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29 October 2014
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St Monans salt mill
St Monans Salt Mill
As we head out the other side of the town of St Monans we come to another highly visible landmark. This is St Monans windmill and stands as one of the few reminders of an industry which was once the main source of employment for the whole area.

Salt panning may not be the most glamorous job in the world but for 17th and 18th Century Scotland it was a vital commodity in the burgeoning trade with continental Europe. The extraction of salt as a commercial enterprise began during the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, who hit on the idea of raising a salt tax, which turned small scale business into a vast commercial operation.

The Forth Valley lay at a distinct advantage in the production of salt, having coal readily available nearby to provide heat to evaporate seawater which was collected in iron pans. The salt industry was spread throughout this part of the country, from the Neuk of Fife to Prestonpans on the far side of Edinburgh.

The mill from St Monans
The mill from St Monans

The Salt Mill here at St Monans was used to pump seawater into the pans. Once full, the coal was fired and the heat evaporated off the water leaving the valuable white crystals behind. It was an intensive process, as to produce one ton of salt took almost 32 tone of seawater.

The salt industry reached its peak in the century after the Act of Union, when Scottish salt flooded the English market, due to a more lenient tax north of the border. However, wit the repeal of salt duty in 1823 and the import of cheap rock salt from abroad the salt industry collapsed. The last salt pan in Scotland, in Prestonpans, closed its doors in 1959.

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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