Dunfermline to Cardenden (14 miles) – Monday 11 April
A pilgrimage walk through West Fife for the 14 miles from Dunfermline to Cardenden passes through many of the communities of the former West Fife coalfields, such as Kingseat, Kelty, Lochore and Auchterderran. In its heyday just before the First World War, around 20,000 miners in West Fife produced about 10 million tons of coal annually. A Royal Commission on the coal industry in 1905 predicted that there were enough coal reserves in West Fife to keep that output going for the next 930 years!
As cheaper coal began to be imported, and now with the end of the use of fossil fuels, the industry is finished. Most of the pits in West Fife closed in the period between the end of World War II and the late 1960s, with only a few remaining at the time of the Miners Strike in the mid-1980s. All are now gone.
The life of coal miners and their families was often one of extremely tough working conditions, tragedy and hardship. And yet because of those circumstances, as Ian Bradley comments in his excellent book on the Fife Pilgrim Way, within the mining villages this led not only to radical politics but also an ‘intense community spirit…mutual dependence and comradeship.’ Bradley writes: ‘miners can teach us as much as monks about the values and the cost of solidarity and community, looking after others and the tight bonds that are formed out of shared suffering.’
With the closure of the pits, to these communities came ‘environmental degradation, economic decline, high unemployment and social depravation.’ But there have been many signs too of regeneration and the building of a new future. On this part of the Fife Pilgrim Way, nothing exemplifies this more than the Lochore Meadows Country Park.
Between 1873 and 1966, there were seven coal mines in operation on the site now occupied by the park. At their closure, seven large pit bings of waste and spoil remained, and the loch was filled with lagoons of sludge. The whole area was transformed in a huge land reclamation scheme, with the park opening in 1976. As we walked through, there were children playing in their Easter holidays, dog walkers, joggers and golfers on the nine-hole course. There was much natural beauty which had risen out of an industrial wasteland. Indeed, Ian Bradley suggests that ‘the Christian motif of resurrection…could be said to underpin the whole of the Lochore project.’
At journey’s end on this pilgrimage walk, I reflected on solidarity and community, bonds formed out of suffering, new life and the transformed creation. These are not only part of our industrial heritage, but central messages of the Christian Gospel, and of course of Easter week. It led me back to a poem by John Marsden, which speaks of a pilgrimage journey, a new heaven and a new earth, and a Kingdom of God when suffering will pass and when peace will reign in this time of war. May God bless you this Easter time.
May the road be free for the journey
May it lead where is promised it would,
May the stars that gave ancient bearings
Be seen and be understood:
May every aircraft fly safely
May every traveller be found,
May the sailors crossing the seas
Not hear the cries of the drowned.
May gardens be wild, like jungles,
May nature never be tamed,
May dangers create of us heroes
May fears always have names:
May the mountains stand to remind us
Of what it means to be young,
May we be outlived by our daughters
May we be outlived by our sons.
May the bombs rust away in the bunkers
And the doomsday clock be rewound,
May the solitary scientists, working,
Remember the holes in the ground:
May the knife remain in the holder
May the bullet stay in the gun,
May those who live in the shadows, be seen by those in the sun.