Top Ten Cities -No. 4- The Royal Burgh of St Andrews
• Attractive including location, lots of parks, green spaces & water attraction
• Size – No Megalopoli and you can walk most of it
• Activities include historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museums
• Transportation is convenient and perhaps even fun
• Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food
Cozy (more of a town than a city really) close to Edinburgh and named after the patron saint of Scotland on whose day I was born, St Andrews is a jewel in the crown of the ‘Kingdom of Fife’.
North of Edinburgh over the famous Forth Road Rail bridge it is on Scotland’s east coast between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Tay. (firth: a narrow inlet of the sea; an estuary)
I’ve ‘motored’ there – as some say – so many afternoons that thinking about it makes me feel homesick. St Andrews is a place that many made pilgrimage to in ancient times and now I realize that I must return someday too. The drive along the coast took me through many atmospheric fishing villages where I’ve often stopped for fish and chips and a walk along the beach on the way to or from the ancient burgh. (burgh: a self-governing town) http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandshistory/makingthenation/burghs/)
It fits all of my criteria well and is especially ‘walkable’. Even though it has so much to offer I did not find it usually to be too crowded as a tourist destination. Perhaps its often overlooked in favor of Edinburgh, Sterling, Glasgow or the Highlands. But how crowded it gets depends. If you mention the name of it to many people the first thing that comes to their minds is the famous golf course. The ‘old course’ is world renowned and even has a golf museum. (Back in the 80s, I think it was, I caught the fever and went mad about golf. Thankfully that only lasted a short time. I say thankfully because it is expensive and there are so many other things to do!) How crowded St Andrews becomes depends on whether or not there is a major tournament happening. But this blog is not about golf. Suffice to say that the best thing about the golf course is that its presence preserves green space.
Located on the coast just north of St Andrews the links course runs parallel to the beach which extends for what seems like miles. The beach has some marvelous dunes with lots of dune grass where I played hide and seek with my Westie, (West Highland White Terrier) Skye, many years ago.
Viewing the famous beach while watching the 1981 film, Chariots of Fire, was my first ‘experience’ of this historic city. In the opening scene the olympians are gallantly running for ages along this long beach.
A great film worth seeing, or seeing again by the way. http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/c/Chariots_Of_Fire.html#.Vrqr8zahRmA
And just in case you haven’t seen that film or would like to review some of it now, here’s a great clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSav51fVlKU
I had no idea then that I would have the privilege of visiting St Andrews often. It is special to me still. I have an oil painting created by a good Scottish friend, Joan Forsyth (resting with Jesus), of the beach and the northeast part of St Andrews in my home.
In this painting you can see an outline of the famous buildings in the old part of the city including St Andrew’s Cathedral (ruins), St Rule’s Tower (middle) and the castle on the left. These ancient sites are all worth visiting and not too tiring either. Unless you decide to climb up the tower! I’ve done it and don’t ask me how many steps there are, but there’s lots and lots! It’s worth it for the view.
The grassy grounds around the cathedral ruins have ancient gravestones where my mother spent a long time looking for our ancestors’ names once.
There is a small Historic Scotland museum where you can find out about the history of the cathedral. Here’s a bit from their site:
“Headquarters of the medieval Scottish Church – St Andrews Cathedral dominated the history of the medieval church in Scotland from its construction in the 12th century until the Protestant Reformation in 1560.
Scotland’s largest and most magnificent medieval church, the cathedral was the seat of Scotland’s leading bishops (and from 1472 archbishops). It occupied a site used for worship since the 8th century AD, when the relics of St Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint, are said to have been brought here.
The cathedral buildings are surrounded by a graveyard, and encircled by the most complete and imposing monastic enclosure walls in Scotland. Even in its ruinous state the cathedral remains a prominent landmark, the focus of the three medieval streets of St Andrews, and highly visible from the sea.
St Rule’s Church, with its 33m tower, was probably built around 1130 as the first place of worship for the newly-arrived Augustinian canons. This Continental priestly order supplanted the Culdees, a Celtic monastic order that had been present on the site for centuries. The lofty tower may have been a beacon for pilgrims heading for the shrine of St Andrew.” http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyabout.htm?PropID=PL_249
The 450 year-old ruined castle is small compared to many, but interestingly moody and of great historical significance including intrigue and murder.
Clinging to the coastline it ‘boasted’… “The Bottle Dungeon – one of the most infamous castle prisons in medieval Britain, cut out of the solid rock. John Knox and George Wishart may have been imprisoned in this dank and airless hole, and Cardinal Beaton’s murdered body was kept here.” http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/places/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_248
I mostly enjoyed lounging beside the top turrets catching some sun (it is possible), looking at the view and eating ice cream from there.
Ice cream is one of St Andrews strengths as well. And coffee shops. Lots of those. My favorite ice cream shop is Jannettas Gelateria. They have 100 flavors! Beats Baskin and Robbins easily. I don’t think much of their decor, or the ‘queue’ you have to wait in to get watcha want, but worth the wait. http://jannettas.co.uk
There are at least 21 coffee shops in St Andrews! (Including Starbucks now, but it is new.) I can’t tell you which is best since I haven’t been there lately, but I will mention that there used to be a great teapot shop with every sort you could imagine that I enjoyed immensely. I am not sure if it is still there, but it was around the corner from a great book store, J & G Innes. More than books and privately owned.
As for food, you can get all sorts. You name it. I’d go for the Italian, the Indian, or the Chinese, but you will have to decide if ever you go there! It is a university city so this keeps it cosmopolitan. And if you’ve been wondering, yes indeed, this is where Prince William studied (well certainly some of his time there was spent studying! 😉 And yes, he met Kate there. I’ve seen that movie and you can too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5diJx87tz4M
Interesting that the same actor, Ben Cross, who played ‘Abrams’ in Chariots of Fire, plays William’s dad (what’s his name?) in this film.
The university was founded in 1413 – Scotland’s oldest. https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/about/ Its buildings are spread throughout this small city and they are, obviously, some of the oldest.
There are many narrow lanes and many roads are still of cobblestone. Even though it is a small city of only about 16,000, I felt I could always find more to explore and to do. And even though too, it became quite familiar to me, it seemed that I could get safely lost there, in a good way.
The mixture of the historical venues of this Royal Burgh, the university buildings, the beaches and numerous walks, the old course, the coffee and ice cream shops, restaurants, bookstores and other shops – all these for me resulted in ‘Zing’! Tis hard to conclude as there always more to write, but this is the end.