The Royal Burgh of Culross is a small town on the north side of the Firth of Forth, west of Dunfermline. It is surrounded by the industrial landscape of the Forth, but is a time capsule back to domestic Scotland in the 17th century. Then, it was a thriving community, with coal mining, salt panning and iron working. Trading was taking place with other Forth ports and further afield, probably as far as Holland. In 1625, the town's unique underwater coal mine, the Moat pit, was destroyed in a storm, and the town's decline started. This decline in fortune meant that a large number of 17th century buildings survive, now carefully restored by the National Trust for Scotland. The Trust try to avoid the town becoming purely a museum piece, most of the houses are inhabited and the main buildings: Culross Palace, the Abbey, the Town House, and the Study are open to visitors.

The name Culross is derived from the Gaelic 'Cuileann Ros' or 'where the holly grows'. St. Serf arrived here in 520 A.D. to convert the local Pictish tribes to Christianity, and founded a monastery here. It is the probable birthplace of St. Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow. King James VI of Scotland gave it Royal Burgh status in 1588 on a state visit, due to the importance it's coal exports.

Culross Palace

This striking building, built between 1597 and 1611, was the house of Sir George Bruce, the owner of the local coal mines, and therefore, the richest and most important resident. Many of the building materials are European in origin, probably carried by his coal and salt ships on their return journeys. Dutch pantiles, glass and floor tiles are all present, as well as Menel pine panelling throughout. The exterior looks like a larger version of a Fife house, with red pantiles, crow-step gables and yellow harling. The most peculiar feature of the house are the windows, which are only half glazed, the other half open, to be covered by movable wooden shutters. This is still a mystery, because George Bruce was probably rich enough to afford full glazing, perhaps a compromise was needed somewhere in the building process.

Behind the house is a terraced garden, restored to be contemporary in style with the house, with many now scarce plants and rare chicken breeds which would have been more generally available at the time.

Culross Abbey

Culross Abbey was founded in 1217 by Malcolm, 7th Earl of Fife for the Cistercians. The now ruined abbey complex was probably built over the site of a Pictish monastery founded by St. Serf in the 6th century. The first monks were brought over from Kinloss and Hugh, a Prior of Kinloss, was the first Abbot. After the Reformation, the cloister buildings were abandoned and pillaged for stone, and the Abbey church became the Parish church in 1633. It is essentially unaltered, apart from alteration and restoration work in 1824 and 1905. The Bruce family tomb is an enormous alabaster edifice in the north transept, with statues of Sir Robert and his wife, and memorials to their 8 children.

The Townhouse

The Townhouse, or Tolbooth, was effectively the town's local seat of government. In this capacity, it was in use until 1975. It dates from 1626 with a later ogee-roofed steeple added in 1783. The ground floor contained the prison and cells, with the council chamber and 'debtor's room' on the first floor. The attic contained extra prison accomodation if needed.

The Study

The Study was the house used by Bishop Leighton of Dunblane during his occasional visits to Culross. It is an example of the Fife vernacular architecture found at Culross, but it has a lookout tower stuck on the side, used as the Bishop's study.


In Culross's heyday, the town exported more salt than anywhere else in Scotland, and could accomodate more than 100 boats in the harbour. Coal was hoisted out of the underwater mine and straight into boats. Now, it is an anachronism, a museum town despite all the efforts of the National Trust for Scotland to keep it viable, it must survive only on tourism.


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