Visitors to the outdoor playground of Lochore’s ‘Meedies’ have hundreds of acres to explore: bike trials and meandering footpaths, spots to fish, play golf, enjoy water sports, or sit and watch the wildlife.

When ex-miner Iain Chalmers pauses on one of Lochore Meadows Country Park’s benches, however, a different image comes to mind.

“Where other people are seeing nice green meadows, a loch and ponds, I see me as a young boy sitting by the old railway, playing on the slag heap, fishing for perch and the putt-putt of the pug running up and down,” he says.

“Growing up in Lochgelly when the pits were working, it was a sea of mining desolation, pit bings, slag heaps and stuff burning.

“It’s completely different now - you wouldn’t believe there was ever a pit there.”

Mary Colliery once spanned the Central Fife site: at its peak it produced 800 tonnes of coal every day, and by 1957 employed 780 people.

Its closure just nine years later heralded the end of Fife’s long reign as a kingdom of coal and the start of efforts to tackle the ring of stark, dirty pit bings, flooded areas of subsidence and derelict structures left behind.

But having obliterated almost all trace of the industrial past  to create a leisure haven – with just the pit’s 1920s’ winding tower and rusty steam engine left behind – efforts are now underway to bring some of it back.


The Herald: Mary Colliery in Lochgelly pictured in the 1940sMary Colliery in Lochgelly pictured in the 1940s

Should a determined community effort come to pass, by next summer - the 40th anniversary of the 1984-85 miners' strike - artefacts from the Fife’s mining history will return, bringing visitors a stark glimpse into the area’s past through a miner’s eyes.

Hopes for an industrial heritage site marking Fife’s mining history have simmered since Iain saw a miner’s cage from Dysart’s Frances Colliery where he once worked, lying in a yard in Leven.

It will form the centrepiece of the new site, alongside bogeys and coal cutting machinery pledged by the National Mining Museum of Scotland. Pieced together, they will give visitors a sense of how miners’ journeyed from pithead to coal face.

All of which is a volte-face from post-coal days when all energy seemed focused on obliterating as much of the mining landscape as possible.

While it also comes as thoughts rewind to the hugely divisive 1984-85 strike, which saw miners clash with police and heralded the death knell for dozens of pits.

Iain, who has led the Save the Cage campaign for the region’s mining heritage to be marked, says while clearing the pit detritus from the landscape was necessary, more might have been done to keep some to show future generations of how coal once powered the nation.

“Never in a million years would you look at the landscape now, particularly the Meedies as we call it, and think it was once an industrial site,” says Iain.

“In a short space of time, that heritage was gone.”

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Across Central Fife, West Fife and East Fife once dirty and noisy colliery sites have been replaced by housing developments, retail and business parks and leisure sites.

At Comrie Colliery in West Fife, mined from the 1860s until its closure in 1986, the cleared site is now earmarked for a major leisure and tourism site with retail, retirement homes, geothermal energy, parks and path networks.

Close by at the site of Castlehill Colliery, which ran from 1965 to 1990 and provided coal for Longannet Power Station, there are hopes to turn the land into a holiday park – something its 780 pit workers could scarcely have imagined possible.

Even less likely has been the transformation of Seafield Colliery in Kirkcaldy into an upmarket housing estate. The only sign that 1600 miners once toiled deep underground is a small plaque on the railings of a playpark.

And who knows what miners at St Ninian’s near Kelty would make of plans unveiled for an ‘eco-therapy wellness park’. Developers National Pride recently unveiled images of Scandinavian-style cabins, and say it will provide “active health and mental relaxation with spa, exercise, craft activities and amenities.”

A similar development has been proposed at the former Barony Colliery at Auchinleck, East Ayrshire.

“Go to places like Valleyfield, Blairhall, Cardenden, East Wemyss, and all sign of the industrial heritage has been landscaped, you’d never think you were driving through a pit site,” adds Iain, a fourth-generation miner who has just written a book, Beneath the Kingdom, recalling 20 years   working in four of Fife’s pits.

“I grew up around the pit bings of Central Fife - when it snowed it was Fife’s answer to the Alps.

“I can mind the slurry ponds and slag heaps. I don’t want to live in a landscape of industrial desolation but while it’s nice to get rid of that side of the heritage, we shouldn’t forget it.”

For while the mines might be long gone, their presence still looms large, he adds.

“All my life I only knew my grandfather bent double with two sticks because he was smashed up in a fall in the colliery,” he says.

“One of the guys who died in the Seafield Colliery disaster in 1973 was in my year at school.

“And there were the industrial diseases: in the pubs and clubs there were always two or three guys in the corner coughing up their guts.

“When the pits closed, there was the economic impact, miners’ welfare clubs shut, left right and centre because there was no money.

“There was a huge social impact from the pits’ closures,” he adds.

The Herald: Ex-miner Iain Chalmers outside the former Frances Colliery in Fife Ex-miner Iain Chalmers outside the former Frances Colliery in Fife (Image: Iain Chalmers)


It makes the Lochore Meadows’ heritage project and events planned next year to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1984-85 miners’ strike more than simply a nod to a lost industry tarred with playing a part in the climate crisis.

“Whether you were for or against the strike or indifferent, it was a major industrial event and a major social event, and the impact is still being felt.”

At Stirling University, researchers are exploring just how strong the ties remain between former mining communities and their pits.

Historian Dr. Catherine Mills, and sociology senior lecturer Dr Ian McIntosh are looking at ‘social haunting’; how the closure of a factory or mine can still impact a community years later.

The research will focus on the former pit village of Fallin in Stirlingshire, where Polmaise Colliery 3&4 closed with the loss of nearly 800 jobs despite heavy investment before and after the 1984/85 strike.

The research asks villagers whether they still view it as a pit village and how important they see the legacy of coal mining to the village.

It is part of a broader project, Landscape Legacies of Coal Initiative, which has explored the social and cultural values of former colliery sites and their histories.

That has led to a series of heritage walks narrating the story of Scottish coal, which it’s hoped will become an eco-museum of Scottish mining landscape.


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According to Iain, rather than a celebration of the industry, the heritage site at Lochore will serve as a stark reminder of how brutal life was underground and the sacrifices that were made. There are also plans for a memorial to miners who lost their lives at Seafield Colliery.

“I didn’t go down the pit for the view,” he says. “Who wants to be underground at 4am? Every time you went down there, you were never guaranteed that you would come back up again.

“I believe the majority of men (who were on strike) would have said shut the pits, but bring other industries in so we’ll have a job.

“Instead, they created industrial desolation, and there are areas that have not recovered.”

Iain served as a National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) committee member, Branch official, and on the Scottish Area NUM Executive Committee.

As the miners’ strike ended and with pits set to be dismantled, he collected what he could - printed banners and badges declaring support for the strike, china plates commemorating collieries and miners’ tools.

The Herald: ARREST: A picket is carried away by police during the bitter Miners' Strike

But he believes more could have been done to save examples of Fife’s colliery buildings and machinery, so future generations might better understand coal’s role in powering the nation.

Such as at Frances Colliery near Dysart, the last deep mining site, where despite a campaign the pit baths and winding engine house were flattened.

“Fife’s coastal walk now goes right through the site,” he says. “It could have been turned into a heritage site. It shows a complete lack of foresight.”