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29 October 2014
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Newark Castle
Newark Castle
Standing just to the west of the village of St Monans lie some atmospheric ruins, the former home of one of Scotland's most capable military leaders, the castle enjoyed its heyday for only a brief while under his ownership, before beginning an inexorable decline into its poor state today.

The castle was originally the possession of Sir Alan Durward, the brother in law of Alexander III, before ownership passed to the Sandilands family in 1545. A century later, in 1649, and bankruptcy forced this family into the sale of Newark, this time to the Covenanting General Sir David Leslie.

Leslie at this time was at the peak of his powers, and one of the most influential men in the country. A colourful character, Leslie had began his military career in the army of Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus during the Thirty Years War.

In 1640, in common with many of the Scottish volunteers in the Swedish Army, Leslie returned to fight in the Bishops Wars against Charles I. The Covenanting army which he led had great success in northern England, forcing the King to sue for peace. As war broke out all over Britain in the 1640s Leslie became the second in command of the Army of the Covenant.

Newark Castle Doo'cot
Newark Castle Doo'cot

In 1644 his cavalry were decisive in winning the Battle of Marston Moor for Cromwell's Ironsides, and the following year he stopped Montrose's Royalist advance by crushing him at the battle of Phillipshaugh. Times and politics changed soon enough however, and after the execution of Charles I the Scottish army switched sides and declared war on Cromwell's army.

There followed an English invasion, at Leslie faced up to Cromwell at Dunbar. Leslie had done everything right so far, from avoiding a pitched battle to wear down his enemy with their long lines of communication and supply, to choosing the right ground at the battlefield of Dunbar. Unfortunately however, he was forced into attacking by the "political commissars" in his army, the Church elders who wielded ultimate power. As the Scottish army raced down the hill they were destroyed by Cromwell's artillery and the Scots were routed.

Leslie was captured after the battle, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. However, after the Restoration, Leslie was able to return to his castle at St Monans, with a substantial pension from a grateful monarch to expand his castle.

After Leslie's death, the castle passed through several different families, until, by the last century, it had become more valuable for the farmland it sat on than for the buildings themselves. The present castle is a ruin, but efforts have been begun in the past few years to try and save it for future generations.

Directions: from here you are following the Fife Coastal Trail all the way along the pathway. It's well marked and sign-posted along the way, though steep and not suitable for wheelchairs in several parts. Stop for a snack in Pittenweem, or if you can hold-off till Anstruther, get chips at the end of the walk.


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The walk's stages

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