Finding Our Voices – Crail

[For an introduction to the ‘Finding Our Voices’ project, including a discussion of our strategy and methodology in engaging primary schools, and an overview of the initial workshops, see this article]

Finding Our Voices: Crail

We’d been looking to work in Fife for a long time, so we were delighted to have the opportunity as part of the Finding Our Voices project. We decided to concentrate in two areas – Balmullo and Leuchars in the north east of the region, rich in farming history, and Pittenweem and Crail in the East Neuk, two fishing ports with a strong seaward identity.


An obvious way for us to look at audio heritage in this part of Fife was to consider the songs of folk singer Matt Armour (1935-2009), a native of Anstruther and a prolific song maker. One of Matt’s song in particular, ‘Generations of Change’ stood out, not only for its evocative descriptions of several kinds of local work, but also because of its referencing of several local placenames; each verse became a mini-workshop in its own right.

Generations of Change

Verse 1

My faither was a baillie frae a wee fairm at Caiplie
He worked on the land aa the days o his life
By the time he made second he aye said he reckoned
He’d ploughed near on half o’ the East Neuk o’ Fife
He fee’d on at Randerston, Crawhill and Clephanton,
Cambo and Carnbee and Kilrennymill
At Kingsbarns he merried, at Boarhills he’s buried
But man, had he lived, he’d be plooin on still

For those days were his days, those ways were his ways
Tae follow the ploo while his back was still strong
But those days have passed and the time came at last
For the weakness of age to make way for the young

The first task the children had was to listen to Matt’s first verse without seeing the lyrics and identify as many of the placenames as possible from their own knowledge. Some larger settlements, such as Kingsbarns and Boarhills, were easily identified from their own familiarity with the area, but many of the smaller erstwhile farms were no longer well-known, many having been converted into houses or other businesses. So the children were given maps of the East Neuk dating from the turn of the 20th century, with which they had to locate as many of the placenames as possible.

To check our findings as a class, we looked at a wonderful digital map resource hosted by the National Library of Scotland which can overlay old maps over modern satellite images:


We wanted to find out more about what life was like for ploughmen in the East Neuk, so we watched some YouTube videos of modern ploughing matches, paying special attention to the kinds of horse that pulled the plough and how the ploughmen guided them.

Verse 2

I wisnae fir plooin’, tae the sea I wis goin’
Tae follow the fish and the fisherman’s way
In rain, hail and sunshine I’ve watched the lang run line
Nae man mair contented his whole working day
I’ve lang lined the Fladen Grund, the Dutch and the Dogger Bank
Pulled the big fish frae the deep Devil’s Hole
I’ve side trawled off Shetland, the Faroes and Iceland
In weather much worse than a body could thole

For that day was my day, that way was my way
Tae follow the fish while my back was still strong
But that day has passed and the time come at last
For the weakness of age to make way for the young

The children again had to decode the second verse by finding out where the Fladen Grund, the Dutch and the Dogger Bank were, and indeed what the were. We discussed the possibilities and settled on the answer that they were fishing grounds with different characteristics that fishermen would need to know if they were to have a successful trip. To see how the fleet would have looked in Crail, we watched some clips of old films of the town on YouTube. We were also lucky enough to borrow a handling box of items from the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, which included cork floats, nets, a fishwife’s mutch (cap) and shawl, and other interesting items.

Verse 3

My sons they have grown and away they have gone
Tae search for black oil in the far northern sea
Like oilmen they walk and like Yankees they talk
There’s no’ much in common ‘tween my sons and me
They’ve rough rigged on Josephine, Forties and Ninian
Claymore and Dunlin, Fisher and Auk
They’ve made fortunes for sure for in one run ashore
They spend more than I earned in a whole season’s work

But this day is their day, this way is their way
Tae ride the rough rigs while their backs are still strong
But this day will pass and the time come at last
For the weakness of age to make way for the young

The unusual names in this case refer to oil fields in the North Sea, which we located by looking at industrial maps. The largest of these, the Forties field, was the subject of a number of films, two of which we dipped into on YouTube.

Verse 4

My grandsons are growing, to the school they’re soon going
But the lang weeks o’ summer they spend here wi’ me
We walk through the warm days, talk o’ the auld ways
The cornfield and codfish, the land and the sea
We walk through the fields my father once tilled
Talk wi’ the old men that once sailed wi’ me
Man, it’s been awfu’ good, I showed them all I could
O’ the past and the present, what their future might be

For the morn will be their day, what will be their way
What will they make of their land, sea and sky
Man, I’ve seen awfu’ change but it still it seems gey strange
Tae look at my world through a young laddie’s eyes

All this rich imagery was ripe for representation in a visual project, so we decided to make a ‘crankie’ – a moving picture show which is wound onto a frame and played back while singing or telling a story.

And here’s the result:


Were ye e’er in Crail toun?

Although ‘Generations of Change’ talks about many of the places immediately around Crail, there was precious little in the way of songs or oral histories about Crail itself in any of the audio archives we searched. So instead, it seemed like a good opportunity for the class to write a song themselves. As it happened, Chris knew of a very old song called ‘Were ye e’er in Crail toun?’ that dates to the 1730s, and is a mocking song poking fun at a number of local dignitaries. The song was collected in a song book from the late 18th century, which was where Robert Burns found it and adapted it into a song of his own.

We decided to use the first line of the original song as a prompt, and write some verses based on the fieldwork the class had done, collecting memories and favourite things about Crail from one another. We practised different ways of making rhymes, always careful to respect the rhythm of the song’s strathspey melody. The themes that the children chose to include ranged from their favourite past-times, such as exploring the coastline and the local woods, to local legends such as the myth of the Devil throwing a stone from the Isle of May to destroy Crail Church.

Were ye e’er in Crail toun?


Were ye e’er in Crail toun?                                  Igo and ago
For oor wee toun’s the best wee toun.              Iram, corum, dago
The fowk are friendly, young and old               Igo and ago
They walk along our sands of gold                    Iram, corum, dago

Were ye e’er in Crail school?
For oor wee school’s the best wee school.
The MUGA is a special place
It’s there we have our sports day race

Going to Denburn Woods is fun
And eating ice-cream in the sun
In Vicky Gardens, we climb the trees
Then we come home just when we please

We walk our dogs doon by the sea,
They’re off the lead and running free,
At midday when the Sun is full
We paddle in the crabbing pool

The Devil threw a muckle stane
Tae ding the church till it was gane
He left his thumb mark on the rock
It’s there we slide tae bring good luck

Repeat v1


Here are some of the pupils thoughts about our project:

“I like learning all the songs because you wouldn’t really find songs like that anywhere else.”

“It made it more special that the songs are from Crail because we live around the area. It’s nice.”

“I like finding out about the people who made the songs.”

“My favourite part was when we got to hear the adults singing our Crail song!”

“In school we don’t normally make songs – everyone enjoyed it and it was a fun way of learning.”


And the class teacher:

“The pupils were very engaged. The workshops were well organised and run. The resources were interesting and there was lots of information about them which the pupils enjoyed learning about.”

“The music was great – the pupils loved signing the songs and it was great for them to sing along to a musician rather than a CD.”

“The pupils were very interested in the technology and retained the information well.”

“Chris quickly established a great rapport with the children. He was obviously very enthusiastic about traditional music and heritage and this helped to engage the pupils. He was well organised and provided excellent resources.”



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Our mission is to help communities across Scotland identify, engage with, collect and celebrate their local heritage, with special focuses on Scots language and traditional arts.