The Howe of Fife - The Kingdom Of Fife

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The Howe of Fife

Town & Districts

There is a large fairly flat agricultural area that lies north of the Lomond Hills and Largo Law often referred to as the Howe of Fife by the local population. It's an area with very little industry other than that related to farming. As a rough guide, it's shown in green on the map.

Conveniently, the River Eden runs roughly west to east through the centre of this area and enters the North Sea just north of St Andrews, a town already described in greater detail elsewhere on this web site. This often provides the source of water used to irrigate many fields by one of the largest vegetable growers and producers in the area and who supply several supermarkets.


There aren't many large towns in this part of Fife but the former market town of Cupar was an administrative centre for the whole county and seems to have expanded around the Castle of MacDuff, Thane of Fife, built around the 11th century the Castlehill site where the Lady Burn joins with the River Eden.

Cupar lies at the centre of Fife and as the town developed, County Buildings and the local Sherrif Court was established there. Bridges over the Eden also made an important communication point and where it quickly established itself as a market town where farmers brought produce for sale. The old saying, 'He that will to Cupar, maun to Cupar' translates as 'He that will go to Cupar shall moan all the way to Cupar' and suggests that for many people, the journey was to undertake necessary or official business.

For much of its history, Cupar traded with Flemish people and who brought many weaving skills to the town in the fifteenth century. In 1727, the first burgh school was built and a Corn Exchange was established in 1872.

Obviously, with a Sherrif Court located in the town, a jail was nesserary and several were built in succession. The last one built was in 1843 and quickly became home to the local militia. The building was later aquired by Watt's, a seed merchant, and remains in current use. The War Memorial shown on the left stands beside Nicolson and Hood Parks. The larger Cart Haugh park links to both of these.

The main shopping centre of Cupar lies within three streets namely the Bonnygate, the Crossgate and St. Catherine's Street. At the point where these meet, there is a Mercat Cross headed by a Unicorn. Car parking in these areas are necessarily restricted albeit the best that can be done given the limited space. Adequate parking for visitors is often found nearby in the Fluthers Car Park nearby and close to this central area. Alternatively, the rail station is close to the town centre and sometimes has vacant spaces in their car park.

The Hill of Tarvit mansion house lies approximately mid-way between Cuper and the village of Ceres. It's a fine Edwardian building built by Sir Robert Lorrimar and owned by the National Trust for Scotland. This venue, with its magnificent views, excellent gardens and a wonderful tour of the interior used to be open to public but has been closed to the public for some time now. It's a sad loss to the community.

Further south by a few miles lies the village of Ceres and where there is a local folk museum operating in current times. It's where local Highland Games have taken place every year to celebrate the victory at Bannockburn in 1314 with the exception of wartime years and thus making this location host to perhaps the oldest Highland Games in Scotland. The picture on the right shows the northern road into Ceres.

Today, Cupar has a rail station linked by the main British East Coast rail line and where the town lies about half-way between the City of Dundee and Glenrothes in Fife. It's the same rail link between Edinburgh and Dundee.


The town of Leuchars lies about eight miles east of Cupar. In olden language  and spelled differently, Luechar meant rushes and perhaps describing such a place where the mouth of the Eden River finally meets the sea.

The nearby village of Guardbridge was, until quite recently, a major papermaking town and highly reliant on the flow of the river for this function. it was probably the major employer in the area for many years but by contrast and in modern times, the old paper mill has closed down and the major economic contributor is the Ministry Of Defence by virtue of the Royal Air Force Base located at Leuchars.

It was from this base that a Lockheed Hudson of 224 Squadron intercepted a German Dornier Do18 aircraft over the North Sea on the 4 September 1939, and although the outcome was inconclusive, it was the first aerial battle of World War II between Britain and Germany.

In February 1940, another Lockheed Hudson flying from Leuchars spotted the prison and supply ship ‘Altmark’ trying to make its way back to Germany after service in the South Atlantic. It was carrying prisoners captured by the pocket battleship ‘Admiral Graf Spee’and where the prisoners had been transferred to the Altmark before the German battleship engaged in an intially inconclusive conflict with the cruisers HMS Exeter, HMS Achilles and HMS Ajax but where severe damage forced the German ship to retire to Montevideo, a neutral port and where, under conditions of neutrality, the Graf Spee was scuttled rather than face a second battle with the Allied fleet and presumed to include the battlecruiser HMS Cumberland. The sighting and identification of the ‘Altmark’ was thus an important one and where it was eventually intercepted by HMS Cossack and found to have two hundred British prisoners aboard.

In terms of recent history, Leuchars air base initially shared many duties with HMS Jackdaw at Crail during World War 2 but closure of Jackdaw soon after the war meant amalgamation of these functions.

In modern times, Leuchars is perhaps best known as the site of the annual ‘Battle of Britain’ air show and the only one of it’s type that takes place in Scotland on a Saturday usually about the 9 to 11 September depending on the calendar. It’s a premier attraction in Scotland that often draws crowds in excess of about forty-five thousand people and where early arrival is definitely advised since the sheer mass of motor cars on that day often leads to queues exceeding ten to fifteen miles in some directions and its often a similar crazy situation when it comes to leave. Leuchars is on the main Eastern Scottish Rail line and although carriages are often crowed, this can prove to be easier than taking the car or bus. If you like air displays then this is one of the best you’ll ever see! Profits from the event are used to support charitable causes including the RAF Benevolent Fund.

The ‘Cold War’ is long gone and representatives from many nations, sometimes including Russia, are happy to ‘show off’ the latest generation of military hardware. On my last visit, there were Russian Sukhoi 27 jets alongside Saab JAS39 Gripens of the Flygvapnet (Swedish Air Force) with their distinctive ‘canard’ front wings enabling short take off and landing and since adopted by many other aircraft designers. The powerful French Mirage 2000 display was memorable and impressive as well as that of its successor, Rafale. In any case, it is doubtful whether such displays will be held in future.

At this time of writing in July, 2011, there is a major decision pending as regards future operation from Leuchars or else Lossiemouth located much further north in Scotland and where the operational decisions are increasingly complex due to former cuts in the defence budget. Three years ago, RAF Leeming was closed and leaving RAF Leuchars to patrol Northern English airspace and much of the North Sea. Our commitment to NATO means patrolling the seas right up to the coast of Greenland and where Lossiemouth is better sited for this purpose.

This vital decision comes at a time when the Nimrod fleet has been grounded and dismantled on economic grounds and where the current political situation concerning the 'Arab Spring' has caught many by surprise and even led to NATO operations in Libya and in addition to considerable military inverstment in Afghanistan.

On balance, it would seem that survival of Luechars would make greater sense from an operational cost standpoint and where better road and rail links could bring fuel and equipment to the base far more easily than Lossiemouth. In addition, advancing technology might allow better coverage of aircraft over longer distances and in the same way that US nuclear support for submarines is now far less than it was before. In either case, there is no doubt that closure of either base would be disasterous for each local local economy with thousands affected in either case. A decision is pending and is likely to made soon.


Although mentioned elsewhere in this web site in assocation with Falkland Palace, Auchtermuchty, 'the place of pigs' has actually quite a wonderful reputation. In the 1990s, it was the film location chosen to represent 'Tannochbrae' in the short series of dramas about 'Doctor Finlay's Casebook'. For many years, it was also home to Jimmy Shand, one of the best known accordion players in the World and a close friend of this author's late uncle. Both went to Germany on a trip and spent a fortune buyng Hohner accordions at the same time! Sir Jimmy Shand as he was known later had many international recordings but my uncle chose a quieter life and taught accordion to students from his home in Cupar. In the last years of his life, he moved closer to Edinburgh for medical reasons. He remained a friend of Jimmy Shand throughout their respective lives. Sir Jimmy Shand was born in East Wemyss but lived most of his life in Auctermuchty. Sir John Arnott, original retail pioneer and owner of Arnott Stores, is a son of Auchtermuchty.

Perhaps the most famous duo ever to originate from this part of Fife are the twin boys known globally as 'The Proclaimers' and whose music has featured highly in the top twenty of several international countries.

Photographs by Kilnburn, Oslay, James Allan and Alandon.
Text by Alandon

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