Looking from the Harbour Master’s House, Dysart, Fife.

On Monday afternoon we went out for coffee to the Harbour Master’s House in Dysart, Fife. The coffee was very good, but I was a wee bit disappointed by the selection of cakes – there weren’t any! What they did have were all slices of tray bakes, still, I’m not complaining really because they had millionaires shortbread – and it was delicious. Jack had a coconut and lemon slice which of course I had to test out too, it was very tasty.

Jack took a couple of photos out of the two windows which were near our table, as you can see, the windows were a bit dirty, inevitable when you are so close to the North Sea. But they give you an idea of what can be seen from the house which was the one which O. Douglas used for the house which featured in her book The Proper Place. The hills which you can see in the background are the Pentlands, over Edinburgh way.

Dysart Harbour

Sadly the entire building has been modernised to hell, I think the building must have been scraped back to a shell as the walls and ceilings are all new, and the windows of course. The only thing that gives you a clue to the its age is the width of the window sills. Even the staircases are new and very modern in design. It’s all very stylish but if you are hoping for a flavour of the house which O. Douglas wrote about – well it just isn’t there. The only thing which will be the same is the view outside, but of course the boats in the harbour would all have been very different in the 1930s.

Dysart Harbour

You can see photos of the outside of the house here.

The Harbourmaster’s House, Dysart, Fife, Scotland

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I’ve posted quite a few photos of Dysart before, but never one of the front of the harbourmaster’s house. I’ve been meaning to get along the coast to Dysart since I read Anna Buchan’s (O.Douglas) autobiography – Unforgettable, Unforgotten. Actually it isn’t so much an autobiography as a history of the Buchan family and their childhood. I had been wondering which Fife harbourmaster’s house she had used as a model for the house in her book The Proper Place. The description sounded like Dysart to me and sure enough she mentioned that it was indeed the house at Dysart she had been writing about. It has the delicious address of Hot Pot Wynd and sits right at the bottom of a steep hill, just as she described it. It was built in the 18th century. It looks like two houses to me though, I’m not sure if the left hand side is still a private home or is part of the coastal centre and bistro.

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Despite the fact that the smell of coffee emanating from it this afternoon was very enticing we didn’t succumb to it because there were hordes of people going in, I had a difficult time getting photos sans folks. I remarked to Jack that it must resemble the Tardis inside because nobody came out. We decided to leave coffee for an afternoon during the week when I imagine it’ll be less heaving with humanity.

This is a back view of the house, I think that from the top of it you should get a reasonable view over to Edinburgh. Hopefully I’ll find out for sure soon.

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The Proper Place by O. Douglas

I’m on a bit of an O. Douglas binge at the moment. The title The Proper Place is a reference to a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale in which a whistle is blown and everyone is magically whisked to their proper place in society, I must admit I don’t know that one at all.

Anyway, when I read the blurb on the dust cover fly-leaf of this old book I just had to read it because it’s about a family of women who have to move from their beloved home in the Scottish borders as they can’t afford to live in their large house now that all the men in the family are dead. Their friends want them to take a smaller house in the same neighbourhood but they think that a clean break would be best and decide to look for a house in an entirely different part of Scotland.

Mrs Rutherford, her daughter Nicole and niece Barbara end up living in an old stone harbour house with crowsfeet gables in Fife of all places, which is on the east coast of course and where I happen to live. The localities were all familiar to me although most of the place names had been changed they were still recognisable, so I spent my time saying to myself the red rocks must be the ones at Wemyss – and such like.

Nicole, the daughter is the type of person who speaks to everyone and makes friends wherever she goes (Evee!). Her cousin Barbara is more stand-offish and a bit snobbish, but Nicole is determined to settle into village life and sets about visiting the locals who are an odd set of people, including a retired couple who had lived most of their lives in India.

Towards the end the action does move back to the Peebles area, so beloved by all the Buchan/Douglas family. There’s romance of course, eventually and as O. Douglas herself said, her books are as sweet as home-made toffee, but they’re always mixed with sadness somehow, which makes these comfort books of hers more true to life really, especially when you remember that they would have been read by women who had lost sons and husbands in wars and children to what are now trivial childhood illnesses. The book was first published in 1926.

I’ve read quite a few of her books now and I’m sure that there is a wee bit of repetition now and again in them, it’s something which J.M. Barrie did too in his books, were they being thrifty Scots?!

If you know Fife at all, and the borders for that matter then it does add more to the experience I think, it is nice to recognise places and even buildings mentioned in books. I was trying to think which harbour house she had used as the house in the book and I had decided that only Dysart fitted the description, sure enough she does mention in her book Unforgettable,Unforgotten (I’ll write about that in the near future) that she used the Dysart Harbour Master’s house for the setting. The photo below is one which I took of the harbour with the back of the house in the background, it is now a musueum and bistro.

Dysart Harbour Master's House