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Pittenweem is a small and secluded fishing village tucked in the corner of Fifemarker on the east coast of Scotlandmarker. According to the 2006 estimate, the village has a population of 1,600.

The name derives from Pictish and Scottish Gaelic. "Pit-" represents Pictish pett 'place, portion of land', and "-enweem" is Gaelic na h-Uaimh, 'of the Caves' in Gaelic, so "The Place of the Caves". The name is rendered Baile na h-Uaimh in modern Gaelic, with baile, 'town, settlement', substituted for the Pictish prefix. The cave in question is almost certainly St Fillan's cave, although there are many indentations along the rocky shores that could have influenced the name.


Until 1975 Pittenweem was a royal burgh, being awarded the status by King James V (1513–42) in 1541. Founded as a fishing village around a probably early Christian religious settlement, it grew along the shoreline from the west where the sheltered beaches provided safe places for fishermen to draw their boats up out of the water.In due course a breakwater was built, extending out from one of the rocky skerries that jut out south-west into the Firth of Forthmarker like fingers. This allowed boats to rest at anchor rather than being beached, providing a means for larger vessels to use the port.A new breakwater further to the east has been developed over the years into a deep, safe harbour with a covered fish market. As the herring disappeared from local waters and the fishing fleet shrank, this harbour and attendant facilities led Pittenweem to become the main harbour for the fishermen of the East Neuk of Fife.

The white houses with red roofs shown in the above picture "Pittenweem from the outer harbour wall" illustrate the classic East Neuk building style, influenced by trade with the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands). The East Neuk offered natural trading ports for Dutch and Belgian captains as they sailed up past the east coast of England. These ships brought red pantiles as ballast and the locals soon found them to be excellent roofing material. It is just possible to make out the "crow step [Scots: corbie-steppit] gable", where the gable ends rise in steps rather than the more normal smooth angled line - an architectural feature imported from the Low Countries. These and other vernacular features are common throughout the small town, which has one of Scotland's best-preserved and most attractive townscapes, with many historic buildings (some restored by the National Trust for Scotland). The 'organic' layout of the town centre, which grew up piecemeal over several centuries, with numerous winding streets and alleys, is one of its particular charms. Few Scottish towns have so well preserved their ancient character.

At the shore end of the outer harbour wall, some of the paving stones have numbers engraved in them. The numbers are now randomly scattered, but once were vital to the smooth operation of the fish market. Before the pier was re-surfaced, the stones were placed in numerical order at the quayside running outwards from the shore. The first fishing boat to return with its catch placed its haul alongside stone number one, the second boat at stone two and so on. When the market opened, the fish was sold in strict order of landing.

In 1779 John Paul Jones (otherwise known as the founder of the American Navy) anchored half-a-mile off Pittenweem in the USS Bonhomme Richard. Despite bombarding Anstruther, Jones did not attack Pittenweem, but did make off with the town's pilot who had sailed out to meet Jones' squadron.


Pittenweem is currently the most active of the fishing ports in the East Neuk coast of Fife. Other primary industries are farming, tourism and, recently, arts and crafts.

In former times, Pittenweem had two coal mines, one inland at Easter Grangemuir, the other at Pathhead, on the coast between Pittenweem and St Monansmarker. A spin-off from the Pathhead mine was salt production. Receptacles below the tideline collected water that could be pumped up to salt-pans, the pans then being heated by coal fires fed from the mine to extract the salt. Evidence of the ash produced can still be seen on the coast.

Geology / Geography

The village sits astride a raised beach, with the lower part of the village housing the harbour and the older houses, and the upper part having the main shopping area, churches, school and more recent housing. The village has a population of around 1,500.


Pittenweem Primary School is a traditional village school with its own playing fields on the northern side of the older part of the village. It caters for children aged 4/5 to 11/12. Secondary education (up to ages 16, 17 or 18 depending on educational ambitions) is provided at Waid Academy in the neighbouring town of Anstruthermarker. The nearest private educational institution is St Leonard's School in St Andrewsmarker, or the High School of Dundeemarker.


In the Middle Ages, Pittenweem Priory was a small Augustinian monastery linked to that on the Isle of Maymarker and built over the ancient sacred cave associated with St Fillan. The cave, recently fitted out as a chapel, is situated in Cove Wynd (leading from the High Street down to the harbour) and is open to the public with the key available locally from the Gingerbread Horse café. From this rough dwelling St Fillan is said to have converted the local Pictish population. The cave was re-discovered around 1900 when a horse ploughing in the priory garden fell down a hole into it. The cave has flat rocks that are presumed to be 'beds' and a small spring of "holy water" at the rear. St Fillan's Cave was also used as prison for witches during the witch hunts of the 17-18th centuries (see below).

A shrine was dedicated to St Adrian on the Isle of May. It is said that St Adrian's men undertook the first harbour improvements, laying the foundation for the fishing industry, but no evidence for this currently exists.

The present Church of Scotland parish kirk is on the site of the priory church. Much of the fortified east gatehouse of the priory survives (15th century), as does the 'Great House', one of Scotland's best-preserved late medieval houses, which may have served as accommodation for the prior and monks.

As befits a village steeped in the dangerous and uncertain practices of fishing and farming, there are many churches in the village. Current denominations with churches include: Church of Scotlandmarker, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian and Baptist. Other denominations have had churches or the equivalent, but these have been converted to other purposes. The "Church of Scotland" Church Hall, for example, was once the "Free Church of Scotland" kirk.

The late 17th to early 18th centuries saw a number of notorious witch-hunts by the local minster. The town at this time had become bogged down in debt and this was used as an excuse to seize the assets of some local women in order to alleviate money problems. The Church of Scotland building at the top of the High Street was used as the jail for the poor females and the door to the cells can still be seen. It is the studded door at the bottom of the tower.

The Tolbooth was home to one of the last and most infamous witchcraft trials in Scotland.

The dark events took place in the year 1704, at a time when the Church elders were the supreme arbiters of power in Scotland, with the country a theocracy in all but name. The tragedy began innocuously enough when a local woman, Beatrix Lang, asked the blacksmith's apprentice, Patrick Morton, to make her some nails. On being informed that he was busy and would make them later, Beatrix left, muttering under her breath - which the boy took to be the issuing of a curse on him.

Obviously under the power of suggestion of this, Patrick Morton took ill after a few days and stopped eating, which obviously made him worse, but not before he had spoken to the local minister, Patrick Cowper, a man who obviously had his own agenda in this case. Cowper not only encouraged the boy in his claims of witchcraft against Beatrix Lang, but also gave him the names of other villagers encouraging him to denounce them in turn.

The accused were imprisoned in the tolbooth and tortured viciously, with one of their number, Thomas Brown, starving to death in his cell. Beatrix Lang was released with a fine, but chased out of the village by the locals to die in St Andrews soon after, most likely as a result of her ill-treatment.

The zenith of the barbarity of the Pittenweem witch hunt was reached when Janet Cornfoot managed to escape from the tolbooth. She did not however escape from the village, and the locals, her neighbours, dragged her to the beach, where she was beaten, pelted with stones, covered with a door which then had boulders placed on top of it and finally, after death, had a horse and carriage driven back and forth over her body.

Thankfully this was one of the last witch hunts in Scotland, and the grave injustice of this case may be regarded as one of the main catalysts in bringing more enlightened views within the Church of Scotland to the fore.


In the late 1960s the fishermen of the area celebrated the re-opening of the re-designed harbour with a Gala Day, where the boats were dressed overall and people could have short trips on the boats. By the early 1980s, however, increasing regulation, higher fuel costs and a shrinking fleet were bringing this event to its knees. In its place sprang up an Arts Festival, which initially incorporated the Gala Day as its finale. The Arts Festival has moved on somewhat, however, becoming one of the best respected in Scotland. Many artists have rediscovered the charms and the light of the area, which was always popular with itinerant and hobby artists, and have moved to the village, creating a vibrant artistic community.

The village is home to a number of members of the Fence Collective.

Pittenweem had the first newspaper in the area - the Pittenweem Register (1844–52?). It caused a great stir in the town when the London daily newspapers contained extracts from the Register's eighth edition.

A local of Pittenweem is often referred to by other East Neuk residents as a "Tornerse".


The local (representing North East Fife) Member of the UK Parliament is Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP, former leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The local (representing Fife North East) Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) is Iain Smith of the Liberal Democrats. It is also represented by the MSPs of the Mid-Scotland and Fife parliamentary region.

Pittenweem is in the East Neuk and Landward ward of Fife council and is represented by a number of members elected by Single Transferable Vote.

From 1885–1983, Pittenweem was part of the East Fife Parliamentary constituency, its most famous MP being Prime Minister Herbert Asquith (Liberal) from 1886–1918.


Pittenweem has access to Anstruther Golf Course, a midi-ocre 9-hole golf course, immediately to its eastern boundary. However for more luxurious tastes the nearby town of St Andrews has two particularly famous golf resorts- The Old Course and St Andrews Bay Golf Resort and Spa.

Football - The local team is Pittenweem Rovers AFC

Rugby - The local team is Waid Academy FP RFC

Horse riding - [85119] Pittenweem Gymkhana hosts horse and dog shows annually

Pittenweem Bowling and Tennis Club can be found on the east side of Viewforth Place

Famous Pittenweemers


Image:Pittenweem Skerries.JPG|West Shore, Pittenweem from the West Braes showing skerries in the foreground, the old harbour in the mid-ground and the new harbour in the background. The Isle of Maymarker (or May Island) is on the horizon.Image:Pittenweem tide in.JPG|West Shore, Pittenweem from the West BraesImage:Pittenweem pool.JPG|Pittenweem swimming pool looking towards St Monans with the Lady's Tower, Elie, in the distance



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