‘THERE has been a real buzz since the city status announcement last May,” smiles Mark Macleod, manager of Dunfermline’s Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. “We’re at a crossroads now where we have to decide where we want to go and what we want to become as a city.”

Stepping off the train back into Scotland’s newest city almost a year since I came to cover the news, I find myself at the newly renamed Dunfermline City Station. And I do find the city at a crossroads. Back then there was a heady mixture of delight and enthusiasm; even disbelief. I wasn’t surprised, not when I’d watched Europe’s fastest-growing town emerge from my office window across the Forth, gaining in confidence; confidence forged on its old “ancient capital of Scotland” heritage.

They are all here in Dunfermline – heartless Robert the Bruce lies in its landmark abbey, sleeping near saintly Queen Margaret, just two of the monarchs buried in a city that also gave the world the soon-to-be-beheaded Charles I. This is the city, too, of Andrew Carnegie, who went from weaver’s son to the world’s richest man, then became the world’s first global philanthropist. Barbara Dickson and Stuart Adamson. Even the new Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa, lived in Dunfermline.

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“It’s given us all a new confidence. We’ve got the oldest building in Dunfermline, but as a visitor attraction, it teetered on bankruptcy. Now we’ve rented out spaces to creatives, who produce some of the work we sell in our shop. In fact, 50% of our products are now local,” says Louise Hutchison of the Abbot House. She neglects to mention the gorgeous paninis and proper coffee we’re enjoying in their cafe. And the new bookshop, with plans afoot for a museum room upstairs as visitor numbers rise.

Just metres away – the glory of Dunfermline’s Heritage Quarter is that it’s so compact you can fall out of one attraction into the next – Tracy McCafferty, venue manager at the Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries, hits me with stats: “We had the Covid recovery boost, but year on year our numbers reflect the city status. We were almost 100% up on last year for this March. It’s remarkable.”

Dunfermline is no longer simply content just to follow other places – the DCL&G has just augmented its excellent civic museum with a sparkling temporary exhibition running to June 11 on “Our Plastic Ocean”. It really makes you think about sustainability in creative ways.

Christine McLean, head of cultural heritage and wellbeing, explains, “You cannot help but react to the exhibition, whatever your age. We’re a city that now wants people to think about the world and how they live their lives. Reactions here veer from sadness to anger.”

McLean is right – I feel both sadness and anger being struck by the startling images and installations, before I seek sanctuary at their recently opened cafe, The Granary. Its owners have a bakery and a butcher’s and it shows in the top-notch produce. They’ve got views, too, peering back to Dunfermline Abbey, the Abbot House and the trio of Forth Bridges, which haunt the background of many Dunfermline views, looming like the striding aliens in War Of The Worlds.

Dunfermline is a city where the centuries – even the millennia – constantly shift back and forth. Not quite extra-terrestrial, but constantly captivating nonetheless. The tourist strapline rings true: “Our story, yours to explore.” My daughter Emma tells me it “looks like Harry Potter’ and I see what she means. There are new shopfronts, two superb modern Indian restaurants (Dhoom and Khushi’s), the world’s first driverless public bus will start serving the local Park & Ride next month, new housing mushrooms and there are plans aplenty. It’s all underpinned, though, by a deeply historic core that looks and feels like a smaller version of Edinburgh’s Unesco World Heritage-listed Old Town.

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As my visit draws to a close, I bump into Mark Macleod from the Birthplace Museum again at The Commercial Inn, a proper real ale pub that celebrated city status by winning Camra Scotland & Northern Ireland Pub of the Year in November 2022. We talk of his award-winning museum: “It’s unmissable – you see everything from the room where Carnegie was born, right through to learning how he made his fortune and how he sprinkled it across the globe, with more than 2500 Carnegie libraries,” says Macleod.

“Carnegie was ahead of his time, he called Dunfermline a city even back then. We had a real buzz before, but now it’s really bubbling up.

“We are at a crossroads holding meetings to decide our future direction. Perhaps we’re even at an exciting precipice and we’re about to leap over it,” he beams. I’ve no doubt Scotland’s newest city will leap and leap with some confidence.

For more information check out www.dunfermline.com