Caught by the River

Brighter Later

Brian David Stevens | 1st June 2012

4. Fife

Brighter Later is a journey around the British Isles looking outward from the coastline of each county.

“a beggar’s mantle fringed wi gowd”
King James VI of Scotland

I’m in Kinghorn on the Fife coast, I’m also covered in green slime having fallen down the sea wall onto the beach. It’s early morning and we’ve just arrived on the train from Edinburgh.

Fife is one of the most important counties in Scotland, a royal and political centre from the reign of King Malcolm III and from 19th century a centre of heavy industry, it was once even world centre for the production of linoleum. It was one of the major Pictish kingdoms, known as Fib, and is still commonly known as the Kingdom of Fife within Scotland.

Fife was also the home to the real-life Robinson Crusoe. Alexander Selkirk (1676 –1721) was a Scottish sailor who spent four years marooned on an uninhabited island. Selkirk was engaged in buccaneer expeditions to the South Seas and in 1703 joined the expedition of famed privateer and explorer William Dampier. Selkirk served as a sailing master on the galley Cinque Ports captained by Stradling, the companion galley to Dampier’s St George. In October 1704, after the ships had parted ways due to a dispute between Stradling and Dampier, the Cinque Ports was arrived at an island that is today known as Robinson Crusoe Island, in the uninhabited archipelago of Juan Fernández off the coast of Chile, to restock supplies and fresh water. By this time, Selkirk had grave concerns about the seaworthiness of this vessel. Counting on the impending visit of another ship, he tried to convince some of his crewmates to desert and remain with him on the island. No one agreed to come along with him. Stradling declared that he would grant him his wish and leave him alone on Juan Fernández. Selkirk promptly regretted his decision. He chased and called after the boat, to no avail. Selkirk lived the next four years and four months without any human company.

Fife has a modern literary culture, being home to Ian Rankin and Iain Banks. Musically it has produced Jackie Leven, Stuart Adamson, KT Tunstall, King Creosote and James Yorkston. Dexys’ fans will also be pleased to hear it was also the birthplace of the late, great Jocky Wilson.

I set up the shoot on the sea wall, including the volcanic plug which towers over the village of North Berwick, sadly it’s too far away to see the whale’s jawbones that stand on top (they are fibre glass now the originals having rotted away)

The shoot over we retire to a little shop above the beach, it’s run by an old couple who are polite enough not to mention the green slime which is now starting to smell. It’s marvelous, a shop from your childhood, ice cream and lollies from a chestfreezer. We sit outside the shop on plastic garden furniture and the gentle rain cools our coffee.

Brian David Stevens