The south-west Fife coastal village of Culross (pronounced Coo-ros) is considered to be one of the most picturesque places in Scotland. It is said to date back to as early as the 6th century, having been believed to have been founded by Saint Serf (c.500 – c.583). Culross originally functioned as a port, serving the Firth of Forth before becoming a centre of the Scottish coal mining industry during the 1500 and 1600s.
The founding of the village is surrounded by legend. It was claimed that Princess Teneu, a daughter of the king of Lothian, became pregnant before her marriage. Her father, filled with anger and shame, threw her off Traprain Law, a hill in the Lothians. Fortunately Teneu survived the fall. Knowing she couldn’t go home, Princess Teneu came across a small, empty boat, and it took her across the Firth of Forth, landing at Culross. Saint Serf cared for Teneu, and even became foster father to her son. Teneu and Serf’s son went on to become Saint Mungo, founder and patron saint of the city of Glasgow.
Coal mining was the main industry for Culross during the 16th and 17th centuries. Sir George Bruce of Carnock, a merchant and engineer, was also an innovator in coal mining techniques, and he built the first coal mine in the world to extend under the sea in 1575. The mine was considered a feat of engineering brilliance, and a marvel of 17th century Britain. Unfortunately, the mine was destroyed in 1625 during a particularly violent storm. Bruce also built Culross Palace, a grand merchant’s house. The ‘Palace’ was built between 1597 and 1611, using materials obtained by Bruce’s foreign trade throughout the Baltics and the Low Countries. Culross Palace is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.
Salt panning was also a significant industry for Culross, and along with the coal, there was a large amount of trade that passed through the village’s port. The town’s distinctive red roof tiles, which can also be seen in other parts of Fife, come from collier ships returning from the Low Countries with Dutch roof tiles a ballast. However, by the 18th century the importance of the port started to decline, and by the second half of the 19th century Culross had lost most of its industrial significance, as well as population. Today there are only around 400 people living in the village.
Despite Culross’s decline in fortunes, it was noted that the village still contained many unique historical buildings, and since the 1930s the National Trust for Scotland has been preserving and restoring many of them, including the Town House, where witches were tried and held before execution.
One of Culross’s most famous sons was Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald. Cochrane spent most of his early life on his family’s estate in Culross before going on to have a distinguished career in the Royal Navy, having a reputation for being an aggressive, daring, and successful Captain leading to the French Navy referring to him as Le Loup des Mer, or ‘Wolf of the Seas’. However, in 1814 Lord Cochrane was dismissed from the Royal Navy on charges of fraud on the stock exchange. This led to him becoming a mercenary, serving with the rebel navies of Chile, Brazil, and Greece in their respective wars for independence.
Due to Culross’s distinct historic look, it has become a popular filming location. Hollywood blockbuster ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ filmed some scenes in the village, and the hit TV show ‘Outlander’, used Culross as the fictional village Cranesmuir.
Clans connected with Culross
Captain America: The First Avenger
The 39 Steps (2008)