In ancient times it was used by thousands of the faithful in search of redemption at some of Scotland’s most holy sites.

And now hardy hikers can retrace the steps of pilgrims across the centuries on a new walking route which criss-crosses its way through some of the country’s most beautiful countryside.

The 64-mile Fife Pilgrim Way re-opens to the public today after extensive development and upgrading during the last five years at a cost of almost half a million pounds.

The first new long-distance trail to open in the Kingdom since the Fife Coastal Path in 2002, it follows a route from the Firth of Forth to St Andrews Cathedral and has been mapped out as closely as possible to mirror the path taken in medieval times.


The Pilgrim Way passes through Pittencrief Park

Pilgrimages to holy sites have been conducted since the Dark Ages and often involved seeking penitence for sins or redemption in the eyes of the Lord. 

But they were also an early form of tourism, and linked communities with visitors from other towns and lands they may not have encountered before. 

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The Crusades to the Holy Land were launched, in part, to ensure the route was kept open for European pilgrims, and many routes – such as the Camino de Santiago in Spain and France – remain popular today.   

The new Scottish route can begin at Culross or North Queensferry, crossing through the heart of Fife taking in a host of Scottish treasures including medieval landmarks, picturesque villages and inland views of the Perthshire, the Forth and Tay estuaries and the Lomond Hills.

Culross was where St Serf, a Roman missionary, established a religious community in the 6th century. Legend has it that he provided a home to Thenew, a princess of the Britons, when she was disowned by her family after falling pregnant out of wedlock.

The child she bore would grow up to become St Kentigern – affectionately known as Mungo by St Serf – who established his own community in the land which would one day become Glasgow and remains the city’s patron saint. His mother is remembered as St Enoch.


Dunfermline Abbey is one of the sights

From this start, the path is peppered with historical and religious sites. 
Along the way it visits Dunfermline Abbey, the centre of Christian life in the area for more than 1,000 years, and the proud St Drostan’s Tower in Markinch, parts of which date to the 12th century and would have been a welcome site to walkers heading west.

Overall, there are more than 50 sites of interest along the trail, including stone circles, battlefields, country mansions and examples of Fife’s long industrial heritage.

The Way moves resolutely inland after a few miles on the coast, and has been knitted together from new and existing paths and through agreements with local landowners and communities to form an unbroken chain crossing the Kingdom.

Walkers are guided by hundreds of posts marked with the Fife Pilgrim Way sign, and wayposts giving the number of miles to go to the next stage. 

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It is estimated to take six days’ moderate walking, but hikers are also encouraged to try sections at a time. 

A new website, a walking map, a Pilgrims Passport – which lets walkers tick off the stages they have completed– rest points and a smartphone app have also all been made available to help modern-day pilgrims on their way. 

It is hoped that, as well as attracting local walking groups, it will open up a previously unseen part of Scotland to visitors from the UK and overseas.

Lord Thurso, VisitScotland chairman, said: “Scotland is renowned as a tourism destination with excellent walking trails and long-distance routes.

“This is reflected by over 3.9m domestic visitor trips to Scotland featuring walking. The new Fife Pilgrim Way offers a new route on Scotland’s walking map, giving visitors the opportunity to explore different parts of the Fife on foot by delving into its past from medieval pilgrimage to modern industrial heritage while enjoying the great outdoors and the beautiful scenery which Fife has to offer.

“Scotland’s reputation as a quality destination relies on continued investment and innovation in order to ensure that current provision meets future demand.”


Wayposts point the way

The Fife Pilgrim Way received £399,000 funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund Scotland towards the route’s restoration, in addition to contributions from other organisations.

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As part of the wider Fife Pilgrim Way project, a free, travelling exhibition will be launched today at Dunfermline Abbey named The Pilgrim Express.

Stephen Carter OBE, chairman of Fife Coast and Countryside Trust Board, said: “I would like to thank all involved in the completion of this new long distance route for Fife, which underlines the position of Fife as ‘The Outdoor Kingdom’ for the benefit and enjoyment of the citizens of Fife, and many thousands of visitors who choose to spend their leisure time in Fife.”