In the first of a series of guest posts, Sean Makin of Walk Fife talks about a recently discovered vintage walking guide ‘The Fringes of Fife’…
Browsing through a pile of old and dusty books stacked up in a darkened corner of an old bookshop, I stumbled upon a gem. The Fringes of Fife by John Geddie was published in 1894 and describes in detail his travels along the coastline in a time when Scotland was still captivating many Victorians.
The book begins with Geddie stepping ashore in Kincardine from one of the many river boats that filled the busy Firth of Forth at that time. As he makes his way inland, he describes the town and humorously notes the inhabiatnts’ resentful thoughts about becoming Fifers. At the time of his visit, Kincardine had only recently been included in Fife when the Boundary Commissioners redrew the regional borders of Scotland and it hadn’t gone down too well with the fine folk of the town. This introduction sets the style for a wonderful little guide in which author describes the people and scenes that greet him with the kind of detail only someone who is genuinely enjoying themselves could before bringing his adventure to a reflective close in St Andrews.
Scattered throughout the book are sketches by well known Scottish illustrator and artist Louis Weierter. These drawings will provide some surprises to the modern day reader such as the now land-locked Rosyth Castle sitting proudly on it’s own little island in the Firth of Forth. The text too offers up some surprises such as the fact that people only had faint memories of Dalgety Bay as it had disappeared from the countryside. There are many little things like this mentioned throughout the book and it is interesting to see how much the coastline has changed over the past 123 years.
John Geddie was a lawyer, journalist, assistant editor of The Scotsman and a keen walker. He wrote many similar guide books for walkers over the course of his life with The Fringes of Fife being one of his most popular thanks in part to positive a review published in January 1895 by the The Spectator. The guide was held in high regard for many years after its publication and, in 1927, Geddie published an updated edition which was accompanied by a description of his travels from St Andrews to Newburgh on the shores of the Firth of Tay. The illustrations were also updated to include colour plates featuring the lovely watercolours of famous Scottish artist Arthur Wall.
Both editions of The Fringes of Fife are remarkable books and I am very glad fate allowed me to discover them and the other works of John Geddie: I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in the region to seek one out for themselves as it will not disappoint.