Pittenweem is a small and secluded fishing village and civil parish tucked in the corner of Fife on the east coast of Scotland.
The name derives from Pictish and Scottish Gaelic. “Pit-” represents Pictish pett ‘place, portion of land’, and “-enweem” is Gaelic na h-Uaimh, ‘of the Caves’ in Gaelic, so “The Place of the Caves”. The name is rendered Baile na h-Uaimh in modern Gaelic, with baile, ‘town, settlement’, substituted for the Pictish prefix. The cave in question is almost certainly St Fillan’s cave, although there are many indentations along the rocky shores that could have influenced the name.
Until 1975 Pittenweem was a royal burgh, being awarded the status by King James V (1513–42) in 1541. Founded as a fishing village around a probably early Christian religious settlement, it grew along the shoreline from the west where the sheltered beaches provided safe places for fishermen to draw their boats up out of the water. In due course a breakwater was built, extending out from one of the rocky skerries that jut out south-west into the Firth of Forth like fingers. This allowed boats to rest at anchor rather than being beached, providing a means for larger vessels to use the port. A new breakwater further to the east has been developed over the years into a deep, safe harbour with a covered fish market. As the herring disappeared from local waters and the fishing fleet shrank, this harbour and attendant facilities led Pittenweem to become the main harbour for the fishermen of the East Neuk of Fife.
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