Bordering West Fife and Clackmannanshire is a big, green splodge on the map dotted by blue lochans and cross-hatched with a network of paths and trails. It’s called Devilla Forest. I’d seen photos of it online with early morning sun casting beams of golden light through old pine trees and I wanted to be there. So I strung together a summer cycle route into deepest Fife.
Devilla means “bad farm” and it’s thought that the name derives from the bad farming land to the north. Like much of Fife, the area today is largely devoted to farming but there are pleasing pockets of woodlands and flowery hedgerows with an ever-present sense of the sea to the south. Devilla is conveniently linked to Dunfermline by the West Fife Cycleway, a former railway line that speeds you out of town towards the Ochil Hills. But before it gets there, a rough farm track branches off and bumps its way into Devilla Forest. Despite the proximity of towns here, there was a wild atmosphere to the place and it was a while before I saw another soul.
The forest itself is a rich mosaic of habitats. There’s plenty commercial forestry of course but also open meadows and sections of track that pass through leafy broadleaved woods and skirt the edges of reed-fringed lochs. The highlight is a trail that loops through the ancient pine woods in the forest, a lowland stronghold of red squirrels. The dark waters of the lochan here reflected the bobbing heads of bog cotton and were danced over by dazzling blue damselflies.
There are interesting little snippets of history in the forest as well. I cycled by the Standard Stone, a large, flat stone with deep depressions. According to local legend, MacBeth and Banquo were defeated here by a Danish army in the Battle of Bordie Moor in 1038. However, the exact origin of the stone is not known, although usually such stones were where Scots placed their battle standards. But it could also be the placement for an ancient boundary marker or a wooden gallows.
As I cycled south out of the forest towards the Forth Estuary, I made a detour to a poignant little memorial. The bike bumped along a narrow path, pushing aside the overhanging, lush summer vegetation. The afternoon air was thick and hot now and filled with the buzz of busy insects. Where a stile crossed a fence, I left the bike and picked my way through thick bushes and trees, not really sure what I was expecting to find. But a little way further on I came upon the Plague Grave. This simple grave in the woods marks the last resting place of Robert, Agnes and Jean, the three children of James Bald who all died on the same day in 1645 of the plague. It was custom then to bury people who died of the plague out in the fields and presumably in the intervening 350 plus years, the woods had grown up around it. Despite the passage of so much time, local people obviously care for the grave because it was decorated with flowers, baubles and toys.
From the Plague Grave, a rough farm track then continued south to the coast at the pretty village of Culross. Founded in the 6th century and once a busy port, the village has retained many of its beautiful historical buildings, such as the palace and town house, and numerous old cobbled streets. From Culross the cycle route travels east along the north shore of the Forth, passing old harbours and quiet beaches, before it reaches the Forth Bridges. From here you can turn north back into deepest Fife or, as I did, turn south and cycle over the quiet old Forth Bridge to Edinburgh.
Transport: Train to Dunfermline Town train station.
My route: I crossed to the east side of the train line, cycled downhill then swung right at the roundabout. Straight ahead a little further on is the south entrance to Pittencrieff Park. Cycled the main route through the park and out the top end. Straight up the road opposite, then left at the T junction then right on the next busier road. The Cycleway begins soon after on the left. The branch trail to Devilla is signed and is a bit rough in places though the trails are good once in the forest. I cycled the Red Squirrel Trail then followed signs for the Coastal Cycleway which picked a nice off-road route through to Culross. From here the National Cycle Network can be followed to and over the Forth Bridges back to Edinburgh.
Info: A lovely coffee shop in Culross next to the palace – Bessie’s Café – with gluten free cakes.