Everything you need to know about the famous Fife town – Culross, Scotland.
Today I’m talking about one of Fife’s most famous towns. No, not my hometown of Kirkcaldy (alas) but that one that a certain TV show has put on the map in recent years – Culross, Scotland. And that little ol’ TV show I’m talking about is, of course, Outlander.
Culross, Scotland is a former Royal Burgh that is characterised by its cobbled streets, 16th and 17th century period charm, and the handful of ochre yellow buildings that lie nestled in amongst the winding streets and alleyways, one of which is its famous palace. It’s a colour you really don’t see anywhere else and so as soon as you see it you know you’re in Culross.
What is Culross, Scotland famous for?
1) Religious mythology
The founding legend of Culross, Scotland goes a little bit like this. Brittonic princess and daughter of the king of Lothian, Teneu, became pregnant before marriage and as a result her family threw her from a cliff. She survived the fall, found a boat, and sailed across the Firth of Forth where she washed up on the shores of Culross. She was then cared for by Saint Serf who became the foster father of her son, Saint Mungo, who was born in Culross.
2) Mining roots
Culross used to be famous for being at the centre of the coal mining industry. It’s quite a similar tale to some of the other Fife towns or ‘coal towns’ as they were known. The man who built the palace in Culross, Sir George Bruce of Carnock, also developed the moat Pit. This was the first coal mine in the world to extend under the sea. It was considered to be something of a marvel at the time, and was described as ‘unmatchable work.’
You can’t talk about Culross and not mention Outlander. Culross functions as one of the main locations for the 1740s village of Cranesmuir in Scotland in the show, and there are many landmarks in the village that are really familiar as a result!
I’m sure the show needs no introduction but just in case you haven’t seen Outlander it’s a historical drama based on a book series by Diana Gabaldon. The main narrative is about World War II nurse Claire Randall who is mysteriously transported back in time to 1743. Different seasons explore different times in history. The only one I’ve seen is series one, which is set amongst the time of the Jacobite risings. It’s definitely enjoyable if you like history – I never got into it properly but I did like the first season.
Interestingly enough, Outlander isn’t the only production that has used Culross Scotland as a filming location. In fact, scenes from Captain America: The First Avenger was filmed in Culross!
Oh, and before I forget, if you are a big Outlander fan then you may want to see other filming locations. One of those just happens to be Dysart harbour in my hometown of Kirkcaldy. Here’s a complete guide of things to do there right here.
How do you pronounce Culross?
Before we go any further I thought we should probably talk about how you pronounce Culross. Considering I grew up just along the road I should be embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know how to pronounce Culross until all of five minutes ago. I actually had to go and look it up on Google just to make sure. So all I’m saying is that I’m right there with you!
So… [drumroll]… it’s actually pronounced Coo-ris rather than Culross. I did notice a little sign in one of the windows of a house as we wandered through the streets. It had the phonetic pronunciation written down and propped up against the glass, so anyone walking past would see it. I feel like someone had done it deliberately so that tourists wouldn’t embarrass themselves by saying it incorrectly, which is pretty nice really!
Things to do in Culross, Scotland
Culross is the birthplace of St Mungo. It’s thought that’s one of the reasons why Culross was chosen to have an abbey built here. It was founded in 1217, and built over a pictish church that was previously there. One other interesting bit of folklore about the abbey is the rumour that there’s a ley tunnel – a secret passageway – located underneath the abbey. There are even stories of a man in a golden chair bearing riches to anyone who finds him.
I really liked the abbey. We arrived there in late afternoon and the light was beautiful. It was that sort of late afternoon light with low rays of sunshine pushing through the clouds. It offset the ruins of the abbey really nicely, with the arches and tower being lit up by the sun and the lower stonework being cast in shadow. I really enjoyed wandering around the grass (which was a bit on the squelchy side) and taking in the ruins from all different angles.
The vaulted ceilings of the cloister were my favourite. You have to climb up a pretty steep metal ladder in order to reach them, which seemed quite wild in these days of stringent health and safety. The steps may get slippy when they’re exposed to the elements. Definitely keep a tight grip on them on the descent. And that’s my inner granny coming out! The cloister is really impressive though, so it’s worth the climb I’d say.
A tip: we parked directly outside the abbey. The abbey is on a pretty steep incline up from the town. If you don’t want to have to walk up that you might want to do the same.
If you’re looking for one of the most enchanting landmarks from the Outlander TV series then here it is! The Mercat Cross in Culross is located in a cobbled square in the beating heart of the town, just down from Culross Abbey. If the magic of Culross hasn’t stolen your heart by this point then it definitely will when you see the Mercat Cross framed by charmingly beautiful 17th-century buildings on all sides. To be frank, if there weren’t cars parked up alongside it you really would be transported back to another century.
So what exactly is a Mercat Cross you may be wondering, or maybe it’s just me? Well, quite simply, the Mercat Cross marks the spot where a market would be held. With a number of roads crossing through the square you would imagine this was once the centrepiece of a bustling town. Not it’s a great place to wander through and people watch!
The base dates back to the 16th century whereas the upper part of the Mercat Cross is more modern. Interestingly for me, as someone who lives in Stirling, the unicorn on top was said to be copied from the Stirling Mercat Cross. The monument is Category A listed. That means it’s of national or international importance, either architecturally or historically, and is an outstanding example of a period or style. It’s also a scheduled ancient monument.
Whether you’re an Outlander fan or not, or you’re interested in history or not, you can’t help but get a real sense of the rich history of Culross when you see the Mercat Cross.
Coming up next is another famous Culross landmark, and that’s Culross Palace. You’ll know it by its ochre yellow paint which is as striking as it is unusual. I also love its stepped gables and all of the tiny little windows, like blinking eyes, glass crisscrossed with metal.
The Palace – also known as the Great Lodging – was constructed in between1597 and 1611 by Sir George Bruce, who was the Laird of Carnock. Sir George was knighted in the last year of the building’s construction, 1611. Up until that point he was a successful merchant who had interests in coal mining, salt production, and shipping. A busy man then.
Inside, you can expect to see tiny rooms, connecting passageways, and painted ceilings. There’s also an organic herb garden outside where you can buy herbs and vegetables – how lovely!
There are important things to note about Culross Palace, one of which are the opening times. The Palace is actually closed for a large portion of the year, all the way from October until April. As we rocked up in November that meant the doors were firmly shut, which was a bit of a shame but not altogether that surprising! I always seem to want to go on holiday in the cooler months and nothing ever seems to be open, but that’s another story.
Having looked at some pics online it really looks incredible inside, so it’s on the list. And there is still plenty to enjoy about the palace from the outside. Well, maybe not plenty, but at the very least you can peep through the gates and get a sense of the place!
Fife Coastal Route
If you like walking then you might be interested in picking up the Fife Coastal Route in Culross. I’ve done bits of the Fife coastal route but further along the coast near Aberdour and in the East Neuk area. However, you always find something new to discover.
The entire coastal path is over 117 miles long. It’s impossible to do it in one go, but the route to Limekilns is one that comes highly recommended. Limekilns is another old town close to Dunfermline and while I’ve never been it’s definitely on my ever-growing list!
Oddly enough, the coast isn’t really that beautiful at Culross. When you walk out of the charming cobbled streets of Culross onto the shorefront you’re actually greeted by the sight of a massive power station. The power plant is located on the opposite side of the Firth of Forth, the water dividing Fife from Edinburgh, in the town of Grangemouth.
Weird as it was to see this power station so close to a place renowned for its history, I also found it strangely fascinating. You don’t really see many traditional industries like this anymore. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at the vast cooling towers pumping smoke into the atmosphere. It’s from a completely different world, one that we also seem to be moving away from in these times of sustainability, and it’s pretty odd to see it contrasted so sharply with the even older world charm of Culross.
Culross Old Pier
Definitely make sure you head to the shore to see the Firth of Forth. I’ve recently moved to Stirling and it’s the first time I’ve not lived next to the sea. It was therefore wonderful to turn out of the narrow cobbled streets and get blasted by salty sea air.
The Culross Old Pier has quite an interesting story behind it. The original pier was dismantled so its stone could be used to construct the Port of Leith in Edinburgh. That means that now you have to wander along a wooden pier that is raised up from the ground level. It may look unnervingly rickety but thankfully it’s actually pretty steady. I did joke about feeling like I was crossing one of the giant ice crevasses on Mount Everest though!
We actually went to the pier twice. The first time on Saturday afternoon where the tide was in and the waves were pretty wild, swirling around the shore in swathes of grey and black. The next day, however, the tide was out. We were able to step onto the wooden pier and walk all the way out to the old stone pier further out. That was really cool! You can get some great views of the shoreline and breathe in deep breaths of all that salty sea air.
I should also point out that you have to cross the railway tracks to get to the pier, which is a little bit unnerving! However, as long as you stay alert it’s perfectly safe.
Explore the streets of Culross, Scotland
I always love to walking the streets whenever I’m in a new place. Going on foot is a great way to soak up the atmosphere of wherever you are. It’s also where you usually spot some of the unexpected treasures you might not see otherwise, right?
I got a coffee at Rankin’s and had to wait a couple of minutes on it, and so I wandered down the street and spotted a cottage called the Old Nunnery – how thrilling. Then there was another house that had a pile of books on the window. Above it was a note that said to take any that you fancy. That’s the kind of thing you only see in close-knit communities.
Another interesting spot was some of the street names in Culross. Hagg Close was one and Cat’s Close was another. We joked that Casper wasn’t allowed on it and he’d have to find Dog’s Close. I also loved some of the pale pastel houses that echoed the charm of East Neuk.
One final thing a few steps down from Culross Abbey was a grassy field with some friendly cows in it. They were all munching away on something at the front gate and so we got some time to breathe them in while we said hello. They were a bit stinky… but very cute!
Fancy blowing off the cobwebs? These woods were only a short walk from where we were staying and so made the perfect brisk walk for the Saturday morning of our trip. You also won’t forget the name in a hurry – I ended up calling them the Cruella Woods!
The forest is made up of Scots pine trees which are said to be the perfect habitat for red squirrels. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any scampering around when we were there – it was almost eerily quiet. Maybe even a bit creepy! Let’s just say that I’m glad we didn’t watch the Blair Witch Project until that evening, especially as we got a bit lost in the middle!
I really enjoyed tramping around beneath the branches of the forest though. Casper had a great time throwing himself in all the muddy puddles. I almost lost my boot in the mud at one point as the mud was a lot deeper and stickier than I anticipated. There were also interesting things to notice. The crunch of leaves underfoot, the weird grey mushrooms growing on the side of a tree, and the sway of the branches in the morning breeze.
The Devilla Forest is located on the north side of the A985, two and a half miles east of Kincardine, with a postcode of FK10 4AS. There is a car park but if you’re staying at the West Fife Pods you can simply cross the street and walk along the fields until you get there.
Where to eat in Culross, Scotland
First stop for us was The Red Lion Inn in Culross. I’d been a little bit organised on this trip and done a bit of research into things to do in Culross ahead of our trip. As it is so pocket-sized there isn’t a huge amount of choice. Good news, as that’s usually the thing that makes me so undecisive. Too much choice! So it wasn’t a hard decision to opt for The Red Lion.
Inside, it was just as charmingly traditional as I expected. There are low painted ceilings, beams, and lots of snug little booths to cosy up in. It’s the perfect foil to those cold winter nights when it’s blawin’ a hoolie outside. The menu is packed full of hearty dishes that will warm you up on even the chilliest night – steak pies, fish and chips, and a delectable specials board.
I wanted to go for something rich and decadent and that came in the form of a haggis lasagne – you can’t better than a classic with a Scottish twist. It came with molten cheese on top, a big pile of chips, and some fresh salad. It was good. I don’t know how I did it but I also managed to squeeze in half a sticky toffee pudding with custard. Mmmm!
I phoned up the night before and booked a table for 5pm, which was the only time they had available. I would definitely advise booking ahead as there were a few walk-ins that got turned away. It’s so snug and cosy you definitely don’t want to miss out!
View The Red Lion Inn menu here
Where else is there to eat in Culross
There are a handful of cafes in Culross that are worth checking out. Bessie’s Café is located right next to Culross Palace and has seating insides as well as some tables and chairs outside, nestled up a little nook and set against the familiar ochre yellow walls of the palace. If it wasn’t November I definitely would’ve stopped there for an alfresco drink. I also had a quick snoop at the menu and they have some really yummy looking items on the menu – cheese and spinach pies, chocolate croissants, and scones to give you an idea!
We ended up going to Biscuit Café which is located just behind the Town Hall. I certainly loved all these cute names for the cafes! Biscuit Café is located upstairs in a lovely traditional building with whitewashed paint, thick stone walls, and sash windows. I grabbed myself a hot chocolate but there are plenty of seats inside if you want to rest up for a bit. It’s also dog-friendly for the win! I had to try and not look too hard at the big slabs of cake for sale but luckily my hot chocolate was enough for my sweet tooth this time around! They also had non-dairy milk which you can’t always get everywhere, so thumbs up on that.
View Biscuit Café’s menu here
Just before we left we popped into Rankin’s Cafe at Mercatt Cross in Culross. This was partly because I’d looked up Outlander pics the night before and realised that I hadn’t got the money shot from one of the cobbled streets coming off the square that you see in Outlander. That’s typically me – not being organised enough to look beforehand.
Anyway, Rankin’s Cafe was really charming inside – unexpectedly so. They have old fashioned metro tiles on the wall, which I loved, as well as a cosy old-fashioned feel to the place. I ordered a latte and then I couldn’t help myself from ordering a slice of stollen, too. We were there in early November so that’s definitely early enough to start munching Christmassy cakes, right? Either way, it was really yummy and went down a treat!
Where to stay in Culross, Scotland
We stayed in the West Fife Pods, which are located around a mile outside of Culross, Scotland. This was a bit of a last-minute find but I’m so glad we decided to come. The pod is located on the family’s farm so there is parking on-site as well as some lovely outdoor space outside the pod. There’s a picnic bench, chimenea, and some twinkling fairy lights to the side.
There were so many things to like about our stay here. The chimenea that we used to toast marshmallows into the evening. The L-shaped couch was perfect for curling up on and watching movies once it got too cold outside. The cute little kitchen, complete with Belfast sink, meant we could make bacon rolls and morning oats. The fridge also came stocked with fresh farm eggs, orange juice, and a bottle of fizz! Everything was beautifully designed and beautifully finished with lovely touches throughout. I’ve also just remembered that there was underfloor heating, too. Now that really is luxury.
The pod was also a bit like a Tardis. Inside it was compact, sure, but it felt like there was plenty of room for everything you needed and it never felt like we were on top of each other. That said, it can fit up to four people so it may be a bit more of a squeeze with two more people in it. For the three of us though, it was absolutely perfect for a cosy weekend.
It’s also great if you have a woofer, like us. There’s a large field just next door which is fully sealed. That make it the perfect spot to let the dog off for a run around in the morning. The owners even left a Tupperware box with dog treats for Casper, which was really nice. You can book the West Fife Pods on Airbnb or directly on their website if you want to swerve the Airbnb fees.
All in all, I’d highly recommend staying here. It’s probably easier to have a car to get around, but Culross is within walking distance if you fancy going on foot.