rowed ashore from the Isle of May.
The town's eccleiastical connections were continued in medieval times when
the monks of the St Ethernan's Priory on the Isle of May were granted
lands around Pittenweem - the monks moved their base to Pittenweem Priory
in the 13th century to escape maurauding pirates. The remodelled remains
of the priory still stand on private property in Cove Wynd and Pittenweem
Parish Kirk was built on the site of the old priory church in 1588-89.
The village which grew up around the priory, was made a Royal Burgh in
1541; the Tolbooth Tower was built as part of the Parish Church in 1588.
Here the burgh council held meetings in the first floor chamber. Below
them was the town jail, where a woman was imprisoned in 1705 after being
arrested in a witch-hunt - one of the last outbreaks of witch-persecution
in Scotland, which resulted in her death.
The Mercat Cross, a symbol of a Royal burgh, stands against the west wall
of the Tolbooth Tower. it was first erected in the Marygate, probably at
the junction with Kirkgate. As a burgh, Pittenweem held weekly markets,
where farmers sold their produce, and several annual fairs. Linseed and
shoes were sold on Lady Day (25 March), wool at the Lammas Fair in August
and cattle at the the Martinmas Fair on 11 November.
Pittenweem wa first mentioned as a port in 1228. The outer pier is the
oldest, first built in stone around the mid-16th century; the middle pier
was built in 1771 by Sir John Anstruther and the West Pier was added when
the fishing industry was booming in the 19th century. Today the harbour is
at the centre of the East Neuk fishing industry and is busiest early in
the morning when the catches are being sold at the new Fish market, built
Pittenweem has also made its mark on the Scottish Arts scene and the
annual arts festival, now in its 22nd year, starts tomorrow, Saturday 7
August and continues until Sunday 15 August 2004. The Pittenweem Arts
Festival has grown steadily since 1982 in size and reputation and this
year offers its biggest ever line-up of attractions so far. There are over
80 art exhibitions to visit, plus a week-long programme of music, drama
and film, at venues around the Royal Burgh and its ancient harbour.
Children are well catered for with sculpture, dance and puppet workshops,
storytelling and painting competitions. With something for everyone visit
for full details.
Seafood also plays a major part in the festival including a full open day
at Pittenweem Fish market on Saturday 15 August where you can enjoy
cookery demonstrations (10am-4pm) whilst visiting the Pittenweem Arts
for details of Seafood Celebrations in the
East Neuk. Our recipe for this week must reflect the major industry in
Pittenweem and Summer Fish is just the ticket.
Ingredients : 4 to 6 fillets of sole or plaice (skinned); salt and freshly
ground black pepper; butter and lemon juice
Sauce ingredients : 4 oz (125 g) cottage cheese; 2 hard boiled egg yolks,
sieved; 2 tablespoons cream; salt and pepper
Brush fillets with butter and lemon juice, lightly salt and pepper. Roll
them up from head to tail, secure with wooden cocktail sticks. Place on a
heatproof plate cover and steam gently for about fifteen minutes, until
fish is just cooked, but still firm. Set aside to cool. Sauce :- Rub the
cottage cheese through a sieve into a bowl. Blend in the sieved egg yolks,
cream, salt and pepper. To serve, place fillets on individual plates and
add sauce (slice of lemon and parsley to decorate). Serve cold.