Times Report on Lower Largo

From The Times
October 10, 2009

The Great British Weekend: Lower Largo & Lundin Links, Fife, Scotland

The home villages of the original Robinson Crusoe has plenty of sleepy charm
by Tom Chesshyre

When Alexander Selkirk was a boy, causing trouble in the tiny fishing village of Lower Largo in East Fife, no one could have guessed at the longevity of the effect of his reckless streak.
At the local church, which was invested with the power to reprimand antisocial behaviour, Selkirk was a well-known figure, considered to have a “quick temper and tempestuous nature”.

That is what it says in a booklet called Crusoe’s Village that I pick up at an arts and crafts shop close to the cottage where the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was brought up in the late 17th century.

“He was pretty disreputable and he was definitely kicked out of this church,” adds the gardener at Largo Church, a lovely stone building with a spire and a black and gold clock face in Upper Largo (Largo is split into its Upper and Lower parts, despite being very close to each other).

The gardener is too shy to be named, but she puts down her trowel and takes me to the grave of the troublesome Selkirk’s parents, which is surrounded by cockle and whelk shells, to the left of the church entrance. On the sloping, mossy stone you can just make out the family name. “We put the shells here as a tradition,” the gardener says. “It helps mark out the grave. People are always asking about it.”
Selkirk left home in a petulant mood at 19, became a privateer on ships preying on bounties carried by the French and the Spanish, fell out with the captain of his vessel, asked to be left on one of the Juan Fernández Islands (many miles off the coast of Chile) and remained there for four years and four months, living on his own while expecting a ship to pass and save him at any moment. This took a little longer than expected. His story caught the eye of Defoe, and the rest is Robinson Crusoe.

Surprisingly little is made of the famous local connection, other than a bronze statue of Crusoe at the location of the cottage where he was brought up, and the Crusoe Hotel. This is a slightly ramshackle affair with a modern wing, right on the waterfront of the Forth, next to the pier where lobsters and crabs are brought in and served, delightfully fresh, at the hotel’s Castaway restaurant.
“A lot is made of the Loch Ness monster and of Rob Roy. I don’t see why the tourist board doesn’t promote Crusoe’s connection here,” says Stewart Dykes, the hotel’s owner. “People drive by Lower Largo and don’t know what they’re missing.”
In a way, that is for the best, because the village is wonderfully sleepy, with a single pub (the Railway Inn), the hotel and two small shops. Waking up at the Crusoe, with the sun shining on the cerulean expanse leading across to distant Edinburgh, feels incredibly peaceful.

It is also a good spot for exploring East Fife. From the village, which has its own beach, you can walk along the pretty coastline, passing links golf courses and traversing cliffs (the “chain walk” at Elie is quite dramatic).

The Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther is worth a visit, as is the Secret Bunker, an underground shelter near Crail that was once the official retreat for the people who would have governed Scotland in the event of a nuclear strike.

Where to stay  

Bed down at . . . The Crusoe Hotel (01333 320759,   crusoehotel.co.uk) is on the harbour in the shadow of the old railway viaduct. B&B doubles are from £75.

Chow down at . . . The hotel’s Castaway restaurant is reasonably priced and attracts a good mixture of tourists and locals; £20 for two courses. Very Crafty has a cosy “Coffee Corner” serving hot drinks and scones.

Old Manor Hotel, Lundin Links (01333 320368 www.swallow-hotels.com/hotels/old-manor/) This country house hotel offers warm hospitality in a picturesque seaside village, panoramic views overlooking Largo Bay.

Upper Largo Hotel (01333 360347) upperlargohotel.co.uk

Originally a 17th century Coaching Inn, the Upper Largo Hotel still retains the inn’s unique features.

Located in the attractive village of Upper Largo, as you enter the picturesque East Neuk of Fife, we are a popular dining venue. Our bright conservatory restaurant enjoys a sweeping view over the Firth of Forth. We also provide fully dedicated facilities for any celebration or function.

We also offer recently refurbished en-suite accommodation, and provide private off-road parking for hotel visitors.

Open 7 days, the Upper Largo Hotel is a landmark on the Fife coastal road. Unmissable if you’re passing by, we’re a tempting stop for coffee or tea, a snack or a full meal. Or contact us to reserve our Function Suite for your special occasion.