Limekilns is a small village on the northern edge of the Firth of Forth, just to the west of Rosyth and the Forth Rail and Road Bridges. It’s name nowadays is confusing, because there is very little remaining evidence of lime kilns in the village, whereas neighbouring Charlestown to the west, has the largest lime kilns in Scotland. All lime kiln activities were moved to Charlestown by the Earl of Elgin (Charles Bruce) in the middle of the 18th century.
The earliest mention of Limekilns was recorded in 1362, when it was known as ‘Gellaid’. The then King of Scotland, David II, gave the port to the monks of Dunfermline Abbey, so as to allow them to trade with other parts of Scotland and northern Europe. From this, we can assume the small port must already have been a going concern, with an established trade in wool, skin and hides. The pier for the harbour projects outwards towards an already sheltered tidal anchorage formed inside an outcrop of rocks called the ‘Ghauts’.
By the end of the 17th century, Limekilns harbour would have been used for the shipping of coal and quite possibly salt, from nearby coal workings and saltpans at Culross. It continued in use until the mid 19th century, when it was superseded by the nearby Charlestown harbour. The harbour had also been the northern terminus of a ferry which ran from Bo’ness to Limekilns for many centuries up until the 19th century.
At the eastern side of Limekilns, at Bruce Haven, another pier was built sometime before 1755 by the then Earl of Elgin, Charles Bruce (he also built their current ancestral home, Broomhall, which is located just to the north of Limekilns). This pier is known as Capernaum Pier and was still in use until at least the late 19th century, mainly for the shipping of coal from the ever expanding Fife coalfields, as can be seen from the two vintage photos below (from the ‘Canmore’ database). It is also quite possible that soap was also transported from a soapworks very near to the pier.
The pier is now used for modern day yachts of the Forth Cruising Club.
The ‘Main Street’ of Limekilns is unfortunately separated from the promenade (built in 1931) by a row of modern houses. It is yet another example of the dire planning control found in Fife. The preservation of so many historic centres of Scottish villages has been all but destroyed, by planning departments throughout Fife and beyond, allowing modern housing to be built in amongst some of the most beautiful old villages around. I love living in Scotland, it’s a fantastic place, I just wish that the planning regulations in the centres of these historic villages was much tighter.
The oldest building in Limekilns is known as the ‘Kings Cellar’. It was built during the reign of James V (1513-1542) and was a warehouse consisting of two vaulted floors. A pediment placed above the door has been dated to 1581, but wasn’t originally in that position. The building was used as a school in the 18th century, and now is privately owned and used as a masonic lodge 😦
Adjacent to the King’s Cellar is Academy Cottage, built in the early 18th century.
Many of the other buildings on the Main Street date from the 17th and 18th centuries. See photos below. At the head of the lane heading to the ‘Kings Cellar’ is Hope Cottage. This is now the location of the Sundial Cafe, which gets its name from the sundial attached to its southeast corner. This sundial is dated 1689.
Below is a much reduced in size image of Limekilns Main Street taken in Victorian times. To see full size image, go to Tour Scotland Photographs.
At the western end of the Main St is the Limekilns Hotel and Bistro, which from the carving above the main door, used to be a part of the Dunfermline Co-operative Society (A Co-op – very early supermarket), and dates from 1909.
Heading back along the promenade, which was built in 1931, you can look back towards Capernaum Pier, and the road leading to it called Red Row. Many of these houses were built just before the beginning of the First World War, in 1913.
Parking for this short walk can be found at the entrance to Red Row, overlooking Limekilns Harbour.
Lots of wonderful photos of a lovely place. Thanks for all that history too: even as a Fifer, I learned a few new things from reading. Sadly my strongest memory of Limekilns is of exploring some nearby caves and skidding in bat guano. I had to chuck the clothes and my boots.
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Thank you for your kind comments Laura. Gladly I didn’t manage to find much in the way of bat droppings, but I did succeed in sitting on an ants nest whilst taking one of the photos at Charlestown Harbour (post to come soon). I had shorts on, and was fidgeting for the following half hour!! Lol!
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Oh no! You suffered for your art.
A small price to pay for being at a beautiful location on a rare sunny day this summer.
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Lovely photos. I drove through Limekilns and Charlestown for the first time recently and was very pleasantly surprised by the beautiful buildings. I’ll need to go back and investigate that cafe, have you tried it?
We were there a bit too early for the cafe, but it looks nice from what I could see. One thing that did surprise me about the harbour at Charlestown, was that its surrounded by modern bungalows, which did diminish the overall beauty of the place.
I know what you mean. I was there yesterday (keeping an eye out for the Sundial but unfortunately didn’t find it – is it in the street behind the front?) and remembered what you had written about the new houses.
Lorna, hopefully these directions will help you find the sundial. The cafe and the sundial itself are in Limekilns Main Street, about halfway along, on the north side of the road. It’s about 12 feet above street level on the side of the house, just at the entrance to Academy Sq and the King’s Cellar.
Thanks, Andy. Next time I’m in the area I’ll have another bash at finding it.
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