St. Andrews

My lack of golfing skill aside, I felt I had to make the pilgrimage to St. Andrews. Besides golf, there were ruins of an old castle and cathedral that I haven’t seen yet (I really like that historic scotland membership – even if I don’t see every single site within the year, it’ll be fun trying).

I took the train up with Aarti on Saturday for a nice day out. Unfortunately the direct train to St. Andrews was torn up like forty years ago, but there was a connecting bus at Leuchars near Dundee. As we came into town, the Old Course was on the left… along with sports fields and a big hotel.

The old town is actually quite small and compact. Most anything you’d want to see is along one of the three streets running from the harbour to the old course. From the bus depot, we walked along the high street to the visitor centre. The man we talked to there seemed to know everything about the city and what events were happening that day. He even suggested a couple good places to eat.

St. Andrews’ position on the water makes a beautiful backdrop for golfing and for tourists, but in the winter time it is really exposed to the wind. It was cold and wet.

We started in the ruins of the old cathedral. I’d read that St. Andrews was a central location for the church of Scotland. Other locations like Iona were more at risk for attack by the vikings. Looking up at these old ruins, the wealth and influence of those religious leaders was in plain view.  At a time when most people were simple farmers with very little to spare, the church was able to build and add onto this massive building. It would have been a monumental feet in its day.

A stone border is all that remains of the several buildings. For the main building, one outer wall is almost completely gone and stone markers remain from where the columns would have held up the cathedrals high ceiling.

The other thing to note about the grounds is the massive cemetery, which looked to still be in use. Along one wall, a statue of a golfer marked the resting place for a young golfing champion. There was a stone museum as well with an impressive collection of early carvings (including a few celtic crosses) – interesting in their own right, but mainly an excuse to get out of the rain and dry off a little.

Below the cathedral ruins was the harbour, and we made the very cold walk to the end of the pier. The waves were pounding the rocks and the spray was flying into the air.  I tried to imagine ships trying to seek harbour in such an unwelcoming place. Before there was a water break, how many fishing boats, traders, and warships would have broken apart on those cliffs.  It probably warrants further research.

After the cathedral was the castle, which is also in ruin but with a very rich history. It was attacked many time, and during one seige, an attacking army was trying to tunnel under the castle walls; aware of this, the defenders built a tunnel of their own to ambush the attackers. Pretty ingenious.

There was another story about a man who was condemned by the bishop of st andrews. After he was executed, his friends and allies snuck into the castle with a work crew; they took the castle and took revenge on the bishop: hanging his body from the castle walls.

With it being a Saturday, the University of St Andrews was quiet. Later in the evening though, it was clear how much of a university town this was. You could hear it: bars and restaurants were packed and sounds of the young and soon to be drunk could be heard everywhere. I was told that a lot of the students are international, including plenty of Americans and Canadians.

Maybe in a while, I will play a round of golf at St. Andrews. If I do, I think I’d like a cart. The five courses seem to blur together, but they definitely go on for a long while. We walked along a cart path for like twenty minutes – looking to see if there was a way into what looked like a clubhouse and driving range. There wasn’t. We ended stopping at one of the other clubhouses for a hot chocolate – to get warm again.

Next time, I go in summer.

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