Following the A917 which cuts across Fife's eastward protruding nib, the view from Kinkell Braes gives an excellent preface to the 'Auld Grey Toon' as St Andrews is known, overlooking the West Sands and the old harbour with the spires and stumps of the once great cathedral towering over all. In many respects, St Andrews is like an island of culture, of ecclesiastical antiquity and of the great game of golf, set in a largely rural sea. Accents are heard from most parts of the globe, pilgrims of one kind or another coming to venerate St Andrews' history - or is it its fairways? Fulfilling a life-long ambition to play the St Andrews Old Course has become a modern pilgrimage for many modern travellers while, centuries before, the town had the same magnetism for more pious visitors who came to venerate the site of St Andrew's burial.
The Legend of St Andrew
How the town, indeed Scotland's relationship with the Christian apostle, came about, is slightly confused as there are several stories. Legend has it that St Andrew was crucified by the husband of a convertee, asking to be placed on a X-shaped cross so as not to emulate Jesus.
Several centuries later, a Greek monk called St Rule, charged with the care of the saint's relics, received a vision to 'journey to the utmost edge of the world' and there place the remains of the saint. St Rule's ship foundered on the rocks just off the site of today's harbour and he scrambled ashore to be met by King Angus who had also received a vision of St Andrew granting him victory over vastly superior forces. Angus gave the monk the land near the harbour to establish a shrine and place of pilgrimage and thus started the town and religious centre of St Andrews.
As you come into town from the south, the most prominent buildings breaking the skyline are St Andrews Cathedral and St Rules Tower. Massive stone precincts encircle the cathedral grounds which are entered at the tops of North or South Street where there is limited parking.
The construction of the present cathedral began in 1160 but was not consecrated until around 1318 by Bishop Lamberton in the presence of King Robert the Bruce. It then became the greatest, as well as largest, church in Scotland with thousands of pilgrims travelling hundreds of miles to receive its benediction.
The cathedral must have been a gratifying sight through the medieval period but in 1559, Scotland's zealous reformer, John Knox stirred his audience so much they ransacked the place of its images, altars and books leaving the cathedral in virtual ruin. There is a small museum in the grounds and the earliest surviving sculpture in Scotland is found there, the St Andrews Sarcophagus, not a coffin but an intricately carved, shrine stone box.
Utilising the cliffs as part of its defence, St Andrews Castle stands on a rocky promontory, a hundred yards away from the cathedral entrance. As the residence of the bishops and later Archbishops of St Andrews, it was also used as their palace, fortress and prison. First erected around 1200, the ruins seen today date back to 1571.
St Andrews - the home of Golf
Thousands of visitors to St Andrews, sadly, might never bother to investigate to town's historic aspects or, indeed, wander very far away from the 19th hole. They have come for one thing and that is to 'paly golf'.
Despite rather weak counter-claims that it started in Holland, St Andrews is regarded as the conceptual home of the game. The naturally formed Scottish coastal margin or links land, created over thousands of years by the receding sea, was used by locals as common land for the grazing of animals or drying clothes. By the sixteenth century the game of golf began to take shape and direction here. Even before 1457, when the Scottish Parliament tried to ban the game, golf or a distant relative of it was enjoyed on these links. Mary Queen of Scots was known to enjoy the odd round. It was not until 1895 that a second course to the Old, the New, was laid out by the R&A. The Jubilee course came next in 1897.
The sandy peninsula next to the town of St Andrews was gifted to the people by King David in 1123 and, despite once being sold by an unscrupulous and bankrupt Town Council for rabbit breeding, it remains the property of St Andrews citizens. St Andrews golf courses are, therefore, essentially municipal, allowing anyone to play providing they can obtain a ballot or tee time. For the Old Course, this requires a handicap certificate and a deal of patience.
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, set in its honey-coloured citadel overlooking the 1st and 18th holes of the Old Course, is, along with USGA, the ruling body of golf world-wide. The men-only clubhouse built in 1854, may only be entered by invitation.
It may be hard for non-golfers to fully grasp the significance of St Andrews to the game of golf, but most will enjoy a tour aroud the well-presented British Golf Museum, situated behing the Royal and Ancient clubhouse. The museum has taken a potentially 'stuffy' subject for non-golfers and brought it to life with the use of audio-visual and hands on presentations.
There are plenty of interesting shops in St Andrews' Market Street or South Street, which form part of a useful circuit that takes in the best stores the town offers. For lunch there are several good places such as the Italian oriented Little John's or the more wholefood oriented Brambles. The best evening meals are perhaps found in the Babur, an exceptional Indian Restaurant. In mid-August every year, the length of South Street and part of Market Street is given over to Scotland's oldest surviving medieval market, the Lammas Fair. Stalls and booths are established along with carnival rides during what was once the Celtic Festival of Autumn.
The St Andrews Sea-life Centre, close to the Golf
Museum, is ideal for children with many of the species found in the North Sea as
well as more exotic specimens. St Andrews Museum in Doubledykes Road, tells the heritage
of this unique city and is worth seeking out. Another good excursion for children,
just outside St Andrews, is Craigtoun Country Park where a mock Dutch village is
surrounded by a large boating pond. A miniature railway, dubbed the Rio Grande, runs
along the western side of the park and there are play areas with inflatable castles,
trampolines, a putting and bowling green and cafes. There are also gardens, glasshouses
and flower and shrub beds. Next to the park is the Duke's Course, an 18 hole parkland
layout and St Andrews' latest golfing venue overlooking the town and the more famous
links below. To the north of St Andrews is Guardbridge and Leuchars, dominated by
the important RAF base.
Thursday, December 26th, 2019
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