Culross, 10km (6 miles) west of Dunfermline, has been renovated by the Scottish National Trust and is one of the country's most beautiful burghs. As you walk its cobblestone streets -- admiring the whitewashed houses with their crow-stepped gables and red pantiled roofs -- you feel as if you're taking a stroll back into the 17th century.
Set in tranquil walled gardens in the village center, Culross Palace (tel. 0844/493-2189) was built between 1597 and 1611 for prosperous merchant George Bruce. It contains a most beautiful series of paintings portraying moral scenes that illustrate such principles as "Honor your parents" and "The spoken word cannot be retracted." During a National Trust restoration, from 1991 to 1994, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a foundation of a long-forgotten building on the east end of the courtyard and the original doorway; there are plans to restore it for use as the public entrance. The palace is open March 31 to May 31 Thursday to Monday from noon to 5pm, June 1 to August 31 daily from noon to 5pm, September Thursday to Monday from noon to 5pm, and October Thursday to Monday from noon to 4pm. The town house and study are open Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4pm. From November to Easter, visits to Culross Palace are by appointment only. Admission is £8.50 for adults, £5.50 for seniors and students, free for those 18 and under, and £21 per family.
The other major attraction is 10km (6 miles) southwest of Dunfermline (take A994, following the signs to Culross): Culross Abbey, a Cistercian monastery founded by Malcolm, earl of Fife, in 1217. Parts of the nave are still intact, and the choir serves as the Culross parish church. There's also a central tower. From Easter Saturday to the last Saturday in August, the abbey is open daily from 9am to 7pm; at other times, you can visit by prior arrangement with the Church of Scotland (tel. 01383/880-231).
Loch Leven, 19km (12 miles) north of Dunfermline and 16km (10 miles) south of Falkland via A911, contains seven islands. On St. Serf's, the largest of the islands, are the ruins of the Priory of Loch Leven, built on the site of one of the oldest Culdee establishments in Scotland. If you're interested in seeing the ruins, contact the Kinross tourist office at tel. 01577/863-680. You'll be put in touch with one of the fishermen who make boat trips to the island.
In Kinross, 40km (25 miles) north of Edinburgh, you can take the ferry over to Castle Island to see the ruins of Loch Leven Castle (tel. 01577/862-670). "Those never got luck who came to Loch Leven" -- this saying sums up the history of the Douglas fortress dating from the late 14th century. Among its ill-fated prisoners, none was more notable than Mary Queen of Scots; inside its forbidding walls, she signed her abdication on July 24, 1567, but she escaped from Loch Leven on May 2, 1568. Thomas Percy, seventh earl of Northumberland, supported her cause and "lodged" in the castle for 3 years until he was handed over to the English, who beheaded him at York. Today, you can see a 14th-century tower house and a 16th-century curtain wall, all that remain of a castle that loomed large in Scottish history. The castle is open from March 25 to September 30 daily 9:30am to 5:30pm. Admission is £5 for adults, £4 for seniors, and £2.50 for children 5 to 15. The admission includes the cost of a round-trip ferry from Kinross to Castle Island.