Dunfermline was one of the most important ancient Scottish capitals until the time of James VI of Scotland (James I of England) and the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Lying 2 miles (3km) inland from the Firth of Forth, it is today a main focus of commercial activity for south-west Fife, situated as it is near the M90 motorway. Its narrow town-centre streets are usually busy, mainly with 'Fifers' going about their business, a fairly typical lowland market town but with a particularly rich heritage.
Most of the important areas of Dunfermline can be explored by foot and there is ample sign-posted car-parking near the abbey and its historic precincts. Approaching the town by car from the south under the high railway viaducts, your eye is drawn to the central elevation on which sits Dunfermline Palace and Abbey. The words 'King Robert the Bruce' can be seen like an early advertising hoarding, carved in huge stone letters surrounding the balustrade of the nineteenth century parish church which nestles alongside the abbey.
The largely ruined Dunfermline Abbey and Palace was a great Benedictine house built in the time of King Malcolm Canmore (1005-1034) by his wife, Margaret. Queen Margaret was instrumental in the reformation of the nation from Celtic religious practices to Catholic. The present site is a loose arrangement bringing together buildings of several eras, the ruined monastery and palace with their romantic aura standing next to a much restored and more austere nineteenth century church.
Enthusiastic and well-informed locals provide guided tours. In the church choir, under the pulpit beneath a great brass plaque, the bones of Robert the Bruce are buried. In 1818, whilst preparing the foundations for the present church, a stone coffin was discovered by workmen who found the skeleton wrapped in lead and covered with gold cloth. Its breastbone had been sawn indicating that the heart, in accordance with Bruce's instructions, had been removed. He decreed that his heart be carried to the Holy Land to atone for his murderous accession to the throne. Sir James Douglas was charged with the task but was killed in Spain doing battle with the Moors. Fortunately the heart was retrieved and returned to Scotland where it is now buried at Melrose Abbey in the Borders while his bones remain in Dunfermline.
For lovers of Robert Burns and his poetry, the Murison Burns Collection is found in Dunfermline's Central Library in Abbots Street. A collection of books, pamphlets, prints, portraits and commemorative bric-a-brac relating to the life and works of the 'Great Bard' is found there.
In Moodie Street, an old weaver's cottage was, in 1835, the birthplace of the great industrialist, Andrew Carnegie. This weaver's son immigrated to America to become, through the steel industry, one of the world's richest and most benevolent men. In vastly generous but perceptive donations, he gave away 350 million dollars for the benefit of mankind doing great service to many branches of academia and the preservation of history but at the same time some damage to the fable that the Scots were mean.
One of his local purchases was Pittencrieff House Museum situated in Pittencrieff Park, locally known as the 'Glee'. The house dates back to 1610 and was purchased along with the marvellous open parkland by Carnegie in 1902, to display certain items of local history, costumes and art.
When Andrew Carnegie was a small boy, he was forbidden
entrance to the then privately-owned estate. He never forgot this, and on his return
from America bought the estate and gave it to the people of Dunfermline 'so that
no child should ever feel locked out'. His life is amply illustrated at the Carnegie
Museum found opposite his cottage birthplace just beyond the park. The family lived
upstairs while the room below contained his father's weaver's workshop.
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