We’d been well fed again and liberally doused with Edinburgh spiced orange gin… so I fell asleep on the sofa and was sent to bed yet again. I’m useless. Next morning we were on our way, taking an early leave of our friend, glad to have seen her and grateful for her care. We were heading north, deeper into Fife. With our fingers crossed for the car, we once again took the coast road.
The distinctive shape of Bass Rock was dark against the horizon. The island often looks to be snow covered, yet the whiteness is caused by more than 150,000 gannets that call it home. We were rewarded with a sunrise over the sea, the light changing with every mile.
We stopped… well, we stopped again, having stopped several times for the sunrise… at the village of St Monan’s, once a thriving fishing and boat building community. The village is named after St Monance who died in a raid by the Danes in 875AD, along with St Aidan on the Isle of May and 6,000 Christians in Fife. Now it is a peaceful place of small streets and alleys. The kind of place that seems to move at its own timeless pace.
We wandered along the harbour where small boats were moored or pulled from the winter sea. We had seen a church at the far end of the village. It is thought that St Monance, or possibly his relics, was buried here and a shrine raised to the saint. King David II had been wounded at the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346. One of the barbed arrows was removed, the other remained deep in his flesh. It is said that the arrow miraculously removed itself after the king had made a pilgrimage to the shrine. In gratitude David built the church. It later became part of a Dominican priory.
The church was never finished and consists of the chancel and transepts; the nave, it seems, never built. The church was damaged by fire in 1544 during an English naval attack, when the village suffered badly and its entire fishing fleet destroyed, burned or sunk.
It was locked, of course. The church stands open through summer for visitors, but its doors were closed to us. We wandered the graveyard, looking at this ancient church that is thought to be the closest to the Scottish shore, being a mere few feet from the sea. It stands on a rock, separated from the village by a burn that sparkled in the early light.
The stones of the churchyard still link the land to the sea. On the horizon you could just see the ruins of 13th century Newark Castle, gradually disappearing as wind and wave crumble the cliff upon which it stands. In such a place you get a fleeting glimpse of the harsh life of those who work with the sea. Doorways shelter in alleys, protecting themselves from the gales. And yet, there is something irrepressibly hopeful about the place too, with its warm stone, painted houses and January flowers tucked away in corners.
There was nothing open, of course; only the hardy (and the odd couple of lunatics) go to the Scottish coast in the middle of winter, but in spite of the chill in the air there is a beauty in these places that is hidden when the tourists flock in. Signs go up, wares are displayed and the multi-coloured garment of summer hides the mellow tones of old stone and faded paint.
No-one… not even we… knew we would be there. No effort had been made to accommodate visitors… not even a coffee in a plastic cup. So we saw the place in its own simple beauty, like a face fresh from sleep before the cosmetics and wild haired from the wind… I think I prefer it that way.