Leave your expectations at the door for a surprisingly charming break to Dunfermline, writes Lizzy Buchan
When I was a child the Kingdom of Fife always seemed like something from a story, a Narnia-esque enclave where all sorts of magical things happened. We used to cross the Forth Road Bridge and the sign proclaiming we were entering “The Kingdom” would send my siblings and I into fits of excitable laughter.
Since then I’ve meandered my way up the East Neuk, soaked up St Andrews and learned to love Kirkcaldy, where my great-grandfather had his roots.
Dunfermline and the west of the Kingdom has evaded me thus far, so a freezing-cold February weekend seemed a good time to rectify that.
Walking through the town’s Public Park in the sideways snow, my spirits did waver, especially when we were forced to seek shelter from the storm in a lonely bandstand. But my forebears were made of sterner stuff so I persisted – and I’m very glad I did.
Our base for the weekend was Garvock House Hotel, a warm and friendly four-star hotel just a little stroll from the historic centre of Dunfermline. The elegant Georgian building contains only 26 rooms and feels very much like the family home it once was – albeit more luxurious.
The hotel is run by Pamela and Rui Fernandes, and staff could not be more attentive, especially when they had to keep the restaurant open late for a couple of tardy journalists.
Its library bar was a great place for a gin and tonic or two and I was pleased to see Scottish gins like Caorunn and local beers topping the menu. The restaurant was doing a roaring trade and it seemed like all of Dunfermline had donned its gladrags to join us.
With three separate dining rooms, it still felt intimate and there was no rushing you along as we savoured an impressive and inventive three-course dinner.
Our room was enormous – the honeymoon suite, we were told – with beautiful views of the garden and out towards the Firth of Forth. Alongside a huge double bed stood a little living room area to kick back in, as well as a flatscreen TV, wi-fi and all the conveniences. An enormous bath was enough to warm me up after freezing forays outside – and with good reason, for despite poor weather, the “auld grey toun” has much to recommend itself.
Rising out of the urban sprawl you can catch a hint of Dunfermline’s storied past as a major spiritual centre and Scotland’s ancient royal capital. I was mesmerised by Dunfermline Abbey, whose Norman remains teeter precipitously onto the edge of the lovely Pittencrieff Park, known locally as The Glen.
It’s easy to see why Queen Margaret chose the abbey as her royal quarters with its stunning views towards the Firth of Forth, where the tips of the Forth Road Bridge spike grey skies.
The nearby Dunfermline Parish Church houses the remains of Robert the Bruce and a host of royal dead, shouting “Bruce” rather boastfully from its stone towers. The town gains major bragging rights as the birthplace of one of Scotland’s famous sons, Andrew Carnegie, who went on to become a steel magnate and philanthropist in the United States. Sadly, his birthplace museum is open only from March to November so we missed it this time.
After the abbey we headed down the cobbled streets of the old quarter, pausing by the 15th-century Abbot House, so pretty with its pink walls.
It isn’t far to wander along the High Street to the Saturday market outside Pittencrieff Park, where the theatrical smoking of haddock from Arbroath kept us entertained.
Another spot worth a visit is the up-and-coming De Brus Bruery, in Canmore Street. The tiny operation produces just 1,000 litres per week of its six craft beers and two delicious ciders. Snag a tour if you can to see the diminutive brewery in action, below the bar bearing its name.
The restaurant is the perfect place to sample a few ales with a spot of lunch, such as the scrumptious venison sausage stew I devoured before stumbling back to the hotel in the snow for a hot cup of tea.
Dunfermline struck me as a place steeped in fascinating stories, whether it is myths of weaver’s sons hitting the big time or royal bones keeping their secrets. My partner has been teased mercilessly by friends since our return about spending a romantic weekend in Dunfermline but I have to say, the joke’s on them.
• Garvock House Hotel is currently offering a Sunday Night Treat of dinner, bed and breakfast on a Sunday night for two people for just £118. For details, see www.garvock.co.uk, or call 01383 621067 to book. The Breury in Canmore Street brews a range of De Brusales. Call 01383 747757 or visit www.debrusbrewery.com