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Edgelands: Inverkeithing - Kirkaldy Walk

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by Benjamin Brown (subscribe)
Recent MSc graduate in ‘Film, Exhibition and Curation’ at the University of Edinburgh and seasoned freelance writer for online journals. Specialise in writing arts and culture related content including film reviews. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Published April 1st 2018
A pilgrimage to the promised land of Kirkaldy


The cold light of day. Slowly but surely the train pulls from the station, gradually gathering speed as though awakening from some deep slumber. Through the window, I see nothing but the uniform pastel greens and greys of endlessly repeating Hannah Barbera trees and fields. That is until the train reaches the coast, whereupon I am treated to tantalising glimpses of the bay, my view periodically obscured by the vast, tessellated steel girders of the Forth Rail Bridge. Before long, the train has guided me to the first waypoint on my perambulations along the Fife coast – Inverkeithing.




Inverkeithing to Aberdour


Upon arrival in Inverkeithing dark clouds have ominously started to gather. The town itself is all but deserted. Have I unknowingly arrived in the wake of some horrific but highly localised apocalypse? Where are all the people? One of the first buildings I come across is boarded up, which does little to assuage my fears. Through the gaps in a rusted metal fence, I glimpse the dilapidated shell of what was once Inverkeithing Primary School, the children, I assume, having long since been evacuated after the great 'happening'. In fact, the place was even beginning to remind me somewhat of the Zone in Tarkovsky's haunting, enigmatic masterpiece Stalker (1979).

Thoughts of Stalker were to again surface upon leaving Inverkeithing town centre and stumbling upon an old, abandoned railway line. Almost entirely covered by clumps of long grass and thickets, this bleakly beautiful sight recalls a hypnotic sequence where the three daring explorers are crouched together as they travel horizontally through space and time along a railroad track. After lingering on the railway bridge like some anachronistic trainspotter, it was time for me to swap town for country and follow the yellow brick road to the coast.

On reaching the shore I am immediately presented with stunning views out over the bay. The solemnly majestic form of the Forth Rail Bridge can be seen emerging from the headland, the steel shimmering in the weak morning light. Also in my field of vision there sits the long, spindly remains of what I later discover is a coal-loading pipe. Not knowing what the structure's real purpose is, my mind races – could it be an abandoned, half-hearted attempt at constructing an off-shore civilisation.

Quickly tiring of these inane inner quandaries, my head is turned by the sight of a vast, empty quarry. Surrounded on three sides by a great stone-faced amphitheatre, the booming sound of silence reverberates all around me, sending gentle ripples across the otherwise still sheet of water that lies in the quarry basin. Once again, as I did before at the railroad track I linger, and once again, I am reminded of Tarkovsky and Stalker.

I have now well and truly entered a space understood almost implicitly as the 'edgelands', this area of in-between-ness and indeterminacy that is neither town nor country. Such a space is often referred to by psycho-geographers by the now somewhat hackneyed term 'liminal' to describe an inter-zonal space typically populated by desolate scrubland, solitary telegraph poles and forgotten, untended allotments.

To return to matters in hand, my coastal traversal has intriguingly led me to another abandoned site – this time to the tired remains of a former WW1 gun battery. A handy sign tells me it formed part of the inner defence of the naval dockyard at Rosyth. Ravaged by time and reclaimed by nature, little is left to indicate what an imposing presence within the landscape the gun battery would have been back in its day.

To again evoke the as alluded to image of solitary telegraph poles, on rounding another horseshoe-like bend in the headland I can't help but notice this dark, totemic form thrusting proudly from the earth. Feeling inexorably drawn towards this strange object I stride on until I am directly underneath it. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that this telegraph pole has symbolic resonance – the accompanying plaque reads 'In loving memory of Cy Taylor'. But who is this 'Cy Taylor', and what is the significance of the pole? Such questions did not trouble me for long, however, seeing as the next key landmark I am to come across on my edgeland excursion is Dalgety Bay.

The literal early warning signs are not good. As soon as I reach the bay, a stark white notice informs me that 'radioactive contamination has been found on this beach'. As a result, the beach is off limits whilst the recovery program is undergoing a deep clean of the area. Reading this notice once again reminds me of Stalker, though this time, not the film itself but rather its troubled production history. One explanation for the early deaths from lung cancer of both Tarkovsky and lead actor Anatoly Solonitsyn is that when filming Stalker there were poisoned by radiation found in the run-off from a chemical plant upriver. Best give this one a wide berth then I think. After passing through a distinctly Tarvoskyan swampland in miniature, an old, crumbling building (the room in Stalker?) comes into view; naked to the elements, it stands with neither a roof nor windows.

With the aid of another sign, I glean that this now empty shell was once St Bridget's Kirk. First built in 1170, the abbey was in use for almost seven-hundred years before eventually falling into ruin in the Nineteenth-Century. In this age of planned obsolescence, seven-hundred years is a pretty good run all things considered. For a short while, I savour the stillness of the kirk's ancient graveyard. Complete with picaresque views out over the bay, I am struck by the strange thought that residents of this terminal resting place are sitting on one hell of a piece of real estate. I for one just hope that they appreciate that fact.

Aberdour to Burntisland

The first thought that occurs to me on arriving into the village of Aberdour is 'my, isn't it quaint'. It is as though I have been transported back through time to the sepia-tinged world of pre-1950s Britain. For instance, one of the first buildings I come across is an old-fashioned family-run petrol station, of the sort one would think only still operates up in some remote area of the highlands. The on-running theme of historical anachronisms only continues on wandering into a vintage and collectables store on the main thoroughfare called 'Blakes'.

After being welcomed in by a suitably eccentric old woman who looks as though she must have 'came with' the shop, I am told in no uncertain terms that photography is strictly forbidden. Obeying orders to the letter, I restrict my photo taking to one or two opportune snaps. On venturing further into the inner sanctum, I am led through a very narrow corridor stacked to bursting point with vintage memorabilia including several framed photographs of Audrey Hepburn and a generous smattering of model Doctor Who Daleks. The highlight of the visit, however, would have to be seeing a pair of bone-tight latex trousers with actor Benedict Cumberbatch's face printed repeatedly across its surface. And no, I didn't buy them. They weren't my size.

Travelling further back in time still, the next port of call is Aberdour Castle. In an even greater state of decay than the Kirk, the castle was also built in the 1100s. These crumbling remains certainly make quite the romantic image, one that's befitting of a Turner watercolour. I can't stay long admiring its facade however, I must plow on if I am to make it to the promised land of Kirkaldy by nightfall.

Having now left Aberdour in my wake, I happen across another beach, only this time one that fortunately is permissible. 'Silver Sands' is, by stark contrast to the pebbly affair of Dalgety Bay beach a pristine stretch of coastline, and on a bright, clear day like today, it attracts young families and old couples alike. From the wide-open landscape canvas of the shore, I am plunged into darkness when entering a dank, wet railway tunnel. My passage through this space yet again brings to mind Stalker and the pulsating scene where the trio gingerly makes their way through a tunnel strewn with broken glass. As with Stalker, the tunnel could perhaps be seen as a necessary passage of transit, an inter-zonal area one travels through merely to go somewhere else. And for me, that somewhere else is Burntisland.

Burntisland to Kinghorn

Upon arriving in Burntisland I have seemingly finally left behind the spirit of Tarkovsky and instead am greeted with something altogether more Lynchian; dramatically silhouetted against an amber sky are several elegant industrial cranes. What I am looking out at is, in fact, a Fabrication yard, though what it is that's fabricated here I do not know – the truth, perhaps? Before long I am out of the town centre and striding through the open expanse of Burntisland links. Heading right, I pass through another railway tunnel and emerge alongside the promenade. But now is not the time to be admiring the view.

Due to it being high tide, I have no choice but to depart from the coastal route and instead follow the A road bound for the scenic coastal town of Kinghorn. At this moment I become aware for the first time of just how much the walk has changed for me psychically. From those leisurely early stages, where I allowed my attention to wander freely over visual stimuli like a bee hovering between sources of nectar, through to my current state where my field of vision has become narrow, tunnel-like.

My resolute focus only on what's straight ahead almost results in me passing by altogether another key point of interest, the monument to Alexander the third, crowned 'King of Scots' in 1249. Still, it's perhaps hardly surprising that it nearly escaped my attention given its strangely incongruous positioning directly adjacent to the main road. With Kinghorn fast approaching, the next community of sorts that I come across is a sprawling caravan site boasting serene views out over the Forth estuary. By now it is early evening, and the image of the sun slowly setting over the slanted caravan roofs is a sight that I find oddly moving.

Kinghorn to Kirkaldy

Kinghorn. I notice that the road I am walking along is called 'Macduff Crescent', a road which curves downhill past the fading facade of a classically whitewashed 1930s art deco building. I come to a fork in the road. If I bear right that would lead me to the waterfront and eventually to Kirkaldy itself. If I turn left then that would take me to the station. Its decision time – do I turn back now and admit defeat, or do I carry on regardless? I must admit, heading back is an idea that both my feet would be in consensus with. But no, I must finish what I have started.

Heading down to the water's edge I am treated with a lovely, picaresque view out over the terracotta roofs of the villas to the bay, which is lit dramatically by the corona of a cerise sky. Stopping briefly, I am momentarily taken by the sight of a solitary boat gently bobbing to and fro in the harbour. Somewhat reluctantly I leave Kinghorn behind and continue on my forward march towards the final destination on this traversal through time and space – Kirkaldy.



Kinghorn harbour

En-route to Kirkcaldy, I am confronted with the last bastion of defence, Seafield Tower. With the light fading, the tower appears darkly foreboding and seems to give off the same rarefied romantic beauty as Aberdour castle had done previously. Upon rounding the final bend in the headland I make out the telltale cluster of bright lights in the middle distance.

Gaining ground fast, the warm, neon glow of a Lidl sign rears into view. All of a sudden Elvis comes to mind, and specifically, the line from Viva Las Vegas: 'bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire'. I would even wager that no-one has ever been so glad to see Kirkaldy as I am this very evening. With darkness having now well and truly descended, I hurriedly navigate my way past a succession of bland, prefabricated post-war high rises towards the town centre and endpoint of my walk – the train station.

With feet aching and mind waning, the end is finally in sight. After a mercifully short wait on the platform, I clamber wearily aboard the train bound for Edinburgh. Easing back into my seat as if I were gently lowering myself into a soothing hot bath, I feel my muscles relaxing. Within what feels like only a few minutes the train is now slowly pulling into the station and I am back where I started. I have come full circle.
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