Cardenden is one of a series of settlements which lie just to the north of the line of the dual carriageway A92, "East Fife Regional Road" as it heads from the M90 near Dunfermline to Glenrothes. These include Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly, and the road was built in the 1970s to allow what at the time were economically depressed ex-mining settlements better connections to the outside world, while at the same time bypassing them.
The road succeeded in bypassing Cardenden, but it was less successful in linking it to the outside world. While Cowdenbeath and Lochgelly have their own junctions on the A92, Cardenden can only be accessed indirectly, either via Lochgelly or via a junction two miles to the east, almost on the edge of Kirkcaldy. If the "East Fife Regional Road" was intended to help regenerate Cardenden, then it missed a opportunity. Cardenden does, however, have a railway station on what is known as the Fife Circle Line,
If you do take the trouble to seek out Cardenden, what you find is a collection of linked settlements with individual identities located either north or south of the River Ore. Cardenden is one of them, and the name has also been applied to the collective settlement by means of the signs on the roads as you enter. Cardenden proper stands to the south of the river, and comprises largely residential development, mainly of the 1950s and since. Here, too, is the railway station, the police station, the library, and a community centre.
North of the river is Bowhill. There is plenty of residential development on this side of the river, too, along with many of the conurbation's commercial and other facilities. The main road is flanked by shops and pubs, while a little to the west of it is the Miners' Welfare Institute, now the Bowhill Centre, with the nearby bowling club and swimming pool.
West of Bowhill is the intriguingly named Jamphlars, while to its north the settlement morphs into Auchterderran. Here you find the parish church for the extensive Auchterderran Parish, and an education resource centre.
The church you see today was built in 1789 and extended in 1891. It is said to stand close to, and have reused material from, a church built in the 1600s, and this in turn appears to have stood on the site of a succession of churches extending all the way back to before 1075. Where there is an early church there was usually a early village, so it seems reasonable to believe that Auchterderran was the starting point for settlement in the area.
By the 1500s the River Ore was powering at least one water mill, and a castle known as Carden Tower stood on high ground to the south. Its remains can now be found just south of the A92 close to an open cast mining site, and its memory is preserved in the names of Carden Castle Avenue and Carden Castle Park in Cardenden itself. It is said that an early visitor to the area was Mary Queen of Scots, who is said to have exclaimed "champ de fleurs" (or "field of flowers") when looking at what has since become known as Jamphlars. This is an attractive story, but sounds too close for comfort to one often told (wrongly) about how Beauly got its name.
Coal was being mined locally by 1600, and by the mid 1800s there were numerous pits in and around the area. The transformation of the old name "Carden" into today's Cardenden seems to have been made by the Edinburgh and Northern Railway, when they needed a name for their new railway station in 1848, though some sources suggest that the first use of the name predates this, with the opening of the Cardenden Pit. Mining really took off at the end of the 1800s, and by 1950 there were three major pits or pit complexes nearby. Bowhill had three pits, employing over 1,440 men in 1961. The site of one, the Lady Josephine Colliery, is now home to a memorial to the over 300 who perished during its active life.
Meanwhile the Minto or Brighills Colliery employed up to 730 men, and the Lady Helen Pit up to 455 men. In total, some 2,670 men were employed in the pits around Cardenden in 1960. All had closed by 1968, and the closure of many other pits across Scotland during the same period meant that opportunities for redeployment were very limited. Little wonder that the area was in need of regeneration in the 1970s.
Today, Cardenden is perhaps best know as the birthplace of the crime fiction author Ian Rankin. The link is celebrated in the name of Ian Rankin Court, a street close to Cardenden Railway Station.