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The hidden life of Fife

When you think of Fife, do the golf courses and royal connections of St Andrews pop in to your head?

The beaches and harbours of Mid-Fife are worth exploring whatever the weatherPhotograph: Stewart Attwood
The beaches and harbours of Mid-Fife are worth exploring whatever the weatherPhotograph: Stewart Attwood

Or perhaps it conjures up images of pretty fishing villages around the East Neuk? There is a whole "middle bit" of Fife that has suffered in recent years from a lack of publicity, thanks to its much better-known neighbours.

But Mid-Fife and Kirkcaldy is fighting back as the heartland of the region, with plenty of natural beauty, impressive coastlines, rich heritage and interesting culture.

It might not have the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge swanning about, talking it up, but it has an energy all of its own.

A range of businesses have come together to form the Mid-Fife and Kirkcaldy Local Tourism Association in an effort to show it off and boost visitor numbers and already the signs are promising.

Drew Shedden, who runs Cluny Clays activity centre near Kirkcaldy, is chairman of the group. Born and bred in Kirkcaldy, the former farmer believes passionately in the future of the area.

He says: "We have definitely been the missing bit in Fife for a while - tourists know about St Andrews and Cupar, but they have been unaware of just how much we can offer, and how different it is; everything from stock car racing and ice skating to coastal walks and greyhound racing."

One initiative is the In the Footsteps of Kings project, which intends to capitalise on the fact that Mid-Fife has welcomed more than its fair share of monarchs over the centuries.

Inchcolm Priory, for example, was founded by Alexander I and has connections with both Macbeth and Edward I of England.

James V established the royal dockyard and port at Burntisland in the late 1530s. And the baggage ferry of King Charles I, The Blessing of Burntisland, sank in the Forth carrying royal treasure.

There is more to Mid-Fife than ancient kings and queens, of course, and at its heart is the beautiful, vast Firth of Forth, with its views, harbours, beaches and boats.

It is the Firth which dominates our view from the Bay Hotel at Pettycur, a friendly, family-run hotel which perches on the edge of a large caravan and leisure site situated between Burntisland and Kinghorn.

The boys - Archie, 10, and Harry, 6 - are temporarily disgruntled when we head away from the exciting green caravans dotted over the hillside and into the hotel, but they are soon appeased by the view from our room.

Even on a grey winter's day, it's breathtaking. From the long stretches of Pettycur beach below us, across to Edinburgh in the distance, the view is "all sea and sky and ships," says an impressed Archie.

You can see Arthur's Seat and the Forth bridges, too, and the busy stretch of water is home to an ever-changing collection of seacraft. Over the next two days, the boys are captivated by a "ship with no middle", which delivers part of an oil rig for repair.

The helpful waiter in the Bay's restaurant explains the "missing bit" on the long boat is actually the platform which lowers to allow the rig off the craft. "It still looks like a weird, magic boat," nods Harry.

Tearing ourselves away from the window, we set off to explore. The weather is grim, so we can't make the most of the wonderful expanses of sand at Burntisland and Aberdour - two of Scotland's seven Blue Flag beaches - but we brave the wind and rain to take a wander down to Pettycur Pier, with its intriguing fisherman's huts and small boats.

The Mid-Fife coast is popular for sailing and diving. There are excellent diving sites, including HMS Campania, a luxury liner converted into an aircraft carrier wrecked off the coast near Burntisland and Grumman Avenger, a well-preserved Second World War aircraft resting a mile off shore from Aberdour.

There are also great opportunities for walkers and cyclists, too, from The Binn, the 600ft hill which looms over Burntisland (it's worth it, for the views over the Firth of Forth) to the Kingdom Cycle Route which goes through Kirkcaldy and the bike tracks at Blairadam Forest.

For families, one of the top attractions is Cluny Clays, an adventure park and activity centre. The name comes from Cluny Mains Farm, which Drew Shedden and his family ran until they decided to diversify, and the clay pigeon shooting which was the first activity they tried.

Now it also has a driving range, restaurant, golf course, archery hall, indoor kart track and climbing wall and outdoor play park.

It's the latter which holds the boys' attention for hours, with its rope courses, flying fox, bouncy cushions, straw mountain and giant chutes. The emphasis is on "natural play" - encouraging kids and their parents to play together and have a bit of fun in the fresh air.

Our short break in Fife ended in Kirkcaldy, a town which secured its place in history as the birthplace of Adam Smith, commonly described as the father of modern economics.

The town is trying hard to create a new image for itself, as a vibrant cultural centre with an excellent arts collection and top quality entertainment.

The Kirkcaldy Art Gallery and Museum, for example, is home to the largest collection of Scotish colourist Samuel Peploe's work outside of the National Galleries, and the Adam Smith Theatre plays host to a diverse programme of drama, film, music and kids' shows.

For more information on the Bay Hotel, Pettycur, visit thebayhotel.net or call 01592 892222. To find out more about Cluny Clays, visit clunyclays.co.uk or call 01592 720374. To discover more about Mid-Fife see fifetourismpartnership.org

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