A signpost at the roundabout on the main road through Kinross indicates Cowdenbeath as being 9 miles away. We peer at it through the teeming rain, expressionless under the limited shelter of our umbrellas.
“I don’t know if there’s anything in Cowdenbeath,” I say to my better half, only recognising the name because I’m pretty sure they have a football team somewhere in the Scottish League, “but if there is then at least it’s not far away.”
Checking The Rough Guide to Scotland, Cowdenbeath is not listed in the index, a fact that could only be classed as an achievement if you were being deliberately ironic. Where it does get one passing mention – on page 393 of the eighth edition, should you be interested – it is described as “an old mining town” that is “huddle[d] together” with similar settlements, all of which are “routinely ignored by visitors” and make for a “forlorn stretch” of the journey if you happen to be going through on a train.
We are in the process of finding out what Kinross (and its signposts) has to offer and the place is extremely quiet, which makes our scouting mission a simple task. Of the few people we see out and about on the main street – bearing in mind that it is 5.30pm on a Saturday afternoon – one man waits at a bus stop. We assume he has somewhere exciting to be, except that when we see him board a vehicle, the destination shows as ‘Cowdenbeath Bus Depot’, thus summing up Kinross’ appeal rather neatly, we feel.
For an admittedly small settlement whose main area of interest is barely a mile long, Kinross actually boasts a number of interesting and impressive buildings. Where they fall down (or, in the case of one particular building, where it is literally falling down) is that they are all boarded up, out of use, and on the market as ‘ideal development opportunities’.
It’s not hard to understand why – for one, as the Rough Guide says, most tourists are too busy bypassing the place on the M90 to spend any time or money here, which has the knock on effect that, second, nobody already in Kinross seems to have any money to spend (with the possible exception of the hotel in which we have chosen to base ourselves, but there is always one exception to a rule). Clearly, the one weekend a year that ‘T in the Park’ takes place nearby does not a community sustain, particularly in a recession…
So it is that the local Indian restaurant, The Raj Mahal, has just about the most unwelcoming front door you will ever see at the entrance to an eating establishment – all undecorated wood and minimal glazing, like a door in a hospital – that suggests you shouldn’t really see what lies beyond. Under those circumstances, the offer of a £12.95 all-you-can-eat buffet meal is nowhere near sufficient enticement to try it out. Across the road, several properties show the strain of sitting so close to a main road, with windows reduced to bare timber and gradually rotting away in a final show of flawed defiance.
The one genuine attraction in Kinross is Loch Leven, which offers a glimpse of ‘proper’ Scotland in contrast to the decay of the nearby built environment. Sadly, the elements are conspiring against tourism on this particular day and Kirkgate Park on the shores of the Loch is windswept, waterlogged and every bit as deserted (or ‘abandoned’, to be particularly uncharitable) as the main street we have just left behind. While we try to appreciate what an impressive sight the Loch must be when not shrouded in cloud, a tracksuit-clad figure emerges from the squall and shuffles past us without a word of acknowledgement. This is something of a blessing given that our initial expectation is for her to start intoning a warning along the lines of, “Beware Ye who remain here!” – an expectation that is only reinforced by the sight of numerous boat-shaped silhouettes on the water, all of which carry hooded, wraith-like figures.
We know fishermen are hardy souls but today they simply look as though they might come and attempt to claim us for the water, so we quickly do an about turn and head back to the sanctuary and shelter of the Kirklands Hotel which, on the evidence of this walk through Kinross, is the brightest spot of a rather dishevelled (but probably once thriving) village-trying-to-be-a-destination-for-golfers. Tomorrow, we’ll probably go up the motorway and see somewhere else. What’s that they say about progress…?
Postscript – Sunday
Thanks to a wholly unexpected reversal in the weather, we choose not to venture onto the motorway network and instead return to Loch Leven for a more thorough exploration. Not only are there more people about on the main street than yesterday (lending Kinross an almost bustling feel at 10am on Sunday!), but Kirkgate Park is transformed with families, dog walkers and cyclists all making use of the trail that runs round most of the Loch’s circumference.
It really is an absolute gem of a tourist attraction, and along with a chat with the hotel owners about the area (apparently the recession never really hit Kinross, and the redundant buildings can be put down to other factors, most of which relate to local politics), we start to realise that there is a little more to the place than meets the eye. As is so often the case, it seems that it just needs a few important people to realise what it is that attracts investment and a few more tourists…