We should start this review with a confession. When we first visited and photographed Kirkcaldy for our feature here on Undiscovered Scotland, we did so without even realising it had a harbour. It was only while writing our feature that we realised our omission, and went back with the specific objective of finding and photographing it. You could draw a number of conclusions from this, but we'd say in our defence that one of them is that in the modern era, Kirkcaldy harbour is all-too-easy to overlook. What we found was an area that, although in part redeveloped for nice waterside housing, retained enough of its industrial past to show that it was once of considerable significance to the town and the wider area.
Against this background, we approached "Kirkcaldy Harbour: An Illustrated History" by Carol McNeill with considerable interest. We hoped it might help fill in the blanks and show us how the harbour we had overlooked had developed over the years. We weren't disappointed. This nice little volume tells a fascinating story that begins in the early 1500s, and continues through periods of expansion and contraction, right up to the modern housing developments and the continuing use by grain ships supplying the raw material for the huge flour mill that still operates at one end of the harbour. The book nicely balances a well-written explanatory text and copious illustration, including maps, drawings and early photographs, right through to modern colour photography. The subject is just the right sort of scale to be covered comprehensively by the book and the end result is a superb work of reference that will be of interest to anyone from, or visiting, this part of Fife.
As the blurb on the rear cover says, "The six fully illustrated chapters cover the early days; the never ending series of repairs and extensions, including plans for two new harbours which were never completed; the nineteenth-century whaling industry; wealthy shipowners and their grand houses (three of which remain); imports and exports; and the present day." It also includes extracts from an unpublished local memoir that gives first-hand accounts of John Paul Jones' American ships in the Forth in 1778; the Kirkcaldy captain visiting Russia in 1801 when Tsar Paul I was assassinated; and a whaling captain's account of his ship being frozen up in an Arctic winter. The selection of images is excellent, and the result is a book that not only tells its story well, but shows it too.