Burntisland is a small town on the coast of Fife, in between Kinghorn and Aberdour, and it’s a town that’s doing something pretty special.
It’s a town which I’ve visited practically every summer for as long as I can remember, mainly for the Fairground that comes for the entire school summer holidays. Mum used to take us when we were kids, I went with friends when we were teenagers, I took Taylor when she was wee and now I get to take my gorgeous little nephew, Declan. I have many fond memories of the town of Burntisland. Fife has lots of amazing towns but Burntisland is one that locals seem to be drawn to. It is a tourist town but not one that ever gets a lot of tourists from abroad, it tends to be Scots that head here and it’s been like that since I was young.
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Recently it’s been on my radar for others reasons though. High streets across the country are struggling, the shops are closing their doors, vandals graffitiing the shutters. Pound shops and charity shops seem to be the only ones able to survive in an era of high rents and greedy councils. The footfall has reduced to barely anything at all, with shoppers choosing instead to visit the large retail parks on the outskirts of town. Burntisland, Fife, though, has managed to entirely escape this. The high street is bustling, the shops are open and there is a lovely, happy vibe. There is an amazing sense of community, the locals are proud of their small independent shops and regularly use them. The shop keepers work together and share ideas. People chat in the street and shop keepers know their customers by name. It seems to be, at least partly, down to an initiative called ‘Totally Locally’.
Totally Locally is a fantastic initiative which began in the north of England. It's a non-profit organisation and 5 years ago they were asked to create a campaign to engage people with their local, independant shops. What began as a marketing campaign for the founders' local town has now grown to cover 60 towns across the UK. They provide a free 2 year marketing plan for communities to use in their local town. The idea is that there is no chairman, meetings have to be inclusive and should be held in the local pub! There is no rules and regulations, it encourages local independent shops and businesses to come together, work as a team and involve the community. The kit has posters, invites, tote bags, banners, badges and loads of help and advice. Burntisland is a brilliant example of how well this initiative can work.
Another reason I’ve been visiting the town recently is their abundance of eco-friendly and plastic free products, available in many of the shops. It’s something the town is working hard on and it’s brilliant to see, especially as it tends to be seen more often in the big cities. Times are changing though, people are slowly becoming more aware and Burntisland, Fife, is leading the way.
Change Works, a company of volunteers who specialise in reducing fuel waste, keeping energy costs down and cutting down household waste, has opened on the high street. This is where I go for my refills of washing powder, fabric conditioner and washing up liquid. They stock Bio D liquids in huge containers which allows you to fill up any container you might have and reduce the amount of single use plastic you buy. The shop also stocks other bits and pieces like reusable food wraps, energy saving items and soap and shampoo bars. There is also a nice handwritten blackboard map showing all the other shops on the High Street that have eco friendly products.
A wee bit of history
According to the rock carving on the 632ft Binn, a volcanic plug which towers over the town, there has been a presence here since the 12th century when the land was owned by the monks of Dunfermline Abbey. Since then the name has changed spelling several times but it’s thought to be after the burning of the fisherman’s huts on the island, which is now the harbour. It was first named Wester Kinghorn and the fishing done there was to provide food for the inhabitants of Rosen’s Castle but the harbour was then sold by the monks to James V who gave them a parcel of land, which became Burntisland. It was given royal status in 1514. Shipbuilding is a large part of the town’s history, it was one of the largest ports, second only to Leith. It was also home to the world’s first roll-on, roll-off ferry in the 1850’s, the boats carried goods between Fife and Granton and was used until the Forth Rail Bridge opened in 1890.
At the West Dock The Burntisland Shipbuilding Company built ships during the first and second World Wars and it’s now run by BiFab who built parts for the oil rigs in the North Sea (I think, I’m not even going to pretend I’m an expert in oil rig parts).
What's the town like today?
Today the town is a hub for Fifers who love the award winning blue flag beach and the fairground in the summer months. The town is also known for having the second oldest Scottish Highland Games which take place on the third Monday in July. It’s a hugely popular day and marks the start of the Fife Fair Fortnight.
Fife Fair Fortnight
Speak to anyone of a certain age and they will speak lyrical about the hazy days of the fair fortnight. It's not quite a thing of the past but it is at risk of disappearing with our oldest generation. It traditionally takes place in the last two weeks of July and is usually at the same time as the Glasgow Fair.
At one time the fair fortnight was two weeks in the summer when all the businesses closed, the factories closed their doors and bosses waved farewell to their workers as they headed off on their annual jollies. While Fife folk headed down south to Blackpool, Scarborough and the south of England, many Glaswegians favoured Burntisland, to have fun at the fair and eat ice cream on the beach.
Burntisland Hotels and accommodation
There are a few options when it comes to Burntisland hotels. The Sands Hotel has comfortable and clean rooms and a delicious restaurant. The Burntisland House Hotel gets amazing reviews and is situated on the main shopping street. It's a four-star hotel with a large back garden and the rooms have traditional furnishing, modern touches and all the essentials. The Kingswood Hotel is just outside Burntisland and looks out over the Firth of Forth. It's a charming whitewashed hotel with pretty rooms, and there are family suites with a separate room with bunk beds for the kids. The restaurant is one of my favourite restaurants in Fife, the High Tea and Carvery is amazing. Pettycur Bay Hotel and Caravan Site is a gem, just a little further along the road. I've hired a static caravan here a few times and I can highly recommend it. The caravans are staggered, going up a large hill so the view over the Forth is outstanding. There is a small play park, restaurant and leisure centre and if you don't fancy a caravan you can stay in the contemporary hotel, the rooms are modern, slick and well designed. Whether you are in a caravan, in the hotel or even in a tent or motorhome on the small camping ground you can use the facilities free of charge (read about them above).
Burntisland Restaurants and Cafes
There are some really cute little cafes in Burntisland, such as the Waverly Cafe, Food for Thought and the newly opened Roasting Project. If you really want to treat yourself I highly recommend something delicious from Novelli's such as a homemade cake, chocolate waffle of any one of the tonnes of amazing ice creams.
For an evening meal the Kingswood Hotel does a fantastic High Tea, served with toast and tea which I've sampled at least a few times over the years. The Sands Hotel also has a really good food menu. Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline are both only a 20 minute drive away if you fancy something different. Both towns have a good choice of British, Italian, Chinese and Indian restaurants.
Things to do in Burntisland
Sheltering Burntisland, Fife, from the north winds is the Binn, a 193m hill that has stunning panoramic views of Fife from the top. There are many routes to the top, several in Burntisland itself, some near Kinghorn Loch and a few from Standing Stane road so you can take your pick if you fancy a good old leg stretch. The hill is actually an extinct volcanic plug, formed around 300 million years ago. At one point there were two villages on the hill which were built to house the shale oil workers and you can still see some of the remains today, although it's mostly overgrown.
The original Rossend Castle was owned by the monks of Dunfermline and there are still remnants of the 13th century structure that can be seen but the majority of the castle dates from the 16th century. Mary, Queen of Scots was known to have played here as a youngster and indeed it was popular with Scottish monarchs. It was set to be demolished but was saved in the 1970’s by a firm of architects who restored it and used it as offices.
Burntisland Heritage Centre
Run by volunteers from the Burntisland Heritage Trust this heritage centre is a wonderful way to learn more about the history of the town. There are regularly changing exhibitions and permanent displays and often there are presentations by the Trust’s convenor on topics such as the famous people from Burntisland, the lost treasure of King Charles I and the shipwrecks I’d the Forth. The volunteers also offer guided walks around the town.
This arcade takes me back to my childhood. The bright coloured lights, loud noises coming from the machines and games I remember playing when I was wee all bring back fond memories. Win a teddy from the claw machines, race your friends around Monaco or spend time at the slot machines.
Water and play park
Burntisland Links, the large grassy area next to the high street, is used for the fairground and the Highland games in the summer and there is access to the beach through sereval short tunnels, which go under the railway line. The Links also has a playparl, an excellent disabled play park with adapted see-saw, swings and climbing frames, and several water fountains and games which the kids absolutely love when the weather is hot.
This little museum is a shrine to tv, radio and all things digital and, especially being a blogger and using computers and smart phones on a daily basis, I loved seeing the progress from the first wireless radios and black and white TVs to what we use today. The museum's founder, Cecil Harry Charles Matthews was a bit of a dare devil, teaching classes about wireless at the age of 13, completed top secret radar work during World War II and was a motorbike stunt driver in a wall of death! He was passionate about communications and opened the museum in 1979. Today the museum has over 40 tonnes of equipment, including telegraphy, audio, satallite, IT and photography equipment. It can't all be shown at once so there is rotating displays every summer so you can visit often and usually see something new. The opening hours are limited so check the website before visiting
Burntisland beach is gorgeous and is only a two minute walk from the High Street. It’s huge and perfect for a family day out. The Fife Coastal Path runs along the beach, past Pettycur Bay and into Kinghorn. It's a lovely walk and this section is easy going,
If you happen to be interested in learning to scuba dive then the Dive Bunkernis perfect. The Firth of Forth has five ship wrecks to explore, two fascinating sea beds and even a plane wreck, as well as reefs, soft corals, lobster, crabs and seals. The instructors are experienced PADI professionals and teach several course. The Scuba Diving experience is for beginners and takes place in the training pool. The Open Water Diver course teaches you to dive out in the Firth of Forth or you can take a course which teaches you the basics so you can complete the certificate anywhere in the world.
Building began on Burntisland Parish Chirch in 1592 and it was here that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland proposed to King James VI that he translated the bible into English, which he did and it was published in 1611 as the King James Version or the authorised version. You can visit the church during the summer, Monday to Friday 2-4pm.
Pettycur Bay is just outside Burntisland, Fife, on the road to Kinghorn. It’s a huge caravan park and hotel. The leisure facilities, which are open to everyone, include a cute little pool that is perfect for wee ones, or if you want to relax. There’s a jacuzzi, sauna and steam room and outside of the pool there is a games room, snooker room, small gym and kids activity centre. I like going here at night when it is quiet and relaxing for a couple of hours in the pool when it’s dark outside. The huge floor to ceiling windows around the pool let in the beautiful colours of the sunset and afterwards we head upstairs to the restaurant for a bite to eat. At weekend there is often live entertainment on too.
Burntisland Golf Club
This is a popular golf course in Fife and has an impressive history. The land was surveyed by none other than Old Tom Morris himself, was designed by Willie Park Jnr and was updated by James Baird in 1922. It’s actually the ninth oldest golf course in the world. You can buy day tickets and there are lots of facilities on the site such as replies, catering, a club house, lockers and showers.
The Sands Hotel is not only a lovely place for a meal (see below) or to stay the night (see below) they also hold regular quiz nights, Jazz nights and bingo nights along with one off festivals and events. It’s a nice place to spend the evening, chat to locals and relax.
Beacon Leisure Centre
Burntisland Swimming Pool is a leisure pool with a wave machine, a flume and a shallow area for small kids. The main section of the pool is 25 metres so you can do lengths and during school holidays they have lots of activities including Quid-a-day where children only pay £1 (this applies to all the swimming pools in Fife) and inflatables. There is also a well equipped gym and fitness classes.
One of the main attractions of Burntisland for me, is the ability to shop locally, in the small independent shops. I like to support local businesses and put my money into the local economy. Macauley’s Fruit and Veg Merchants is a tiny shop packed full of fresh fruit and veg and there really is an impressive selection. I love the soup bags, everything you need to make a big pot of soup with a recipe, in a little paper bag, for £3.50. Burntisland Fish Co sell fresh fish caught locally and have an amazing range of exciting foods to try, like a Wakame Seaweed salad, Sashimi tuna loins and smoked haddock macaroni. Aye Candy is a bright and colourful shop with big tubs of sweets ready to be dispensed into little paper bags and wee toys that the kids will love! Hanselled Books is just of the High Street and is a quirky jumble of all kids of books, from vintage classics to historic biograghies, this is a great wee find and perfect for book lovers. Tom Courts, the local butchers, is run by three generations of the same family. The father owned a butchers on the High street 30 years ago and recently his son came back to the town to open his own butchers. They have won many awards and are very popular with the locals.