Kinghorn and its smaller south-westerly neighbour Pettycur have harbours either side of a headland projecting into the Firth of Forth. So while Kinghorn's views are generally eastwards along the estuary towards distant East Lothian and the open North Sea, views from Pettycur are south across the five mile width of the estuary to Leith, Edinburgh, and the Pentland Hills beyond.
The high ground to the west of Pettycur played a pivotal role in Scottish History. On 19 March 1286, King Alexander III, then aged 44, was returning on horseback to be with his young second wife Yolande de Dreux at Kinghorn Castle after meeting his Council in Edinburgh. It was after dark and the weather was very bad when he came along the cliff road above Pettycur. It is believed Alexander's horse stumbled, and pitched him to his death over the cliffs.
Alexander's death brought to an end a rare "golden age" in Scottish History and resulted in a crisis of succession that led directly to the Wars of Independence with England (see our Historical Timeline). But for his decision to take that path that night, none of us would ever have heard of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce or Bannockburn: and today's Scotland could be an utterly different place. (Continues below image...)
All trace of Alexander's Kinghorn Castle had disappeared by the end of the 1700s, and much of the town's later life revolved around the harbours of Kinghorn and Pettycur. Pettycur Harbour was built in the 1760s and from the end of the century was the main ferry port for traffic travelling north from Edinburgh, when nine sailing vessels operated the service.
So well established did this service become that the name of Pettycur remains on view today on along the 33 mile length of the "Great Fife Road", on metal mile markers cast in 1824. An example can be seen on our Newport-on-Tay feature page, which lay at the north end of the road and served as the terminus for ferries to Dundee.
Kinghorn became known as a centre for porpoise shooting in the 1700s, their bodies being used to make for much the same range of products as whales. This industry declined when the population of porpoises in the Forth diminished because of overhunting.
The town also became home to a shipbuilding yard from the 1860s. This was located on a site immediately to the north of Kinghorn Parish Church. It is said that the slipway was so exposed that the steamships produced had to be launched with their engines running to ensure they were not immediately swept onto nearby rocks. The shipyard closed in 1921, the last vessel produced being the SS Kinghorn.
The site of the shipyard was later redeveloped as a caravan site. This trend is repeated on the terraces of the cliffs above Pettycur and to its west, now extensively used to house static caravans.
Although Alexander's castle is long gone from Kinghorn, there are still reminders of him here. A memorial was erected to him beside the road to Burntisland to mark the spot from which he fell to his death, and it is said that the green robed ghost of his young wife Yolande still searches for him here. And just outside the east end of Kinghorn Parish Church, built in 1774, is a partial wall and stonework that once formed parts of a church dating all the way back to 1243. An aisle from the earlier church was also incorporated into the 1774 church. It is remarkable to think that Alexander III would certainly have worshipped in this earlier church.
Visitor InformationView Location on Map