The Fife Coastal Path is well known for it’s spectacular views and charming villages .

A short while ago while browsing through a pile of old and dusty books stacked up in a dark corner of a equally old and dusty bookshop, I stumbled upon a title that instantly captured my imagination.

The Fringes of Fife was published in 1894 and the author, John Geddie, describes in detail his travels along the coastline in a time when Scotland was still captivating the imagination of many Victorians.

It begins with Geddie stepping ashore in Kincardine from one of the many river boats that filled the busy Firth of Forth at that time. As he makes his way inland, he takes time to describe the town and it’s inhabitants and humorously shares with the reader their resentful thoughts about becoming Fifer’s.

At the time of his visit, Kincardine had only recently been included in Fife when the Boundary Commissioners had redrawn the regional borders of Scotland and it hadn’t gone down too well with the fine folk of the town. This introduction sets the style for this wonderful little walking guide.

With each chapter the author walks along a stretch of the coast and he describes the people and scenes that greet him along the way with the kind of detail that only someone who is genuinely enjoying themselves could and that is especially made apparent when he brings his adventure to a reflective close in the town of St Andrews.

Sketches of the past

Scattered throughout the book are some sketches drawn by illustrator and well known Scottish artist Louis Weierter. These drawings will provide some surprises to the modern day reader such as the now land-locked Rosyth Castle being depicted sitting proudly on it’s own little island in the Firth of Forth.

The text too offers up some surprises such as the fact that Dalgety Bay was a village that people of the time only had faint memories of as it had disappeared from the countryside. There are many little things like this mentioned throughout the book and it is interesting to see how much the coastline has changed over the past 123 years.

So who was John Geddie?

John Geddie was a lawyer, journalist, assistant editor of The Scotman and a keen walker. Geddie wrote many similar guide books for walkers over the course of his life however “The Fringes of Fife” became one of his most popular pieces of work. This popularity was thanks in part to a review published in January 1895 by the popular and well-respected London publication “The Spectator”.

“Whoever walks round Fife in the manner that this author has done, will get to the heart of its people, if he cannot be said to get geographically to the heart of the Kingdom itself. ”

The shores of Fife revisited..

The guide was held in high regard for many years after it’s publication and 33 years later in 1927 John Geddie published an updated edition of “The Fringes of Fife”. This second edition included all of the content of the first edition but was accompanied by a description of his travels from St Andrews to the village of Newburgh on the shores of the Firth of Tay.

The text is not the only thing that he expanded upon in the second edition. The illustrations were now joined by colour plates featuring the lovely water colours of famous Scottish artist Arthur Wall. These well crafted paintings really capture the beauty of the villages he passed through along with the rugged beauty of the Fife coastline.

Both editions of “The Fringes of Fife” are remarkable books and I am very glad that fate allowed me to discover them and the other works of John Geddie and I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the region to seek one out for themselves as it will not disappoint.

Sean Makin  – WalkFife

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  • William

    Fascinating find Sean. I am trying to get a copy for myself from Abe Books as ebay has drawn a blank so far. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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Walk Fife Podcast Episode 15 - Workshops, Changes & Winter Walking52 Wildlife Weekends - Book Review by Walk Fife.