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Guide to the East Neuk of Fife

The Parish of Carnbee lies to the northward of Anstruther-Wester, Pittenweem, Abercrombie, and part of Kilconquhar. Its extreme length from east to west is five miles, and its greatest breadth from north to south, four and a-half miles. It contains almost 8396 acres.

The Name is supposed to mean the birch-hill, and, like others of long-standing, it has been spelt in many ways.

Kellie-Law, a prominent hill, from which an excellent and extensive view may be obtained, is in the centre of the parish. In Playfair’s Description of Scotland, and also in the New Statistical Account, its height is given as 810 feet; but it is only marked as 500 on the Ordnance Survey. Besides being a “kindly nurse of sheep,” it serves to some extent as a rustic weather-glass.

“When Largo Law puts on his hat,
Let Kellie Law beware of that.
When Kellie Law gets on his cap,
Largo Law may laugh at that.”

Kellie Castle, which was formerly the seat of the Earls of Kellie, stands fully half-a-mile to the southward of the Law. This fine specimen of an old Scotch baronial house has been leased by Professor Lorimer, of Edinburgh University, who has repaired it, and spends the summer months within its substantial walls. Archibald Constable, the eminent publisher, was born here in 1776, his father being overseer to the Earl of Kellie.

The Parish Church, which belonged to Dunfermline Abbey before the Reformation, is about three-quarters of a mile due east from the Law. The present building was erected in 1793, and accommodates about 500 people. I remember reading, when a boy, in one of the local newspapers, that an old mason, who was working about the church, discovered a finely carved head—probably a wall-boss—and that, after eyeing it for a moment, he seized his largest hammer, and with one blow smashed it to atoms, declaring that no Popish idol would ever “girn” in his face. The school and a few other houses are hard by, and the manse is not far off. In the list of the members of the first General Assembly, which met in 1560, there is— “Mr David Weyms for the Kirk of Carnbie.” The first Pro­testant minister of the parish, however, was David Spens, who was appointed in 1567. He also had the charges of Kilconquhar, Newburn, and Largo. His successor Carnbee was Thomas Wood, who is supposed to be the same Thomas Wood, vicar of St Andrews, whose beautiful MS. Psalter has been partly re-produced in fac-simile, in the seventh volume of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, and also in Macmeeken’s History of the Scottish Metrical Psalms. Andrew Hunter, who was here from 1582 to 1588, pronounced the sentence of excommunica­tion on poor Patrick Adamson, the tulchan Archbishop of St Andrews. Henry Rymore, who was admitted in 1644, was deposed in 1664, because he would not conform to Episcopacy. His fourth successor, John Falconer, was deprived in 1689 for not praying for William and Mary, and twenty years later was consecrated a non-jurant Bishop. In 1690, Rymore returned to his charge at Carnbee, being one of the faithful few who survived the period of persecution. He died in 1694. Mr Johnstone, the present popular minister, is known in the literary world by his beautiful poem an Patrick Hamilton.

A Long-Winded Native.—James Thomson, who was born in the parish, became a chaplain in the Cameronian Regiment, and was afterwards ordained at Dunfermline, where he remained for 47 years. While there, he im­prudently named some of his parishioners in a sermon, and denounced them to the face as liars. The offended parties raised an action against him in the Court of Session, and were awarded damages. A report of this instructive and amusing case will be found in Morison’s Dictionary of Decisions. Thomson was a wonderful man, for when administering the Lord’s Supper in his ninetieth year, he preached an action sermon two hours in length. He died in 1790.

The village of Arncroach, or, as it is locally designated, Eirncroch, is half-a-mile to the westward of Kellie Castle. The parish minister, writing in 1844, said:- There has not hitherto been any dissenting meeting-house in the parish, the few Dissenters who reside within the bounds attending the Relief chapel at Pittenweem, or the Burgher chapel at Largoward (Lathones). A Free Church meeting-house is at present erecting at Arncroach, but it would be premature to pass any opinion as to the support which it will receive from the parishioners.” Full forty years have come and gone since then, and the Free Church is still to the fore, and there is an excellent manse in connection with it. It also had a school, but that has been taken off its hands by the School Board. A little to the north of the village, and close beside the road, are the

Elie Water-Works, which are well worthy of in­spection. Their simplicity, efficiency, compactness, and completeness are truly admirable.

Balcormo House is half-a-mile south from Arncroach. It was the seat of the eccentric but talented advocate, Hugo Arnot, who died in 1786, in his 37th year. He was the author of a History of Edinburgh, a Collection of Criminal Trials, an Essay on Nothing, and many pamphlets. He was remarkably long and lean. Harry Erskine, who found him on one occasion eating a “spelding,” compli­mented him on being “so like his meat.”

Balcaskie House is in that southern angle of the parish, which penetrates between Abercrombie and Anstruther-Wester, until it touches the parish of Pittenweem. It is the residence of Sir Robert Anstruther, M.P., the Lord-Lieutenant of the county, and the worthy repre­sentative of a family long connected with the district, whose members have been as ready to serve their country with their sword as with their counsel. In the Bannatyne Miscellany, it is stated, that, the unfortunate Slezer prepared a drawing of Balcaskie House, “with its respective stories and general ground-plot,” which he esti­mated would cost £15 sterling to engrave.

Standing-Stone.—In the south-west corner of the parish, not far from the farm-steading of Easter Pitcorthie, there is, in a field, a standing-stone, measuring seven and a-half feet high by four feet in width. On its face there are several depressions resembling cup-markings, but they are so faint that it is impossible to say whether they are artificial or not.

The Population of the parish, in 1752, was 1290; in 1801, it had decreased to 1083; and, in 1881, it was only 1058.

The Valuation of the parish for the year 1874-5 was £15,680 4s 7d; but agricultural depression has reduced it since then to £12,882 1s.

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