Leven, Lundin Links and Largo
The early history of Leven may have been a bit different in that it may have started as a small eccesiastical community of the Culdeen faith on the present day Scoonie Hill. For much of its history, it’s unlikely that it was totally immune from the coal mining revolution taking place in the neighbouring area. What does seem to have made a great difference from about the mid-nineteenth century is golf and the arrival of a rail link to Thornton, just south of Glenrothes, in 1849. Together, these two factors were responsible for many day trippers and tourists arriving to enjoy the wide sandy beach that runs from the mouth of the River Leven to Largo about five miles to the east. The rail route through Leven went on to follow the southern Fife coastline and thence to St Andrews, the home of golf!
Sadly, the rail link between Leven and St. Andrews was cut in 1965 and the rail link with Thornton was cut just four years later in 1969. By then, Leven had become a popular attraction in its own right and removal of the link undoubtedly did substantial damage to the local economy. Even now, the road network to Leven is less than that enjoyed by the three larger towns in Fife region and although there has been speculation about the return of a rail link, there has been little progress in this respect.
Leven has a modern indoor swimming pool facility with wave effect machinery, plumes and more. There are amusement arcades along the seashore and close to many hotels and guest houses. The High Street is devoid of cars.
At a time when larger towns in Fife struggle to maintain cinemas, Leven has 'bucked the trend' with a new community based project known as the ‘Regent Cinema’ located in Commercial Street. It was opened on the 12th March 2010 and has seating for three hundred and seventy-four people. Click Here for the latest information about the Regent Cinema.
Leven has two golf courses although it would be more honest to say that it shares one with the neighbouring village of Lundin Links. They are called ‘Scoonie’ and ‘Leven Links’ with the latter often used to determine eligibility to compete in the main event whenever the ‘Open’ is hosted at St. Andrews.
While most companies in Leven are small to medium enterprises, one of the largest distillery operations of its kind in the World is located here. Operated by Diageo, a Latin word referring to ‘everyday use’, the company distillery at Cameron Bridge in nearby Windygates and the huge storage facilities near Leven are home to Smirnoff Vodka and many recogniseable brands of Scottish Whisky – and it’s worth mentioning here that if the word ‘Whiskey’ is spelled with an ‘e’ then it isn’t genuine Scottish Whisky!
The aerial photograph on the left shows the community of Largo which lies a few miles east of Leven and where the real 'Robinson Crusoe' was born. More information about Alexander Selkirk is given elsewhere on this web site.
Methil and Buckhaven
Methil and Buckhaven began life as Norse settlements starting around the ninth century and expanded through the main industries of weaving and fishing. In 1831, Buckhaven harbour was home to one hundred and ninety-eight fishing boats and was the largest fishing fleet in Scotland. Several noted professional footballers, Hugh O’Donnell and Shaun Evans came originally from Buckhaven. Local people often use slang to describe Buckhaven as 'Buckhind' but this isn't a reflection on the town and which has merged with Methil in current times.
Methil lies directly on the west bank of the River Leven and like many towns in this part of the World, mining and coal were the major generators of wealth and employment and Methil's large deep water docks helped export large tonnage of the 'black gold' fuel to other nations of Northern Europe. To enter the docks by road meant travelling under a bridge on which the rail line ran overhead and brought waggons of coal to the dock. The dock was of great strategic importance during World War Two and where the movement of goods by sea led to the Coastal Command Air Base at Crail, described elsewhere on this website, to be established and offer air cover to convoys leaving this port and Leith near Edinburgh.
In the 1960s, it was facinating to watch as coal waggons, themselves weighing about seventeen tons when empty, where shunted into the base of large metal towers on the quayside then individually lifted high into the air then tilted so the coal would fall onto a metal chute before dropping down into the hold of a ship. Originally, there had been plans for eight such hoists but only six were actually built. In its heyday, shortly after the First World War, Methil was the main coal exporting port of Scotland, handling about three million tons each year. Coal from the local Wellesley mine, employing about 1600 miners, produced about three and half thousand tons each day and most went directly to docks via a coal washing facility. The docks infrastructure included twenty-five miles of supporting railway lines and a holding facility for three thousand waggons.
Unfortunately, and following the closure of the local mines, the need for such a large dock facility declined and was exacerbated when other Fife mines chose to export their coal through the docks at Leith near Edinburgh. Eventually, the docks were closed and were filled in ostensibly to provide land for a modern marina and luxury waterfront properties – neither of which came to pass.
In 1963, the new Methil power station with its tall chimney began operation and was ideally sited for the direct provision of coal. It was sited right at the mouth of the River Leven and from where water was drawn to feed its huge boilers. Local sport fishermen soon discovered that the warm water emissions attracted fish and resulted in better catches!
In the early nineteen seventies, however, it was becoming apparent that British power stations were major pollutors and causing environmental problems in Scandanavia and Northern Europe. It became another nail in the coffin of coal powered energy supply and although different fuels such as slurry were employed for a time and cheaper imported coal, the power station was closed and it's chimney finally brought down by explosives in 2011.
In the nineteen seventies, Scotland became the centre of the North Sea Oil bonanza and Methil played its part with Redpath Dorman Long (later Redpath de Groot Caledonian and Trafalger House Offshore) established a massive oil rig production facility at Methil and became the largest singular employer in Fife. In practice, the ‘jackets’ were built on their side, floated out to their intended position then rotated as they sank into position. Even so, the near completed structures were huge and where they towered high above the local housing and even higher than nearby Memorial Court and Swan Court tower blocks. Standing on the main Wellesley Road that runs through Methil and Buckhaven and looking at the sight meant realising that even this high position was sometimes less than the height of these structures. Oil production from the North Sea peaked in 2000 and the demand for new platform jackets declined long before that time and the yard closed.
In current times, and using the same site, Methil is moving into a new age of alternative energy production and is likely to be involved in the construction of many wind turbines due to be installed at several offshore sites around Scotland. Already, the town sports a new 1200 sqm building in which freely available energy is ‘captured’ then stored in hydrogen cells. The project has, not surprisingly, been called ‘The Hydrogen Office’.
Methil is home to ‘East Fife’ football club with a stadium called Bayview.
The Wemyss Estate
Traditionally, the communities located west of the River Leven were highly involved in the mining and export of coal. By example, the Wemyss estate, located midway between Levenmouh and Kirkcaldy, benefitted from output from the local collieries.
At the centre of the estate lies Wemyss Castle. Built in 1421 by Sir John Wemyss on a prominent rock overlooking the Firth of Forth. It’s best known as the place where Mary Queen of Scots first met her future husband, Lord Darnley, in 1565. The castle was greatly restored in the 1950s and remains the Wemyss family residence today. Members of the Royal Family, including the Queen, have visited Wemyss Castle in the past.
Three villages bearing the name of ‘Wemyss’ are located near the castle. East Wemyss and Coaltown of Wemys were largely associated with nearby coal mining pits and offered accomodation to workers at these facilities. West Wemyss was the tiny coastal village with a port capable of loading ships with coal and bound for the Baltic regions or Northern Europe. In exchange, the returning ships carried timber, iron and flax. In time, the port of West Wemyss proved to be too small in the wake of the new docks built at Methil and were filled in.
East Wemyss was the village established for workers at the Michael Colliery and where the mining disaster of 1967, killing nine miners in an underground fire, led to the pit closure soon afterwards. Today, there is a memorial to the pit and the men who lost their lives on that site. Coaltown of Wemyss was the accomodation centre for workers at the neighbouring Lochhead Pit but it closed just three years after the Michael Colliery disaster in 1970 and where both villages began to slip in decline. In modern times, most of the properties have been sold for rennovation by the Kingdom Housing Association.
Dotted along this stretch of the coastline, there are many natural formed caves and where Pictish drawings have been discovered in some. More than eleven caves have been examined and documented. They featured in an edition of the BBC programme ‘Time Team’ broadcast in early 2005.
West Wemyss lies about a mile south the main coastal road route and is thus often missed by visitors to the region. It’s the smallest of the three ‘Wemyss’ villages but is a nice pcturesque place with traditional whitewashed walls. Some scenes from the movie, ‘Chariots of Fire’ were filmed near here and at St Andrews. lt’s a nice place to park the car and just simply walk around and admire the luck of the small local populace who live in such peaceful seclusion.
Bandleader and accordionist, Jimmy Shand, described elsewhere on this website in greater detail, was born in East Wemyss.
Aerial Photographs by Alandon. Text By Alandon.
'Hydrogen Office, Methil' photograph by Fife Regional Council.