Today's Dysart is effectively a north-eastern suburb of Kirkcaldy. Ravenscraig Park and Ravenscraig Castle form a break between them if you are following the line of the coast, but look at a map of the area and it takes some effort to decide where Kirkcaldy ends and Dysart starts. Since 1930 this has been recognised in Dysart's formal incorporation into Kirkcaldy.
Yet Dysart has its own distinctive story and has at times been an extremely active and wealthy town with a history of involvement in coal mining, salt production, textiles, fishing, boat building and trade. Its fortunes have swung wildly, however. In 1720s the town's fortunes had sunk so low that there was rioting against the export of grain which residents believed led to unaffordable prices for them. In 1726 Daniel Defoe described Dysart as "a most lamentable object of a miserable, dying corporation".
Better times followed, and by the end of the 1700s local shipowners owned around thirty trading vessels; the local coal mines were highly productive and their output was in demand across the North Sea; salt extraction from sea water was a major industry along the shore at Pan Ha', now known as Panhall; there were over 500 hand looms operating in the area; iron ore from local deposits was being exported; and a regular ferry ran to Leith. (Continues below image...)
Dysart's fluctuations in fortune continued into the 1900s. Possibly the low point was at around the time of its incorporation into Kirkcaldy in 1930. The last deep coal mine continued in operation until an underground fire during the 1984 miners' strike rendered it unusable.
Today's Dysart is a strange patchwork quilt that reflects both the good times and the bad. At its heart lies the magnificent Tolbooth on High Street, while nearby lie a number of exceptionally attractive buildings with crowstepped gables, obviously dating back to the good times of the late 1700s and 1800s. Sprinkled amongst them are buildings from the 1950s and 1960s that were not added with a huge amount of sensitivity.
The harbour area, on the other hand, has probably never looked better than it does today. Dysart harbour itself was, in part, literally carved out of the coal that outcropped here. Today it is home to a wide variety of pleasure craft. On its north-west side the harbour is bounded by a high wall of natural stone. Along the top of this runs what is known as the sailors' walk, a path giving access from the town by a flight of stairs to the outer end of the harbour.
The houses immediately to the east of the harbour, at Pan Ha', once housed workers for the salt pans. They were renovated in the 1960s and now look superb. Behind them are the remains of St Serf's Church with its imposing 22m tower. This was built around 1500, close to the spot where it is believed St Serf lived in a cave in the 500s. It was replaced as the parish church in 1802 and in 1807 a new road linking town and harbour was laid through part of the site of the old church.
On the hillside above, the impressive Dysart House can be seen through trees. This was built in 1755 and was home to the lairds, the St Clair family. Since 1931 it has served as a closed monastery for Carmelite nuns, whose garden now includes St Serf's original cave. In 1901 Dysart was visited by the noted architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who painted a mural in the north transept of Dysart Parish Church. Long lost, this was rediscovered in 2004 under later paint, and returned to view.
In 1815, Dysart was the birthplace of John McDouall Stuart, the most successful explorer of the interior of Australia. His birthplace used to be maintained as a museum celebrating his achievements, but this appears no longer to be the case.